Do Helicopter Parents Help or Hurt Children?

The pros and cons of helicopter parenting.

Helicopter parents prevent kids from being responsible.
Klaus Vedfelt Prem / Riser / Getty Images

You've likely heard the term "helicopter parent" at least a few times. Helicopter parents are known to hover over their children and become overly involved in their lives.

The term “helicopter parent” was first coined in a 1969 book titled “Between Parent & Teenager.” The teen featured in the book reported his mother watched over him like a helicopter.

Since then, many college administrators have used the term to refer to parents who continue to try and watch over their children from a distance after they have gone away to college and the term has spread to encompass all overprotective parents.

Popular media uses the phrase "helicopter parent" to describe parents who are overprotective of their children.

Types of Parents

The field of psychology often references four main types of parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. But popular media recognizes several subtypes of parents, which often reflect generational differences in parenting. In addition to helicopter parents, the media often talks about free-range parents or lawnmower parents.

Free-range parents tend to be a bit permissive. They allow their kids the freedom to make mistakes, explore, and try new things without much guidance. They believe kids can learn problem-solving skills through trial and error and they're convinced natural consequences are some of life's best teachers.

Lawnmower parents are on the other end of the spectrum. They're known for mowing down all the obstacles that threaten their child's chances of success. They may go to great lengths to prevent their kids from experiencing uncomfortable challenges.

Tiger parenting became a popular term after Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, became a bestseller. Tiger parents push their kids to succeed with strict rules and a regimented lifestyle that emphasizes hard work over fun.

Here's an example of how parents in each parenting style might respond to a child's request to walk to the store alone:

  • Helicopter parent: "Sure, I'll walk behind you the whole way to make sure you stay safe."
  • Free-range parent: "Sure. Can you pick up some milk while you're there?"
  • Lawnmower parent: "Sure, I'll walk ahead of you and make sure it's safe. I'll tell you when it's safe to cross the road."
  • Tiger parent: "No, you need to practice your violin for another hour."

The Positive Aspects of Helicopter Parenting

While the term helicopter parent is often used in a derogatory manner, helicopter parenting isn't all bad.

You can count on the children of helicopter parents to arrive on time, to have their homework done, and to be prepared for their activities.

Helicopter parents of younger children and teenagers are likely to know where their kids are at all times, which is an important safety consideration. They are also likely to be very aware of who their child is with and how their child is doing in school.

The Problems With Helicopter Parenting

Being too involved in kids' lives can be harmful. Here are some of the potential drawbacks of helicopter parenting:

  • Kids lack problem-solving skills: Kids of all ages need problem-solving skills. Whether you have a 5-year-old who needs to learn how to sound out words or a 25-year-old who can’t find a job, kids need to know how to solve their own problems. Hovering parents, however, often intervene at the first sign of trouble and kids don’t learn valuable problem-solving skills
  • Helicopter parenting leads to dependence: Helicopter parents do so much for their kids that it can make their kids dependent upon them. If a mother calls her 19-year-old to wake him up each morning to ensure he gets to class on time, he won’t learn how to do this for himself. Parents should be helping kids learn how to survive without them.
  • Kids don’t learn to advocate for themselves: Helicopter parents usually advocate for their children, rather than teaching their children to advocate for themselves. It’s important for kids to be able to ask questions, gain clarification and speak up when they need something. In the workforce, these kids won’t have Mom or Dad available to help them deal with a mean boss or challenging policy at the office.
  • Helicopter parenting shields kids from natural consequences: Kids need to face some natural consequences in life. After all, in situations where parents don’t intervene, kids are going to face natural consequences. Yet, most helicopter parents micromanage their children's activities in an attempt to prevent them from receiving any negative consequences.
  • Helicopter parenting interferes with the parent-child relationship: The actions of a helicopter parent may interfere with the parent-child relationship as well. Constantly nagging your child to get his homework done, or checking up on his every move, isn’t likely to make your child want to talk to you more. Instead, it may push your child away.

How to Hover Less

If you tend to be a bit of a helicopter parent, it's important to back off a bit to ensure you're giving your child room to grow, learn new skills, and rebound from failure all on his own.

Giving up that control, however, may be anxiety provoking. If you're having difficulty tolerating the anxiety you feel when you allow your child to engage in age appropriate activities on his own, talk to a professional.

Keep in mind you don't have to back off completely all at once. It may be best for you and your child if you back off slowly.

Whether he's going to walk to the store on his own or he wants to work on his science fair project, give him a little bit of freedom one step at a time. Coach him from time to time and review with him how he did when he's all done. But try to avoid standing over him while he's working.

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