How to Tell If You're a Helicopter Parent

Mother looking over daughter's shoulder at laptop
Helicopter parents manage every aspect of their children's lives. Shestock/Getty Images

Are you a helicopter parent or do you know someone who is? While most adults can agree that it is important to be involved in your child's life, many argue that a kid should be given room to simply be a kid. Here's how to tell if you're what's known as a helicopter parent.

What It Means to Be a Helicopter Parent

The term "helicopter parents" is often used to define a group of parents who engage in the practice of over-parenting. Helicopter parents are accused of being obsessed with their children's education, safety, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of their children's lives. 

Critics have scrutinized helicopter parents for overprotecting their children and for failing to instill them with a sense of independence and a can-do attitude. From infancy to college, helicopter parents are so involved in their children's lives that their careers and own interests typically take a back seat or are abandoned altogether. Helicopter parents are also accused of over-programming their children and not allowing them free time to play and explore on their own.

Helicopter parents defend their parenting practices, saying they are only looking out for their children's safety and education.

They also note how they are proud to be so involved in their children's lives. It is likely that helicopter parents have been around since the beginning of parenting, but the practice of over-parenting came into its own sometime during the 1990s. It was around that time that parents were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and, ultimately, competition in a global economy.

Naturally, these stories scared parents. They want to protect their children from all of the dangers in the world. They also want their children to have every opportunity available to them and to excel. This created an environment in which some parents became (what seems to some others) to be over-protective and too concerned with their children's achievements. Sometimes this can be seen as overlooking the child's true happiness or driving them too hard.

Where You Find Helicopter Parents

Helicopter parents are common in the younger grades. They are also present in middle schools, high schools, and even at the university level. The practice of over-parenting older children can prove to be embarrassing for children. Older teens and young adults are often desperate to establish their independence and break away from their families.

There is a point where your child reaches a certain age when almost every parent must admit that they have to let go.

Some parents choose to give their kids more freedom in middle and high school as they show an increase in personal responsibility.

This can be a gradual process, and with each good decision a teenager makes, they are awarded more freedom. It is a natural progression that allows them to slowly learn what it means to be an adult and make their own choices in life.

Free-Range vs. Over-Parenting

Free-range parenting is the backlash to over-parenting. Free-range parents believe that children learn best when they are allowed to make mistakes, spend time alone, and have fewer social commitments. Free-range kids typically have a lot of time devoted to play and explore, without parental or adult supervision or micromanaging.

Just as with helicopter parents, free-range parenting can be taken to an extreme. A home with few rules and no activities can lead kids to perform poorly in school, miss out on valuable social opportunities, or get into trouble. Experts will likely argue the benefits and consequences of over-parenting and free-range parenting for some time to come. This leaves parents to find the balance that's right for their families.

In all likelihood, most kids will probably excel or do very well with a parenting style that is somewhere in the middle.

If they are given the opportunity to play and explore and just be a kid every now and then, a child can develop their individual personality and interests. Parents can help nurture the child's interests and find activities that they can be involved in together without over scheduling.

Of course, a child's safety is a concern for every parent and it's doubtful that either parenting style will have an argument about that. The goal of all parents is to keep their children happy and safe, some people simply approach it in a different way.

By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.