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Helicopter Parenting: How Over Protection Can Negatively Affect Children

San Diego, CA – It’s natural to want to be involved with every aspect of our kids’ lives. It is also a natural thing to want to protect your kids from struggle or adversity.

Yet, somewhere along the line, parents began getting a little too overprotective with their children, almost to the point of smothering.

Now, this overprotective parenting trend, known as helicopter parenting, is showing signs of causing detriment to children’s well-being and is leading them to become ill-adjusted adults.

an animation containing a helicopter mother and father observing their son while he's listening to music

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What is Helicopter Parenting?

The concept of helicopter parenting came into being with a book titled Parents & Teenagers written by Dr. Haim Ginott back in 1969. In the book, Dr. Ginott described a teenager who complained that his mother kept hovering over him, much like a mechanical whirly bird.

The term “helicopter parent” was actually coined in 1990 by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. The term then gained notoriety in the 2000s when college administrators began using the term to describe the worsening trend of parents intervening in their children’s affairs even after they’ve moved out of the family home and gone off to attend university.

The administrators blamed baby boom parents for being overzealous with their child-rearing techniques. Examples of such parenting behavior included phone calls to their kids to wake them up in the morning so they wouldn’t be late for class, and complaining to professors about their children receiving poor grades.

The trend of parents intervening seemed to reach every industry. Camp counselors noticed parents’ inability to leave their children alone for one second, even to allow for a parent-free camping experience.

The problem seemed to follow kids through adulthood, with HR receiving sick-calls from overbearing parents and law and business school admission offices receiving parent calls in efforts to stack the selection process in their kids’ favor.

The term helicopter parenting became so popular that the moniker became an official dictionary entry in 2011. Other similar terms include lawnmower parenting, bulldoze parenting, and cosseting parent.

However, despite what you call it, concept remains the same: Parents who feel the need to control every aspect of their kids’ lives in an effort to shield them from hardship.

However, in an effort to protect our children, researchers are now finding that helicopter parenting kids may have the opposite effect in the long run.

Helicopter Parenting from Toddlers to College and Beyond

Over the years, the term has been applied to parents at all aspects of a child’s development. Parents of toddlers, for instance, are accused of being helicopter parents if they are constantly shadowing their children or otherwise directing their behavior without giving them any time to themselves.

Those with school age children may go above and beyond to ensure their children get assigned a particular teacher or head coach. Helicopter parents may call professors to inquire about bad grades, arrange their kids’ class schedules, and even manage their children’s exercise habits.

Other examples include selecting a kid’s friends and hobbies, as well as spending a disproportionate amount of time assisting with homework or other school projects.

Common Reasons Why Helicopter Parenting Exists

Why do parents become so overprotective? Experts believe the trend of helicopter parenting exists for a variety of reasons.

Fear of Consequences

We all want what’s best for our children. That means that if our kids receive poor grades, don’t make the team, or fail to get a good job, we might think the results could be disastrous for our children’s well-being.

Furthermore, if your child fails, you might believe that his or her failure reflects poorly on you. You might wonder if others think you’re a bad parent if your child doesn’t get exemplary school marks, doesn’t make the captain of the team, or fails to score that dream job.

Peer Pressure

Parents may become helicopter parents if they begin receiving peer pressure from other parents within their inner circle. This can cause parents to wonder if they’re not doing enough, often leading to them to do a little too much when it comes to child rearing.

Overcompensation

Parents who grew up feeling neglected, ignored, or otherwise unloved may feel the need to helicopter parent in order to show their kids the affection they deserve. By excessively monitoring their kids’ lives, helicopter parents may feel like they can remedy the deficiencies they experienced in their own childhoods.

Anxiety

Parents who worry about all the negatives in the world, the economy, and the job market may feel compelled to push their children in order to protect them. By hovering over their children and becoming deeply involved with their personal lives and development, helicopter parents may believe that they can shield their children from ever being disappointed or hurt in the future.

helicopter parents observing their son while he's not happy

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Why Helicopter Parenting Can Do More Harm than Good

According to research by the American Psychological Association and published in the Developmental Psychology journal, helicopter parenting has been shown to negatively affect a child’s ability to manage emotions or behavior, even long into adulthood.

Young children look to their caregivers for guidance to help them comprehend the emotions they may be feeling. For this reason, children require parents who will be sensitive to their growing needs and who will guide younger kids when emotional challenges prove to be too difficult to manage on their own.

This type of parenting helps kids become more self-sufficient while giving them the tools to manage their own emotional challenges as they grow older.

When parents hover or smother, the results seem to follow the child as he or she gets older.

For instance, researchers found that kids who have helicopter parents at age two exhibit poorer emotional and behavioral regulation skills all the way through to age five.

Conversely, children with parents who don’t hover and who reach the age of five tend to have better emotional control and less behavioral problems all the way through to age ten. This also leads the kids to be better at school and experience fewer social problems.

To prevent these types of problems, instead of helicopter parenting, researchers urge parents to speak with their kids about how to understand their emotions and by explaining the behaviors that may result from feeling various emotions, and the consequences of various responses.

Helicopter Parenting May Be Detrimental to Your Child’s Health

In addition to poor grades and more emotional problems, studies show that the trend of overprotective parenting may have contributed to the increasing rates of childhood obesity, anxiety, depression, as well as suicide.

A Florida State University study backed up those claims when it found that helicopter kids are more likely to have health related issues all the way into adulthood. The researchers believe that this detrimental health effect is due to the fact that kids who are helicopter parented never learn to manage their own health, as their parents always told them when to go to sleep, what to eat, and when to exercise.

Comfort Issues and a Lack of Self-Regulation

Helicopter parents don’t tolerate discomfort very well. This is due to the fact that their parents shielded them from pain and prevented them from dealing with any type of hardship. Kids who were hovered over and handed everything their entire lives have become accustomed to dealing with immediate gratification.

Researchers believe this is why helicopter kids tend to be quick to reach for medication to resolve their issues like anxiety, and depression. When they feel the uncomfortable sensations of anxiety or depression, these kids want the discomfort gone now and without having to endure any type of wait.

In addition, because helicopter parents didn’t allow their kids much alone time as they were growing up, these kids have issues taking care of themselves as they grow older.

Not only do children of helicopter parents possess fewer skills to achieve their goals, they also lack the motivation and mental control needed to get the necessary tasks done. This can cause helicopter kids to experience frustration and most likely depression as they reach adulthood, where they’re more likely to use medication as a way to feel more in control and at ease.

Finally, researchers have found that overparenting young adults breeds poor coping skills, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety, as well as narcissism.

Are You a Helicopter Parent? Here are the Signs to Look For

  • You Never Leave Your Kids Alone for One Second

While young children should always be monitored, they should also be allowed to explore the world and play on their own without you constantly hovering over them.

Instead, give your kids time to themselves every now and again. You can still be close by, but try not to direct their behavior as they experiment with the world and everything in it.

  • You Never Let Your Kids Fail

Life is tough, but it’s even tougher if you lack the proper skills to cope with adversity. The thing is, these types of lessons can’t be taught by parents or even in a classroom. They have to be learned the hard way, through actual experience.

Instead of trying to shelter your kids from the pain of failure, try to let them experience failure all on their own. This teaches kids to face the pain and be tough, which in turn helps them become mentally strong adults.

  • You Quickly Get Involved When Your Child Faces Adversity

It’s normal for parents to want eternal happiness for their kids, but life doesn’t always work out that way. There will be times when your child will be scared, sad or frightened and you can’t be there. You can’t always shield your child from having these negative experiences or from feeling such strong emotions.

If your child comes home from school, crying that another child called them a name or otherwise made them feel sad, helicopter parents might be quick to get the other parent on the phone. Or, confront the parent in person.

Going to battle for your child is admirable but doesn’t prepare them for the future. Instead, try to prepare your children for times when they will face hardship or struggle. Tell them that feeling anxious and stressed is normal and can be used as fuel to bring a favorable outcome to any tough situation.

  • Field Trips Fill You With Dread

Field trips are fun and exciting excursions for kids where they can learn and experience new things in a structured and monitored environment. By all accounts, most field trips are completely safe and allow children a chance to get out of the classroom and acquire new skills.

However, helicopter parents might only think of all the dangers children can face during one of these school functions. Instead, try to allow your child the freedom to explore the world with his or her classmates and under the close supervision of teachers. This teaches your child independence, which is a valuable quality that can contribute to all areas of your kid’s life, especially in adulthood.

  • You Find Yourself Finishing Your Kid’s Homework

Your child brings home an assignment that’s due in two weeks. A helicopter parent might immediately get the teacher on the phone in an effort to better understand the specifics and to help their child gain an edge over the other kids.

However, this type of approach teaches children that their parents will always be there to figure out the “hard stuff.” Instead, provide encouragement and try to allow your children to figure out all school assignments on their own. Even if they don’t get the best grade, teach them to do their best. With hard work, next time, they may do better.

  • You Try to Excessively “Nerf” Your Child’s Environment

In an effort to shield their kids from trauma and pain, helicopter parents might ensure their kids only drink bottled water and never from a drinking fountain. Every aspect of their diet might be heavily monitored and controlled, and sports are a definite no-no, as injury could result.

The world is a frightening place. As a parent, the most you can do is teach your child to be aware of the dangers and not to act recklessly in the face of those dangers, which could then lead to injury or pain. However, you should try to allow your child to play sports and go on field trips and engage in other positive behaviors that can offer many rewards that permeate the child’s entire life.

  • You’ve Never Considered Allowing the Children to Help Around the House

Many helicopter parents don’t want their kids to cook meals because knives may be involved. Others don’t want kids cleaning around the house because of all the dangerous chemicals. When these children grow up, they’ll be less likely to know how to cook, clean, and otherwise take care of themselves without parent involvement.

Instead, it may be best to try and prepare your kids for adulthood very early on. Teach them cooking and cleaning and other domestic skills that can help them care for themselves even after they’ve left the family home.

  • You Watch Their Every Move – Even When You’re Not Around

Nanny cams are handy for checking in on caretakers every now and again, but helicopter parents may get a little carried away. They may find themselves watching babysitters all the time, even to the extent of ruining the experience of whatever event they hired the babysitter for originally.

Parents of young adults may find themselves monitoring their kids’ whereabouts with tracking apps, and college-age kids may have parents who continually check in on them, via phone, video streaming, and other means.

Instead, try to let your kids have freedom away from your prying eyes, especially as they grow older. Doing so lets them know that their parents may not always be around to protect them from harm, and they’ll begin to get a better understanding of how to watch out for their own well-being.

  • You Keep Helping Your Kids, Even After College

Helicopter parents are frequently calling HR departments to complain if their child hasn’t had time off or a vacation, or if they feel as though they’ve been unfairly treated. These parents may even call in sick for their adult “kids,” much to the frustration of management.

Instead, once your kids go off to college, try to see them as effectively “leaving the nest.” You can check in on them periodically and ask how they’re doing, but let them make their own decisions and live their own lives, particularly when it comes to work.

Whether it’s calling in sick or asking for a raise, those are adult responsibilities that should be handled by the adult, not their parent.

  • You Withdraw when Your Child Displeases You

While it is true that helicopter parents may be paying their children a little too much attention, the opposite can also be true at times. When the child does something that displeases the helicopter parent, such as receives poor grades, the parent may withdraw. This causes kids to fear failure on a deep subconscious level, as they feel that their parent may abandon them if they continue to act against the parents’ wishes.

Instead, be supportive of your children and let them experience failure all on their own. If they do something that displeases you, explain why you’re displeased and communicate the more favorable outcomes. This helps children better understand behavior, choices, and consequences and can prepare them for a healthier adult life.

helicopter parents are trying to help their son while he is unhappy

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How to Prevent Becoming a Helicopter Parent

You may wonder what steps you can take to avoid becoming a helicopter parent so your kids fare better as they grow older.

You can take solace in the fact that much of parenting is figuring things out as you go. You could plan to parent perfectly before the kids arrive, but you’ll soon see that most parents are winging it, and most of those children grow up to be well-adjusted, productive adults.

Whatever you do, allow your kids to fail and teach them that making mistakes is normal and okay. Show them that it’s worth reaching for your goals and how to maintain motivation as you follow the right steps on the path to those goals.

You can further your kids’ development by giving them opportunities to solve their own struggles.

Allowing your kids to fail every now and again does require a lot of effort from you, too. So, make sure you remain strong as you provide your children with the skills they need to become healthy and responsible members of society.

Are You Experiencing a Family Law Issue?

If you are going through a divorce, child custody issue, or other familial complication, you may want to shield your children from any hardship they may experience during this process as much as possible.

Instead of helicopter parenting, explain what’s going on in terms they can easily understand. Children can be more understanding than you think, especially when their parents remain calm and help them comprehend the changes they might undergo during the divorce or child custody situation.

You are encouraged to speak to your family law attorney, who can further help you discuss all important matters with your children so that they fare well throughout this complicated process.

Just know that you don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a good one. You don’t need to be overbearing, as kids will figure things out on their own, if you give them the guidance and assistance they need.

If you need the help of an experienced attorney, get assistance from the experts in California family law at Griffith, Young, and Lass, now serving clients throughout Carlsbad, San Diego, and the surrounding areas. Call today for a free consultation.

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