Think “helicopter parenting”, and you will probably conjure an image of a parent shadowing their child at every turn, fussing over their every need, peering over their child’s shoulder and jumping into the fray at the slightest hint disturbance. In reality, are all helicopter parents like this? Is helicopter parenting as good or bad as it is made out to be? Should parents learn to let go, and if so, how?
What is Helicopter Parenting?
Imagine a job applicant going for an interview, accompanied by their parents who simply insist on sitting in and asking questions of the interviewer. What kind of impression would a prospective employer form?
The term “helicopter parenting” first made an appearance in a 1969 book by Dr Haim Ginott, Parents & Teenagers. In the book, teenagers described their parents as hovering over them like a helicopter. The term made it into the dictionary in 2011, and is considered synonymous with other terms such as “bulldoze parenting”, “lawnmower parenting” and “cosseting parent”.
Helicopter parents primarily try to soften the impact of their child’s failures, believing that they know best for their child. Although most parents want the best for their children, helicopter parents take it one step further by getting involved in their child’s daily activities, from school to extracurricular activities and even to playdates or outings. These parents may clean their child’s room for them, pack their bags, choose their outfits for the day, plan their timetables and even do their homework for them. While it may be common for parents to do this for young children, helicopter parents typically do not loosen their reins on their child’s life even into high school and adulthood.
These children are often taught that if a task is too difficult for them, they can simply give up or get help from someone else. Parents may lose games to the child on purpose so that the child would not have to suffer the devastation of defeat. They typically also do not require the child to work for their keep even when older and may allow the child to get out of responsibilities such as cleaning up after themselves, tidying their personal space, making their bed or cooking their own meals.
There are various types of helicopter parents. While some parents practice lowkey helicopter parenting, others are much more aggressive in getting involved. Subtle parents may keep an eye on their child’s everyday activities, only getting involved when they sense their child may be stuck. On the other hand, overly active parents might wedge themselves into every aspect of their child’s life, such as calling their teachers to ask why their child did not receive a better grade. There are as many types of helicopter parents as there are helicopter parents themselves.
In fact, not all instances of helicopter parenting are practised by parents. Some teachers or schools also practice helicopter parenting to some extent, believing that everyone should be a winner. Schools may be pressured to pass every student even if they did not show up for a class or were unable to understand the material. They may believe that every student should get a medal as long as they gave an effort. In reality, there is only one winner, and only those who work hard to understand the lessons should pass.
Pros and Cons of Helicopter Parenting
Helicopter parenting may seem desirable when the child is very young and still unable to take care of themselves. Overprotective parents appear to be the heroes that save the day, swooping in to diffuse conflicts, bringing the child a piece of homework they left at home or putting in a good word with the child’s teachers. Some young children may require this level of guidance as they are still unable to look far enough ahead and plan their lives.
However, helicopter parenting can have adverse effects in the long run. This parenting style is more likely to raise children that are unsure of themselves and unable to make their own decisions because they have always had everything decided for them. A child born of helicopter parents may never have experienced failure or defeat if their parents have always ensured that they get on the school team, are accepted into the best class, score a leadership position or win an award for the best project. To these children, getting through life is easy.
These children may also be unable to plan their own lives, especially if they have grown up with parents that organized their daily lives and provided everything for them. All of a sudden, they find themselves without a pre-planned timetable, having to juggle the responsibilities of adulthood on their own. They may not know how to do their own laundry, prepare a meal, organize their workspace or shop for groceries.
Furthermore, having helicopter parents does not send a good message to other people. As in the scenario with the job applicant’s parents attending their interview, it often shows that one has helicopter parents, even if the parents are more subtle and do not physically show themselves. In the workplace, colleagues will see an employee that lacks basic skills, one that must consult their parents or superiors before making a decision, believes that they deserve more than the rest, or is overly afraid of failure.
Letting Go of Helicopter Parenting
Helicopter parenting stems from a parent’s anxiety for their child and a desire to see them do well. It is natural that parents do not like to see their children falling down and getting hurt. However, it is through these mistakes that children learn. Sometimes, the best way to be there for a child is not to be there at all. If a child has to figure out a problem on their own, they can then learn important problem-solving skills that will be used in adulthood.
For helicopter parents who are finding it difficult to let go, it is important to remember that there is a limit to everything. A young child may have appreciated the extra guidance, but as children grow up, they require more autonomy and freedom to make their own decisions, even if it leads them to make mistakes. A scraped knee is actually a blessing in disguise. Most importantly, experiencing hardship and learning that not everything in life is easy helps to equip children with soft skills that are far more valuable to adulthood than any certificates or technical skills.
Even children recognize their personal domains. Those with helicopter parents may be more likely to rebel if they believe that their parents are intruding on their personal decisions. After all, the older a child gets, the more control they should be able to exert over their lives. Studies have shown that helicopter-parented children who enter adulthood have a higher chance of depression and anxiety because they realize that they are unable to cope with the demands of adult life.
Fortunately, not all hope is lost for any child raised by helicopter parents. It may take considerable effort, but it is possible for anyone to break free of the protective bubble and face life’s challenges head-on.