Helicopter parenting is a style where a caregiver is highly involved in the minutiae of their child’s life. As with all parenting styles, there’s widespread research and discussion on the topic of whether it’s healthy for children in the long run. Let’s take a look at what the experts say.
What Is Helicopter Parenting?
A helicopter parent is one who constantly “hovers” over their child, keeping an incredibly close eye on everything they do. This is particularly true when it comes to their educational pursuits. For instance, a helicopter mom may call her child’s teacher to complain about a bad grade they got on a test. Or, a helicopter parent may continue to call their college-age child every morning to wake them up for class.
The term “helicopter parent” was first used in the 1969 book Between Parent and Teenager, written by Dr. Haim Ginott. The book contains an anecdote from a teenager who complained that their mother “hovered” over them “like a helicopter”. The term was picked up by the larger culture and began to receive more widespread usage in the early 2000s, primarily as a way to describe how some Baby Boomer parents were intruding upon their Millennial children’s lives with this style.
How Does Helicopter Parenting Affect Children?
First, this parenting style can stunt a child’s ability to make decisions and mistakes for themselves, which can be debilitating once they reach adulthood. It can also teach children that perfection is the ultimate goal in everything they do, which can lead to anxiety and other difficulties.
An 2018 study found that children with helicopter parents may be “less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up.
A 2013 study surveyed college freshmen about their parents. It found that those with helicopter parents tended to be “less open to new ideas and actions, and were more vulnerable, anxious, dependent, and self-conscious”.
Another 2018 study found an association between children with helicopter parents and stronger symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as poorer emotional functioning, academic functioning, and decision making.
Signs You May Have Been Raised By A Helicopter Parent
Recognizing the signs of helicopter parenting in your younger years can help you in the process of learning to become more independent as an adult. If you were raised with this parenting style, you may resonate with some of the following.
You Consult With Your Parents Before Making Decisions
If you grew up with parents who tended to fight your battles for you, you may not have learned the skills or confidence to handle conflicts or decisions on your own. While they have more life experience and can certainly offer advice in certain situations, relying on them for crucial input about most every move you make can be limiting and prevent you from living your own life.
Your Parents Are Your Best Friends
A good relationship with your parents can be a source of joy. However, if they’re who you’re spending most of your time with, you might be missing out on other opportunities and parts of life. Getting to know other people and expanding your social support network can broaden your horizons and offer you more diverse perspectives on life.
You Have Anxiety
There are many different potential causes or contributing factors of anxiety disorders, and it’s certainly possible that a person’s anxiety has nothing or very little to do with how they were raised. However, it’s also possible that helicopter parenting could result in a child having anxiety as an adolescent or adult. One reason could be that this type of parent is often highly invested in their child’s success—in academics, sports, or their career, for example. This can lead the child to feel constant pressure to succeed or to make certain choices. Another reason could be that an adult child of helicopter parents could have gotten so used to someone else making their decisions for them that they struggle to know how to make them on their own, which can be anxiety-inducing.
You Have Trouble Managing Difficult Emotions
Helicopter parents may go to great lengths to help their children avoid experiencing pain, rejection, or other difficulties in life. Living such an emotionally sheltered existence can result in the child not knowing how to manage their own feelings as an adult, since they weren’t allowed adequate practice in their formative years. Those raised by helicopter parents may live out their emotions in extremes, which may negatively impact their ability to cope with challenges or maintain stable relationships.
You Have A Strong Fear Of Failure
Many children who were raised with this parenting style were held to high or even impossible standards growing up. Perfection may have been expected of them, whether in academia, work, extracurricular activities, or other areas of life. As adults, they may consequently be afraid to take risks or reach for goals or dreams because they’ve been conditioned to see failure as the worst possible outcome rather than as a crucial learning experience.
Signs That You May Be A Helicopter Parent
People may develop helicopter parenting tendencies for a number of different reasons. One potential cause is being raised by helicopter parents yourself and internalizing their approach, or the opposite—being raised by parents who were uninvolved or even neglectful and striving to be different. Helicopter parents may also have low self-esteem and be relying on their children to provide them with a sense of self-worth. Or, it could simply be a desire to keep their child safe and happy that ends up being taken too far. You might be a helicopter parent if some of the following sound familiar:
You routinely fight your child’s battles for them instead of letting them exercise their own problem-solving skills
You take their health and safety to extremes, like not letting your child learn to ride a bike without training wheels or going to great lengths to shield them from germs
You take over or redo your child’s school projects and assignments to make sure they get good grades
You have very specific ideas of what you believe your child’s ideal future looks like and may push them in this direction
Behaviors like these may begin with good intentions, but they can hold your child back and even have consequences for their mental health in the long run. Recognizing signs of this parenting style in yourself is the first step toward adjusting your approach for the benefit of your child or children.
Tips For Giving Up Helicopter Parenting
Completely shifting your parenting style will almost always be a gradual process. Here are some tips to help you make changes over time so you can allow your child to be better prepared for a life where they’re emotionally stable, in control, and well-equipped to take on challenges.
Let Your Child Fail
Making mistakes is part of the human experience and generally crucial for learning how to cope with life’s ups and downs. Practice stepping back and letting them make decisions, experience consequences, and take what they learned forward with them.
Equip Them With Important Skills
Doing everything for your child is not going to help them learn how to take care of themselves and navigate life. Teach them what you know about how to solve problems, handle conflicts, weigh options to make decisions. Focus on giving them practical skills they can use instead of handing them a cheat sheet to any problem they face.
Manage Your Own Emotions
Letting go of helicopter parenting tendencies can bring up a variety of emotions. You may feel anxious, sad, or even angry as you start to step back and let a bit more of life happen to your child. Sitting with these emotions without letting them control you or make you fall back into old habits can be difficult, but it’s worthwhile in the pursuit of providing your child with a more well-rounded upbringing that will serve them as they progress through life.
A therapist may be able to help you work through the difficult feelings that can come up as you start to adjust your parenting style. They can help you pinpoint where these emotions may be coming from—perhaps experiences from your own past or mental health conditions like anxiety—and assist you in identifying strategies to help you transition to a potentially healthier way of relating to and raising your child.
Finding a therapist in your area is one option. Or, if you prefer seeking this type of guidance and support from the comfort of your own home, you can try online therapy. Research suggests that it offers similar benefits to in-person sessions. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed mental health professional who can help you work through the challenges you may be facing.
There’s no doubt about it; playing the role of parent or primary caregiver in a child’s life is a big challenge. Getting support from a mental health professional along the way may help you ensure better outcomes for your child and yourself.
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