Is Helicopter Parenting A Bad Thing?
Updated February 13, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault
There seem to be so many parenting styles around nowadays that it's hard to tell one from another. You probably find yourself asking yourself questions like "what is helicopter parenting?" or "what is attachment parenting?" While attachment parenting is covered elsewhere in our FAQ section, let's take a closer look here at helicopter parenting.
What Is A Helicopter Parent?
A helicopter parent definition is exactly what it sounds like: a helicopter parent is one who "hovers" over their child, keeping an incredibly close eye on everything the child does. 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 he had gotten on a test. Or a helicopter dad may continue to call his college-age child every morning to wake him up for class.
The term "helicopter parent" first emerged in 1969 in the book Between Parent and Teenager, written by Dr. Haim Ginott. In the book is an anecdote from a teenager who complained that their mother "hovered" over them "like a helicopter." The term was picked up and received more widespread usage in the early 2000s as a way to describe how Baby Boomer parents were intruding upon their Millennial children's lives.
Is Helicopter Parenting Bad?
Helicopter parenting is viewed very much as a kind of situation where a parent is sticking his or her nose where it doesn't belong. Psychology Today says that no, helicopter parenting isn't bad…it's worse. Business and law schools, in particular, see parents of 25-year-olds regularly show up uninvited for school orientation, or call admissions officers, trying to get their child placed at a particular school.
These parents often argue that they're the ones "paying the bills," and so they have a "right to know" how their money is being spent. However, some schools, argues Psychology Today, are just as bad as the parents by letting parents intrude when they shouldn't - anything to secure the almighty dollar.
Ask anyone, and they'll tell you that the point of parenting is to raise a child who can fend for himself or herself when his or her parents eventually die. And when a helicopter parent does all he or she can go to pretty much guarantee that child will rely on them for life, this, according to experts in the field, goes against the very nature of what parenting is all about.
So, yes, experts believe that helicopter parenting is damaging, and that if you are engaging in it, you should find ways to cut the cord and allow your adult child to fend for himself or herself. Because the practice has been recognized only recently, not a lot of studies have been done on the subject. However, the studies that have been done have shown that helicopter parenting stunts a child's growth and is a reflection of overly critical parents who aren't happy unless Junior is doing something perfectly.
How To Tell if A Helicopter Parent Raised You
If a helicopter parent has raised you, you may find yourself more dependent on your parent than other people your age. If you recognize any of the following in yourself, then you can start to take steps to correct your behavior and cut the cord from your helicopter parent once and for all so you can enjoy the freedom of living your own life.
- You have to call your parents before making any decision.
Yes, Mom and Dad have experienced much in their lives and so can guide you best on what to do with your own life. But you will find it infinitely more rewarding to make mistakes on your own. Plus, the information you learn from those mistakes will stay with you a lot longer than the information you temporarily remember after hanging up with your parents. After all, you can always call them back, right?
- Your parents are your best friends.
There's nothing wrong with being close to your parents, but if you spend most of your time with them, then you're cutting yourself off from crucial new experiences - experiences that would broaden your understanding of how other people live their lives. Not to mention, there will come a day when your parents pass away. How will you cope if you have no friends there to catch you?
- You feel anxious at all times.
Helicopter parents essentially teach us that if they're not hovering around us all the time to make sure we stay out of trouble, then we will most certainly get into trouble in their absence. The key here is to put the anxiety where it belongs. It is not a truth that is meant to guide your decision, but a feeling that must be dealt with so that you can enjoy living your own life.
- You resent your parents' support.
If Mom and Dad insist on paying your car insurance bill so that they, in turn, can give you dating advice, then that kind of support is not worth it. They should be willing to help you out once in a while if you need it, but not with the caveat that they get to dictate some aspect of your life in exchange. There shouldn't be a "what's in it for me?" response from a parent's desire to help their child.
Signs You May Be A Helicopter Parent
The chances are good that if a helicopter parent raised you, then you are going to act like one yourself. The important thing is to educate yourself, and if you see the following signs of helicopter parenting in your parenting style, then you need to take a step back and correct the behavior so that you don't torture your kids, nor turn them into eventual helicopter parents, too.
- You are constantly fighting your child's battles for him, including calling his friend's mother after they got in a fight to yell at her for what her son did to your son.
- You still force your older child to use training wheels on his bike because you're afraid he'll get hurt. You also don't let him ride his bike often for the same reason.
- You are up at all hours of the night re-writing your child's homework because you don't want him to get a bad grade.
- You are terrified at the idea of letting your child go on a field trip with his class.
- You don't let your child help wash dishes because the knives are too sharp and he could hurt himself.
- You answer for your child when the teacher asks him direct questions during a parent-teacher conference.
These are some more specific examples, but you get the drift. If you're doing things that your child should be doing to "save" him from suffering the consequences, or "protect" him from getting hurt, you are doing him a disservice. He needs to fall once in a while so that he can learn to pick himself back up.
Anything could happen to you at any moment. Do you feel your child would be able to survive on his own if that happened right now? If he's too dependent on you, this may be a result of your parenting style.
Tips To Stop Being A Helicopter Parent
If you noticed any of the above in yourself, then you may want to reevaluate your parenting style and take steps to correct it. Here are some quick tips to help you stop being such a helicopter parent and to allow your child the necessary freedom to make mistakes on his own:
- Make a list of the things you do for your child that he should be doing for himself. Determine whether you do these things because he truly needs you to, or because it makes you feel better to do them.
- Accept the bad grade once in a while, or the dishes that aren't perfectly washed. He'll never get better without practice. You have to give him the chance to keep practicing.
- Be their shoulder to lean on but also encourage them to figure things out for themselves. Children need help navigating new situations and relationships but as they grow, they should be given the opportunity to attempt to handle situations on their own. For example, a disagreement with a friend. You could offer advice but ultimately allowing your child the chance to resolve it with their peer will aid in their autonomy and confidence.
- Don't say that a consequence, like a bad grade, is unfair, and don't try to "fix" it. If your child received a poor grade on an assignment, work with them on increasing their skills and knowledge in that area so they can succeed next time. Your child will likely remember the feeling they had when they received a poor grade and aim to do a better job next time.
Looking for more information about helicopter parenting? Consider contacting one of our BetterHelp counselors for help.
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