Last Updated on March 9, 2021.
Hovering parents are often accused of helicopter parenting. What is this style of parenting? How do you know if you fit into this category? And more importantly, is it good for your kids? Here’s everything you need to know about Helicopter Parenting.
Before my kids were born, everyone had questions. What name do you have picked out? Do you hope for a girl or a boy? Are you going to use cloth diapers or disposables? All these questions were easy to answer after a little research. I knew what I wanted for my baby. Until someone asked me what my parenting style would be. I researched. And I researched. I read books, blog posts, magazines, and anything else I could get my hands on. But I was still SO confused about “parenting strategies”. I mean, people have been doing this for thousands of years. Shouldn’t this be straight forward? The terms were perplexing to me. Lawnmower parenting? Positive Parenting? Free-range parenting? And of course, one of the most intriguing, helicopter parenting?
What is Helicopter Parenting?
Helicopter Parenting was first coined by teenagers who accused their parents of “hovering like a helicopter” in a 1969 book by Dr. Haim Ginott, titled Parents & Teenagers. It is generally used as a term to describe parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives, oftentimes to their detriment. Helicopter parents assume responsibility for their children’s experiences, especially their successes and failures. They tend to want to control their children’s lives, and tend to intervene when things aren’t going the way the parents desire.
The term “Helicopter Parent” was officially added to the dictionary in 2011, cementing it’s place as a modern parenting style.
Characteristics of a Helicopter Parent
Helicopter parents tend to shadow their children and interject often. They try to protect children from consequences. Helicopter parents may feel the need to “keep up” with other families, ensuring their children outperform friends. Sometimes helicopter parents are over compensating for their feelings about their own childhood. And a huge component of helicopter parenting is anxiety and guilt on the parents side for how their children turn out.
In addition, another tendency of hovering parents is to project their own childhood goals and dreams onto their own children.
Signs You’re a Helicopter Parent
The tell-tale sign of helicopter parenting is performing tasks that your children are fully capable of doing themselves, especially when those tasks can be uncomfortable. Here are common behaviors of helicopter parents:
- Calling teachers and coaches on behalf of your children
- Doing homework for your children
- Doing all chores and household responsibilities for children
- Making decisions for your children (what they wear, what clubs they join, who their friends are)
- Participating in disagreements between your child and their friends
- Your children spend no (age appropriate) time alone
- Your children are grossly overscheduled, with no downtime
Why Helicopter Parenting Doesn’t Work
Helicopter parenting does not work because it prevents children from developing the skills they need to be successful human beings. Humans learn through trial and error. Mistakes and failure is a natural part of life, and helicopter parents do their best to minimize all uncomfortable situations for their children.
Negative Effects of Helicopter Parenting
Decreased self-esteem and confidence
Helicopter parents send a clear message to kids that they don’t trust the children to make decisions on their own. It makes them feel incapable and prevents them from feeling the accomplishment of making decisions on their own.
Lack of coping skills
Children who have parents that ensure success never have the opportunity to practice essential coping skills. They don’t know how to handle failure or disappointment. And this lack of skill will follow them long into adulthood.
Lack of life skills
Just like with coping skills, if children aren’t able to practice life skills on a regular basis, they never develop these skills. It handicaps them as adults. Tasks such as making phone calls to teachers, doing laundry, and packing lunches are things helicopter parents tend to control. This means kids are not practicing these skills, which is a problem.
Increased anxiety and depression
Studies show that children who have parents hovering and controlling their lives experience an increased level of childhood anxiety and depression.
Children who have everything done for them tend to develop a sense of entitlement. Why should they tidy their room when mom will do it for them? Why should they eat spaghetti for dinner when mom will make a separate pizza for them? These children tend to get their way and never learn to negotiate or compromise.
Damages the parent/child relationship
Children who feel smothered may pull away from controlling parents. No one likes to be reminded and nagged (a tendency of helicopter parents), and children may grow resentful. There’s also an element of distrust between these parents and children. It can create life-long tension between parents and children.
Children don’t advocate for themselves
The children of helicopter parents never learn to stand up for themselves. They are accustomed to having someone fight their battles for them. If they find them in a situation where their parents can’t fight for them, they will most likely not advocate for themselves.
What to Do Instead
In simple terms, let your children do any and every task they are capable of doing themselves. Give them the training and the tools to perform everyday tasks, and send them on their way.
This means your kids will struggle. And that’s ok. In fact, that’s great. Let them fail, and learn how to grow from that failure. Let them make mistakes, and learn valuable lessons from those mistakes.
Here are everyday things you can do to avoid being a helicopter parent:
Assign Chores with NO Rewards
As a member of the household, everyone should be responsible for contributing. For instance, even they youngest members of the family can throw trash in the wastebasket. Or put dirty socks in the hamper. Assign chores, be clear about the expectations, and do not offer any rewards (because this contributes to a “what’s in it for me” mindset!)
Develop a Growth Mindset
Practice Grounding Techniques
Very simple grounding techniques are the foundation for emotional regulation. Practicing calming strategies will give kids the building blocks to handle any mistakes or failures they may make along the way.
Practice Active Listening
Develop your listening skills. This will help you have constructive conversations with your kids when you do have suggestions or objections to decisions they are making. When kid’s feel heard they are far more likely to take your advice into consideration.
Find a Hobby
Get a hobby that has nothing to do with your kids. If you find something else to focus on you’ll be much more successful at staying out of your children’s everyday lives!
Take a Parenting Class
Learn about effective parenting strategies that will help your kids develop the skills they need to make great decisions on their own. I love the Positive Parenting Solutions framework. You can take a FREE 60 minute webinar to see if its right for you!
Do you have helicopter parents? Here’s what you can do.
People of ALL AGES can have helicopter parents. You don’t have to be a teen for parents to hover. Chronic helicopter parents continue to control their children well into adulthood, even marriage and kids. If you’re experiencing hovering parents (or grandparents, aunts, etc.), here are a few things you can do to take control of your life.
- Understand your parents intentions
- Have a conversation (or ongoing conversations) with your parents about their hovering.
- Set clear boundaries
- Avoid being defensive
- Insert physical distance with your family if possible