What is helicopter parenting?

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What Is Helicopter Parenting?

The term “helicopter parent” was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. It became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. Similar terms include “lawnmower parenting,” “cosseting parent,” or “bulldoze parenting.”

Image zoom Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Helicopter parenting refers to “a style of parents who are overly focused on their children,” says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide. “They typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures,” Dr. Daitch says.

  • RELATED: Why Helicopter Parenting Is Bad for Your Teen’s Health

Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, says the helicopter parenting definition is simply “over-parenting.” “It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting,” Dr. Dunnewold explains.

What is a Helicopter Parent?

Helicopter parenting most often applies to parents who help high school or college-aged students with tasks they’re capable of doing alone (for instance, calling a professor about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, managing exercising habits). But really, helicopter parenting can apply at any age.

“In toddlerhood, a helicopter parent might constantly shadow the child, always playing with and directing his behavior, allowing him zero alone time,” Dr. Dunnewold says. In elementary school, helicopter parents may ensure a child gets a certain teacher or coach, select the child’s friends and activities, or providing disproportionate help for homework and school projects.

  • RELATED: Intensive Parenting: Everything You Need to Know About the New Helicopter Parenting

Why Do Parents Hover?

Helicopter parenting can develop for a number of reasons. Here are four common triggers.

Fear of dire consequences: Parents might fear a low grade, rejection from the sports team, or a botched job interview—especially if they feel they could’ve done more to help. But according to Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of AskDoctorG.com, “many of the consequences are trying to prevent—unhappiness, struggle, not excelling, working hard, no guaranteed results—are great teachers for kids and not actually life-threatening. It just feels that way.”

Feelings of anxiety: Worries about the economy, the job market, and the world in general can push parents to take more control over their child’s life in an attempt to protect them. “Worry can drive parents to take control in the belief that they can keep their child from ever being hurt or disappointed,” explains Dr. Daitch.

Overcompensation: Adults who felt unloved, neglected, or ignored as children can overcompensate with their own children. Excessive attention and monitoring are attempts to remedy a deficiency the parents felt in their own upbringing.

Peer pressure from other parents: When moms and dads see other over-involved parents, it can trigger a similar response. “Sometimes when we observe other parents over-parenting or being helicopter parents, it will pressure us to do the same,” Dr. Daitch says. “We can easily feel that if we don’t immerse ourselves in our children’s lives, we are bad parents. Guilt is a large component in this dynamic.”

  • RELATED: What’s Your Parenting Style?

The Effects of Helicopter Parents

Many helicopter parents start off with good intentions. “It is a tricky line to find, to be engaged with our children and their lives, but not so meshed that we lose perspective on what they need,” Dr. Gilboa says.

Engaged parenting has many benefits for a child, such as feelings of love and acceptance, better self-confidence, and opportunities to grow. However, “the problem is that, once parenting becomes governed by fear and decisions based on what might happen, it’s hard to keep in mind all the things kids learn when we are not guiding each step,” Dr. Gilboa explains. “Failure and challenges teach kids new skills, and, most importantly, teach kids that they can handle failure and challenges.”

The helicopter parenting effects are widespread, but may include these five factors.

Decreased confidence and self-esteem: “The main problem with helicopter parenting is that it backfires,” Dr. Dunnewold says. “The underlying message over-involvement sends to kids is ‘my parent doesn’t trust me to do this on my own.’” This, in turn, leads to a lack of confidence.

Undeveloped coping skills: If the parent is always there to clean up a child’s mess—or prevent the problem in the first place—how does the child ever learn to cope with loss, disappointment, or failure? Studies have found that helicopter parenting can make children feel less competent in dealing with the stresses of life on their own.

  • RELATED: Is Attachment Parenting Right For Your Family?

Increased anxiety: A study from the University of Mary Washington has shown that over-parenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.

Sense of entitlement: Children who have always had their social, academic, and athletic lives adjusted by their parents can become accustomed to always having their way and thus they develop a sense of entitlement.

Undeveloped life skills: Parents who always tie shoes, clear plates, pack lunches, launder clothes, and monitor school progress—even after children are mentally and physically capable of doing the task—prevent them from mastering these skills themselves.

How to Avoid Helicopter Parenting

So how can a parent care for their children without inhibiting their ability to learn important life skills? Dr. Gilboa offers this advice: “As parents, we have a very difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our children now—their stressors, strengths, emotions—and one eye on the adults we are trying to raise. Getting them from here to there involves some suffering, for our kids as well as for us.”

In practical terms, this means letting children struggle, allowing them to be disappointed, helping them to work through failure. It means letting your children do the tasks that they’re physically and mentally capable of doing. As Dr. Gilboa says, “Remembering to look for opportunities to take one step back from solving our child’s problems will help us build the resilient, self-confident kids we need.”

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  • By Kate Bayless

Isn’t it amazing how you turn out to be exactly the kind of parent you swore you would never become?

Before I had kids I was pretty sure I wouldn’t ever be a hovering Helicopter Parent. After all, I had grown up running free on my family farm with my brother and cousins, coming home only for lunch and dinner.

But somewhere along the way the wires between trying to be a supportive, positive parent and a hovering, helicopter parent got crossed.

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Before I knew it, I’d got a job at the pre-school my children attended just so I could keep an eye on them. My son’s teacher started to avoid me at school pick-up because I would “chat” and subtly ask for a progress report or suggestions about what else we could do at home to help him reach his full potential.

Heck, my helicoptering tendencies had sneaked into even the most mundane aspects of our everyday life. At one point, I had a 20 minute safety routine just so the kids could play in the yard. Complete with sunhats, sunscreen, locking the gates to the fenced (of course) backyard, and putting out three reflective cones into the cul-de-sac so cars would know to drive slowly lest one of the children figure out how to undo the lock and make a break for freedom.

And then I followed 2 feet behind them for the entire 15 minutes we were outdoors.

Sounds a bit familiar? Nobody sets out to be a helicopter parent. But, it kind of creeps on you, doesn’t it? Here are 10 more signs.

You Might Be a Helicopter Parent if…

  1. You only let your child play on playgrounds with shredded rubber mulch.
  2. The first thing you did when your 4th grader came home crying from school because her best friend Jill called her a name is to call Jill’s mom to sort things out yourself.
  3. You have found yourself up at 11pm rewriting your child’s English essay because you know that they could have done a better job if they hadn’t been so tired.
  4. Your 8 year old still has the training wheels on his bike. Not that you let him ride it that often. The sidewalks are dangerous and they go too fast for you to keep up!
  5. You have a bad back from stooping down and following your toddler’s every step.
  6. You get heart palpitations at the thought of letting your child go on a field trip with their class.
  7. Having them help out by preparing dinner or cleaning the house has never crossed your mind. Knives are sharp and the cleaning fluids are too dangerous!
  8. As a Christmas gift you gave your daycare a webcam so you could watch the daily happenings while you are at work.
  9. You and your son are having a meeting with the teacher and when she asks him a question you answer it for him.
  10. Your child didn’t get accepted to his preferred major at college so you call the Chair of the department to negotiate for an exception.

Full disclosure: I am guilty of 5 of these. Okay, 6. The others are all confessions from fellow recovering Helicopter Parents. For number 10, however, I was on the other side of the table with the Chair receiving the parent’s phone call.

My Wake-Up Call

I had always been one of those parents who would race around the playground following 18 month old Evan to whatever equipment caught his eye. I was terrified that he would fall and I caught him every time he threatened to topple over.

Then his brother Henry came along. One day I couldn’t be there to catch Henry when he fell as he toddled along. I saw him lose his balance. I sucked in all the available oxygen around me and braced for a horrible fall.

But what he did amazed me.

He felt himself wobble and he naturally shifted his weight and plopped down safely onto his bottom.

It had literally never before occurred to me that they would have this natural instinct of bracing themselves. I had always expected and assumed they would stiffen and go down like a tree, cracking their heads in the process.

Maybe I didn’t need to be so “on the spot?” Fine. I’ll stand up and follow from 2 feet away. Just in case.

Soon after that incident, we moved to Switzerland where helicopter parenting is almost unheard of and the social norm is to not “interfere”.

We had been here a month and my neighbor pulled me aside and said, “You know that your 9 year old can go to the park by himself, right?” She went on to say that the other parents would look at me funny or say something to me if I stood next to him as he played on the equipment.

I went to the park with him anyway. I noticed differences in strength, balance, and confidence with the Swiss children. I noticed he had trouble in resolving disagreements – blew them out of proportion; expected instant sharing; didn’t show as much grit and determination.

He was upset and crying that he was so much less able physically than his Swiss peers.

For the first time, I had the suspicion – perhaps my hovering and over-protectiveness was causing more harm than good?

Let’s Talk About What it is to Be a Helicopter Parent

In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch says, “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you.” It’s like the parents of the late 1990s read that and decided they were going to be the generation that finally succeeds in protecting their child from all that ugliness.

What we forget is that he continues the line with, “That’s never possible.”

Parenting is a nerve wracking proposition.

No one knows what they’re doing, especially with a first child. It doesn’t help that TV dramas and news programs continuously pump nightmare What-If scenarios into our homes and imaginations.

It also doesn’t help that should you actually try to give your kids some freedom you run the chance that neighbors will call child protective services to report you.

Born out of these fears and worries, Helicopter Parenting is an extremely regimented and directed parenting style with the goal of protecting the physical and mental well-being of the child, sometimes even at the risk of stifling the child.

We’ve all had our Helicopter Parenting moments.

Pacing around the equipment at the park, arms extended like Frankenstein, their first time climbing up and around the equipment.

Helping your toddler retrieve their toy from another toddler who snatched it away. Or at the library trying to convince another child to share a book that your son or daughter wants.

Trying out your best Ninja-Dad impression as you follow your teen through the mall to keep an eye on them.

We’ve all been there.

Why does it matter? Who cares if I’m making weekly chiropractor appointments for my bad back or calling up my son’s teacher on a weekly basis to check on his progress?

The Downside of Helicopter Parenting

In 2008, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan published their Self-Determination Theory. According to them, the 3 innate needs that all human beings need for healthy development are:

  • Basic need for autonomy
  • Basic need to be confident in one’s abilities and accomplishments
  • Basic need to feel they are loved and cared for

The closer we are to having these 3 basic needs met the more satisfied we are with our lives.

In 2013, Holly H. Schiffrin and Miriam Liss and their co-authors used this theory to measure the effects of Helicopter Parenting on college students.

They found being too involved or over-parenting in a child’s life undermined these 3 basic needs to different degrees.

They also found a higher degree of depression and anxiety as well as a lower general satisfaction with life. In their words –

Furthermore, when parents solve problems for their children, then children may not develop the confidence and competence to solve their own problems… Our data suggest that a sense of competence may be the basic nutriment most essential to well-being.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Helicopter Parenting can strain the parent-child relationship. As children enter their tween and teen years they start craving independence and privacy.

How many times have I heard, “Why can’t you just let me do it myself?” and “Moooaaaammmmm!” hissed through gritted teeth when I try to help.

Helicoptering in to save the day can actually cause embarrassment and result in your teen and young adult pushing you away just at the moment you most hope they will want to confide in you.

Even children as young as 2 years old need moments of independence. Remember that “MYSELF!” phase? Boy, I do! That was the worst phase for this helicopter parent.

A new study just out in 2015 by Jean Ispa and co-authors in Social Development have found that Toddlers who are given space to explore and interact with their surroundings on their own have a better relationship with their parents. They seek their mothers out for play and interaction more often than do the children with helicopter mothers.

Both these studies concluded: Be available for your child, but let them take steps to come to you.

So how do we find out what is going on with our children and keep them safe if we’re not hovering? This is where all that work practicing active listening pays off. Active listening builds bridges of communication that allow ideas, concerns, and trust to flow freely between you and your child.

How I (Mostly) Stopped Hovering

Like most bad habits, breaking out of Helicopter Parenting hasn’t been easy. But I’ve come a long way enough to consider myself a reformed Helicopter Parent now. Here are a few things that helped me –

1. Take stock. The first thing I did was to look at what I was doing for him that he could and should be doing for himself. I actually wrote a list.

2. Use a realistic, phased approach to stop helicoptering. Once I had the list, I highlighted the things on the list that I would be comfortable with him doing tomorrow; then picked another color for within 6 months; and another color for a within a year.

When I saw the list it was clear that a lot of the things I had been preventing him from doing were about me and not his ability to actually do them successfully. I have to admit that the graduated introduction of these responsibilities was about my needing a safety net just as much as him needing time to adjust.

3. Learn to accept that their work won’t always be perfect. The carrots would not be perfectly cut and his grades wouldn’t always be A’s. I give feedback when asked, but it’s up to him to decide to fix it.

4. Let them fight their own battles. If someone isn’t sharing that’s too bad. If he has had a falling out with his best friend that’s something for him to work through. I am still his shoulder to cry on and I will actively listen to coach him through some situations, but (with a few exceptions) it’s up to him to work it out.

5. Let them take risks. There are things he asked to do as his confidence was growing that I felt nauseous about saying yes to.

Remember that classic team building exercise where you fall backwards, trusting that your teammate will catch you? You’re all giggly and nervous as you stand there with your eyes closed and then you feel the rush of relief and joy as your partner actually saves you? We Organization Development consultants have you do it because taking a risk and seeing the success that comes from that risk builds trust. Trust provides a crucial foundation that allows you and your team (and families are a team of sorts) to have even more amazing successes.

One day, after weeks of begging, we allowed Evan to take the tram alone. It was only 3 stops and his dad was watching him get on the tram and I was there to meet the tram, but I thought I would have a heart attack waiting for him.

However, the smile on his face when he got off that tram transformed me. Sir Edmund Hillary could not have had a bigger smile after scaling Mt. Everest.

His success made his confidence in himself bloom and it also boosted the confidence and trust I had in him.

6. Let consequences stand. And don’t say they aren’t fair. He came home once crying about the C he got on an essay. I knew how hard he had worked and I felt equally disappointed, but I had to back up the teacher. If she thought it was a C paper then he earned the C. I had to let him not like it and have him talk me through what he did well and what he could do better next time.

7. Learn to leave the room. If I feel the need to take over and “help”, I leave the room. I can give one piece of unsolicited advice or demonstration, but that is it. If I feel like I need to do more I literally back away. Also I allowed myself to say “No” when he asked for help, followed by “I think you can do it by yourself.”

8. Journal the journey. Writing things out helps me sort things out in my mind. The impulse to leap in and do it for them is always there inside me. Reading my questions and struggles out loud helps me judge if I have a legit concern or if I’m taking his successes and failures too personally.

As parents we instinctively want to protect our kids and keep them safe. Sometimes, without quite realizing it, this can lead us to become Helicopter Parents. The trick is to recognize when these instincts kick in and to intentionally back off to let our kids learn to take care of themselves.

Because, no matter how much we want to, we really can’t protect them all the time. Might as well equip them to protect themselves the best they can.

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The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

Time for our 2-minute contemplation questions –

  • Do you see yourself exhibiting any of the warning signs that trigger your Helicopter Parenting tendencies?
  • Do you act on them or do you tamp down on them?
  • Do you just have a few Helicopter Parenting tendencies now and then, or has hovering becoming a habit, turning you into a Helicopter Parent?
  • How does your hovering – occasional or persistent – impact your kids?

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

Over the next few weeks, pick tasks and responsibilities that your kids can do by themselves, and let them. This list of 50 simple challenges for teaching responsibility could be a good start.

Keep practicing active listening. Active listening is a great safety net for helicopter parents because it keeps those lines of communication open while letting your child feel like their independence is being respected.

Look for calculated risks that your child can take that will boost your child’s confidence in themselves and help build trust. This list of 50 things to do to make your kids street smart can help you get started.

Journal! Journal! Journal! Parenting is a complex and messy business. Getting your thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes out on paper can help you sort through the messiness and bring some calm and peace to your life.

In many ways, the college admissions scandal, aka “Operation Varsity Blues,” was a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents get too involved in their children’s school careers.

Although most parents don’t break the law or pay millions of dollars to get their kids into prestigious schools, “helicopter parenting” is far more common, and it can have lasting psychological effects.

A new study from Florida State University found that kids who had helicopter parents were more likely to experience burnout from schoolwork, and they had a harder time transitioning from school to the real world.

For the study, researchers from Florida State University surveyed 427 college students (ages 18 to 29) about their upbringing and how they felt about their performance in school.

Students ranked how much they identified with statements like, “I think my father/mother is too overly involved in my life,” “I wish I had more self-discipline” and “I feel emotionally drained from my studies.”

Those who had helicopter parents also had higher levels of burnout in school. And these effects were more pronounced when their fathers were the ones hovering compared to mothers.

Researchers define helicopter parents as those who “excessively monitor” their kids and are overly involved or controlling in a way that’s inappropriate for parents of adults. Instead of teaching their kids how to handle obstacles, helicopter parents often just clear the way for them. For example, a helicopter parent might do their kid’s laundry or speak to their child’s professor about their grades.

Most of the time, helicopter parents behave this way because they don’t want their kids to fail, or because they feel personally invested in their child’s success, the study authors wrote.

The irony is, when kids are micro-managed by their parents, they don’t develop “self-control skills” that are necessary for reaching long-term goals and coping with academic stressors, Hayley Love, study author tells CNBC Make It.

“Students may be experiencing academic pressures to succeed for their parents, however they do not have the self-regulatory resources to cope with the stress,” Love says.

As a result, they might feel “increasingly helpless, hopeless and resentful, exerting less effort on their studies, which leads to lower grades,” Frank Fincham, director of the FSU Family Institute said in a release. “In some cases, students end up dropping out of college.”

What does burnout look like in a kid? The researchers defined it as “exhaustion due to school work, cynical attitudes toward school and perceived inadequacy in school-related accomplishments.”

Beyond school, “this research really highlights the salience of parenting even as children move out of the home,” Love says.

Helicopter parenting signals to kids that their parents will make all major life decisions for them, including planning for their future and monitoring their performance, the study authors wrote. Over time, kids will feel like everything they do is for their parents, so they lose any personal motivation to succeed.

This is particularly troubling for adults who are transitioning from school to the “real world” and from high school to college. Other studies have shown that young adults (in their college years) who have helicopter parents have lower levels of self efficacy, which is the personal belief that they’re capable of handling tough life tasks and decisions. They also experience more anxiety and depression, and lower levels of life satisfaction and physical health.

The best thing parents can do is “provide plenty of autonomy and independence to help facilitate healthy development,” Love says. Guiding kids to develop self-control skills not only allows them to flourish as adults, but also can help mitigate the effects of burnout, she adds.

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Helicopter Parenting: From Good Intentions to Poor Outcomes

Do you stand over your child’s shoulder when they do their homework? Do you find yourself directing your kids’ every move? “Pick up this, clean up that, sit up straight, finish your homework, study hard, say thank you.” Do you spend a good chunk of your day obsessing about your children’s success, like will they make the sports team or school play, and will they get into the top-notch college you (yes, you!) always dreamed of?

I hate to break it to you, but you may be a helicopter parent—a term which is commonly used but also has a basis in research on specific parenting behaviors and their effects on children.

Most parents want the very best for their children, and so they’ll go to great lengths to be wonderful providers and protectors. The deep love and care that parents have for their children can even push parents to, well, be a bit over-the-top. And helicopter parents are known to be overly protective and involved in their children’s lives.

The term paints a picture of a parent who hovers over their children, always on alert, and who swoops in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble or disappointment. The term was first coined in 1990 by Foster Cline and Jim Fay in their book, Parenting with Love and Logic, and it gained relevance with college admissions staff who noticed how parents of prospective students were inserting themselves in the admissions process.

Helicopter parenting can be defined by three types of behaviors that parents exemplify:

  • First, information seeking behaviors include knowing your children’s daily schedule and where they are at all times, helping them make decisions, and being informed about grades and other accomplishments.
  • Second, direct intervention means jumping into conflicts with kids’ roommates, friends, romantic partners, and even bosses.
  • Third, autonomy limiting is when students think their parents are preventing them from making their own mistakes, controlling their lives for them, and failing to support their decisions.

We all want to love our children as much as possible and protect them from the dangers in our society. We live in an increasingly competitive world and want to give our kids every advantage possible. But if we over-parent and smother them, it can backfire big time. A collection of research in recent years shows a connection between helicopter parenting and mental health issues like anxiety and depression as children get older and try to make it on their own.

The negative impacts of helicopter parenting

In 2010, a study by researcher Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College in New Hampshire, found that overprotective parents might have a lasting impact on their child’s personality by prolonging childhood and adolescence. Approximately 300 college freshmen were surveyed about their level of agreement with statements regarding their parents’ involvement in their lives. The results showed that 10 percent of the participants had helicopter parents. The research also revealed that students with helicopter parents tended to be less open to new ideas and actions, and were more vulnerable, anxious, dependent, and self-conscious.

A 2016 study from the National University of Singapore published in the Journal of Personality indicated that children with intrusive parents who had high expectations for academic performance, or who overreacted when they made a mistake, tend to be more self-critical, anxious, or depressed. The researchers termed this as “maladaptive perfectionism,” or a tendency in children of helicopter parents to be afraid of making mistakes and to blame themselves for not being perfect. This happens because the parents are essentially—whether by their words or actions—indicating to their kids that what they do is never good enough.

Another 2016 study evaluated questionnaires about parenting completed by 377 students from a Midwestern university. Students responded to statements about the type of parents they have, how often they communicate with their parents, and how much their parents intrude in their lives. The students also completed a number of tests to discern their decision-making skills, academic performance, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Results showed that higher overall helicopter parenting scores were associated with stronger symptoms of anxiety and depression.

According to that study, helicopter parenting “was also associated with poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making, and academic functioning. Parents’ information-seeking behaviors, when done in absences of other behaviors, were associated with better decision making and academic functioning.”

In addition, the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research published research in 2017 suggesting that helicopter parenting can trigger anxiety in kids who already struggle with some social issues. A group of children and their parents were asked to complete as many puzzles as possible in a 10-minute time period. Parents were allowed to help their children, but not encouraged to do so.

Researchers noted that the parents of children with social issues touched the puzzles more often than the other parents did. Though they were not critical or negative, they stepped in even when their children did not ask for help. Researchers think this indicates that parents of socially anxious children may perceive challenges to be more threatening than the child thinks they are. Over time, this can diminish a child’s ability to succeed on their own and potentially increase anxiety.

So how does all this hovering cause mental health problems in our children?

First of all, helicopter parents are communicating to their children in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways that they won’t be safe unless mom or dad is there looking out for them. When these children have to go off on their own, they are not prepared to meet daily challenges. This inability to find creative solutions and make decisions on their own can cause a great deal of worry since their protector is no longer around to help them.

Because these children were never taught the skills to function independently, and because they may have been held to unattainable or even “perfectionist” standards, children of helicopter parents can experience anxiety, depression, a lack of confidence, and low self-esteem. Another issue is that if these kids have never experienced failure, they can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Finally, if we don’t let our children have the freedom to learn about the world and discover their purpose and what makes them happy, they will struggle to find happiness and live a balanced life—all impacting their mental health.

What we can do to break the helicopter habit

All parents know that parenting is not easy. Having children and raising them presents innumerable challenges and surprises, but also immense joy and connection. Now that we know that overparenting only leads to more problems for our kids, we can make the following adjustments in our parenting approach:

  • Support your children’s growth and independence by listening to them, and not always pushing your desires on them.
  • Refrain from doing everything for your children (this includes homework!). Take steps to gradually teach them how to accomplish tasks on their own.
  • Don’t try to help your children escape consequences for their actions unless you believe those consequences are unfair or life-altering.
  • Don’t raise your child to expect to be treated differently than other children.
  • Encourage your children to solve their own problems by asking them to come up with creative solutions.
  • Teach your children to speak up for themselves in a respectful manner.
  • Understand and accept your children’s weaknesses and strengths, and help them to use their strengths to achieve their own goals.

Parents should, of course, do the best they can for their kids. Impulses to involve ourselves in our children’s’ lives often come from a sense of duty, and of unconditional love. We can harness those desires to give the most we can to our kids by resisting helicopter parenting, which can lead to poor outcomes in adulthood.

Instead, try letting your children discover themselves—their weaknesses, strengths, their goals and dreams. You can help them succeed, but you should also let them fail. Teach them how to try again. Learning what failure means, how it feels, and how to bounce back is an important part of becoming independent in our world.

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More in Parenting & Emotion Coaching

  • The term “helicopter parenting” comes from the notion that these parents “hover” over their children and then rescue them when needed.
  • Unlike other parenting styles, helicopter parenting is not a philosophy that parents aspire to or join on purpose; it’s a descriptive term used to portray over-involved parents.
  • Helicopter parenting has a few advantages, but mostly results in negative consequences for kids.

Helicopter parenting has been a thing for a while — and it’s only gotten worse.

The term “helicopter parenting” was coined back in 1990 by child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay in their book, Parenting With Love and Logic. “They hover over and then rescue their children whenever trouble arises,” the authors wrote at the time. “They’re forever running lunches, permission slips, band instruments, and homework assignments to school.”

Fast forward almost 30 years and parental over-involvement has only gotten worse. In an expanded and updated version of their book, the authors note: “We have come to call them the ‘jet-powered, turbo-attack mode’ of helicopter parents,” they write. “These parents are obsessed with a desire to create a perfect world for their kids…one in which they never have to face struggle, inconvenience, discomfort, or disappointment.”

This kind of hovering can look a few different ways. “It can be physical, like stopping a toddler from running free in the park,” says Elizabeth Cohen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. “Or it may take other forms, like asking excessive questions about a teenager’s friends or academics.”

The signs of helicopter parenting are clear.

And many of them might sound familiar. “Common characteristics of helicopter parents are incessant worry about safety, giving a child more restrictions than his or her peers, and feeling more anxious about the child’s matters — like an upcoming test — than the child does,” says Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., educator and author of Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World.

More Parenting

Observing how involved a parent is with their child’s schooling is a surefire way to know if they’re a helicopter parent. “The parent knows their child’s current grades in each class, and the teacher knows the parent by first name,” says Kristie Holmes, Ph.D., LCSW, of Thrive Psychology. “The parent also knows their children’s friend’s names. And, most importantly, they know their kid’s passwords and every platform that they are on.” (Holmes adds that she supports parents knowing their kids’ online passwords for safety.)

The disadvantages of being a helicopter parent outweigh the benefits.

There are a few advantages to being a helicopter parent but they’re small and short-lived. For example, when kids are young, being a helicopter parent might lead to fewer bumps and bruises. “For the duration of their childhoods, when the parent is present, these children often have fewer injuries,” Dr. Rankin says.

And that’s not a bad thing, Dr. Cohen adds. “There are times when our kids need us to intervene,” he explains. “Kids need their parents as their primary attachment figures. They need their parents to be keeping a watchful eye, but they also need to know that the eye is from across the room and not over their shoulder.”

More Parenting

When parental supervision is too close, you run the risk of cutting your kids off from important life experiences, starting at a young age. “The children of helicopter parents can struggle when it comes to learning boundaries or judging safety on their own,” says Dr. Rankin.

“For example, if a helicopter parent never lets a child climb the jungle gym ladder, or is always narrating the process — saying things like, ‘Watch your left heel, it’s close to slipping!’ — that child is more prone to accidents when operating independently because the child hasn’t had the chance to navigate matters on his or her own,” she explains. “These kids can also be prone to anxiety, sensing their parents’ constant fear for their safety.”

“They don’t get to exercise the muscle of trying out problem-solving strategies,” Dr. Cohen adds. “They don’t need to figure out the life skills of how to get out of a sticky situation on their own.”

As these kids grow older, they lack the skills they need to navigate difficult situations solo since they haven’t had the much-needed practice that some of their peers have had.

If you suspect you’ve been too involved in your kids’ lives, it might be time to pull back.

Take these steps to give your kids a bit more breathing room:

  1. Get real with your kids. “Ask them if you’ve been hovering,” says Dr. Holmes. “If they say yes, ask them to give you a few examples and try to work out a way to build trust without looking — literally — over their shoulder while you dictate their school essay.”
  2. Give younger children leeway gradually. Take them to a park or play space and let them roam free (so long as you can keep them in sight from afar).
  3. Reclaim your time. “Helicopter parents are those that have both the inclination and the time to oversee not only kids’ academic lives, but social lives and connection to the community,” Dr. Holmes says. Decreasing your oversight means you’ll have more time and mental space to take up other pursuits. Enjoy it!

How to Parent a Little Less (For Your Sake and Theirs)

How to Raise an Adult amazon.com $9.98 The Coddling of the American Mind amazon.com $12.60 The Gift of Failure amazon.com $4.52 Parenting With Love And Logic amazon.com $15.26 Marisa LaScala Parenting & Relationships Editor Marisa LaScala covers all things parenting, from the postpartum period through empty nests, for GoodHousekeeping.com; she previously wrote about motherhood for Parents and Working Mother.

What Are The Positive Effects of Helicopter Parenting?

As parents we all have the best intentions at heart when doing anything for our children – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we always do what’s actually best for our children.

We love our children, we care for our children, and we want the world (and then some) for our children. What we don’t realize though, is that on our missions to protect them, nurture them, and provide for them, we often end up causing some harm – unintentionally of course.

We aren’t saying you are a horrible parent who has made grave mistakes and clearly doesn’t know what’s best for their child or how to achieve it – all we are saying is that sometimes what we think is best for our child, while doing so with perfect intentions, is maybe not as good as we think it is.

Example A: Helicopter parenting.

Although the term was first used in 1969, by Dr. Haim Ginott, in the book Parents & Teenagers, “helicopter parent” was only inducted into the dictionary less than a decade ago, in 2011.

The term refers to a “style of parents who are over focused on their children”. Helicopter parents typically “take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures”.

Essentially, it means you are overinvolved in your child’s life – is that even possible, you ask? Well yes, actually, very much so.

Parent’s can easily become over controlling and over protective, to a point where it is no longer healthy or helpful to the child(ren).

Before trashing the concept of helicopter parenting all together, however, we have to admit that, to an extent, it is not all bad. To prove it, let’s take a look at some of the positive effects of helicopter parenting.

Can Helicopter Parenting Actually Help Your Children?

There are articles and books and podcasts (and more) that do nothing paint this style of parenting in a bad light. They claim that helicopter parenting is hazardous to children, and urge parents to steer clear of it and give their children space

However, as with anything in life, there are both pros and cons to helicopter parenting, you just have to approach the technique with care – it’s all about balance.

Here are a few of the ways in which a “helicopter parent” style technique can actually benefit your child.

  • Your Child Will Feel Supported

Having you close can give children a sense of security – this sense of security acts as an enabler for children to branch out and try new things without fear of failure. Essentially, your child, even as they grow into young adulthood, will view you as a sort of safety net. They will carry the feeling that you have their back and that they have someone who will always be there for them to turn to. This is both encouraging and reassuring for them.

  • Your Child Will Feel Seen

Not only will they feel like they have a strong support system in you, but they will also have the feeling that they are seen. It’s important that your child feels that you not only are there for them as but that you hear them, understand them, and see them for who they are.

Parents who are preoccupied with other things, such as work or even themselves, create children who feel unseen. With parenting techniques more focused on the child and the child’s needs, that child is fully aware that they are seen and are not only cared for but are cared about.

  • Your Child Will Be Exposed To A Larger Variety of Activites

Children, on their own, may not always seek out new or different activities on their own – they tend to gravitate towards specific hobbies, interests, or activities that they excel at. Having parents who push them to try a variety of new things, such as languages, instruments, sports, etc., helps children develop different skills and determine their interests and affinities.

Aside from determining what they excel at, children who participate in an array of activities are more likely to know failure – but this is a good thing. Not being the best at something helps children become more resilient and persistent and reduces ideas of perfectionism.

  • Your Child Will Be More Likely To Succeed (In & Out Of School)

Chances are that if you are a helicopter parent, you push your children to succeed. You actively help them with their homework; you dedicate time to helping them with extra curricular; you instill in them the importance of practice, time, and effort.

This technique not only benefits your child in the moment, but also gives them life skills and lessons for later on down the road.

Of Course, You Do Have To Watch Out For The Harmful Aspects Of It

The purpose of this article is to prove to parents that helicopter parenting, at least to an extent, does offer benefits to your children. However, it is important to bear in mind the negative effects it can create as well. These are the negative effects that give helicopter parenting such a bad reputation – and for good reason.

  • Your Child May Lack Problem Solving Skills

A child who lacks problem-solving skills turns into an adult who lacks problem-solving skills.

Learning basic problem solving at a young age not only a valuable skill but also an essential one for anyone who wishes to succeed on their own in the real world – one that is needed both in small and large scale situations on a regular basis.

  • Your Child May Lack Independence

Sure, you may love doing everything for your child – but take into consideration the fact that you aren’t always going to be there to do everything for them. Children need to learn how to function independently in addition to having support from the adults in their lives.

  • Your Child May Not Understand Natural Consequences

If you are always interfering when, or before, your child ends up in a situation where negative consequences are in order, your child will lack the fundamental understanding that sometimes their actions have consequences.

A child, who will grow into an adult, who doesn’t understand the concept of consequences, will be under the illusion that they can do or say whatever they please without fear of punishment.

  • You May End Up Pushing Your Child Away

You want your child to feel loved, supported, and seen – but you don’t want them to feel smothered. Children who feel overwhelmed by how much attention their parents give them, especially if said attention is controlling or over protective, will pull away to create the space and distance they desire.

How To Tell If You Are A Helicopter Parent

Do you run straight to your child every moment that they need something? Do you hover over your child anytime they are doing their homework, practicing whatever it is they take part in, or even just playing? Do you encourage (or push) your child to participate in numerous activities/events? You may be a helicopter parent.

If anyone has ever referred to you as overbearing, over-protective, or controlling, you may be a helicopter parent.

But that’s okay! We aren’t suggesting that you change your parenting style all together – in fact we believe that a high level of involvement in your children’s lives is extremely important. What we are saying is that there is a fine line between being involved, supportive, and present, and being controlling, obsessive, and over the top.

Dial It Down A Notch

As you can see, there are clear benefits to having an active role in and close relationship with your children.

While we may away from the term “helicopter parent” because this term is typically used to describe those who take the “active” role a step (or more) too far, we are not shying away from what the term encompasses. We believe that the fundamental drive behind the helicopter parenting technique is an important one – our children need us to be present, protective, and proactive in their lives.

The advice we will give (more like a warning), is just to ensure you provide your child with a healthy balance of active parenting and space.

Of course, where the line is drawn for this balance will all depend on the child – every child is different and will respond to, and need, a varying amount of support and space (even children within the same family).

Take some time to understand each of your children as individuals, and then take your good intentions and balance them with how much active and passive involvement each child needs to develop the skills, emotions, and ideas that they need to grow into happy and successful adults.

But for the most part, the new parenting efforts seemed effective. Dr. Doepke and Dr. Zilibotti can’t prove causality (to do that, you’d have to randomly assign parenting styles to different families). But when they analyzed the 2012 PISA, an academic test of 15-year-olds around the world, along with reports from the teenagers and their parents about how they interact, they found that an “intensive parenting style” correlated with higher scores on the test. This was true even among teenagers whose parents had similar levels of education.

It’s not enough just to hover over your kids, however. If you do it as an “authoritarian” parent — defined as someone who issues directives, expects children to obey and sometimes hits those who don’t — you won’t get the full benefits.

The most effective parents, according to the authors, are “authoritative.” They use reasoning to persuade kids to do things that are good for them. Instead of strict obedience, they emphasize adaptability, problem-solving and independence — skills that will help their offspring in future workplaces that we can’t even imagine yet.

And they seem most successful at helping their kids achieve the holy grails of modern parenting: college and postgraduate degrees, which now have a huge financial payoff. Using data from a national study that followed thousands of American teenagers for years, the authors found that the offspring of “authoritative” parents were more likely to graduate from college and graduate school, especially compared with those with authoritarian parents. This was true even when they controlled for the parents’ education and income.

The benefits aren’t just academic. In a British study, kids raised by authoritative parents reported better health and higher self-esteem. In the American study, they were less likely to use drugs, smoke or abuse alcohol; they started having sex at older ages, and they were more likely to use condoms.

So why wouldn’t everyone just become an authoritative parent? Religious people, regardless of their income, are more likely to be authoritarian parents who expect obedience and believe in corporal punishment, the authors found.

Working-class and poor parents might not have the leisure time to hover or the budget to pay for activities and expensive schools. And they may rightly feel that they need to prepare their children for jobs in which rule-following matters more than debating skills.

There is little love for helicopter parenting these days. All that hovering and coddling of kids has been implicated in everything from rising levels of teen anxiety to the inability of college-age kids to do their laundry.

But a new paper suggests that there is a surprising amount of consensus behind intensive parenting as the best way to raise children. Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University in New York, surveyed a nationally representative group of 3,642 American parents of elementary school kids about parenting styles and found that regardless of education, income or race, the all-in approach had almost universal appeal.

“College graduates and non-college graduates, high and low-income parents, all these groups report remarkably similar support for intensive parenting,” Ishizuka said.

While the study looked at the beliefs of American parents, overprotective parenting is a global phenomenon: In Nordic countries, for example, hovering moms and dad are called curling parents.

The paper, “Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States: Evidence from a National Survey Experiment”, starts with the modern parenting paradox. Mothers and fathers spend significantly more time with their children than parents from the 1960s, while simultaneously working more. The benign neglect of the 1970s has morphed into an involvement in all aspects of children’s lives (and parents are tired).

But it remains debatable whether this intensive approach is concentrated among middle and upper class families, or is more widely shared across class and gender. It is well documented that educated parents are more likely to enroll their kids in extra curricular activities; to talk, reason and negotiate more; and to participate more in their children’s schooling (these are dubbed parenting “behaviors”). Kids of more educated and wealthier parents also graduate from high school at higher rates, and attend college more, suggesting these differences have significant implications for inequality (pdf).

Ishizuka’s paper attempts to understand whether the difference in behaviors is rooted in a difference of opinion about parenting styles, or something else. He found it was not a difference of opinion.

“Parents of different social classes express remarkably similar support for intensive mothering and fathering across a range of situations, whether sons or daughters are involved,” he writes. “These findings suggest that cultural norms of child-centered, time-intensive mothering and fathering are now pervasive, pointing to high contemporary standards for parental investments in children.”

The study asked parents to read vignettes and rate two approaches: a “concerted cultivation response” or a “natural growth response.” The terms come from sociologist Annette Lareau, who suggested that middle-class parents tended to prefer the more-intensive “concerted cultivation” parenting approach, whereas poor and working-class parents gravitate to a less-intensive “accomplishment of natural growth.” Here is an example of a vignette presented by the researchers to participating parents:

Parenting situation: While Kim is busy getting things ready for her son’s first day of school tomorrow, her son asks if she will draw pictures with him.

Concerted cultivation response: Kim sits down to draw with her son. Then Kim says: “You’re so creative! Should we sign you up for art lessons?”

Natural growth response: Kim tells her son she’s busy right now. Then Kim says: “How about you work on some drawings and I’ll try to look at them later?”

The structure of the questions was meant to protect against parents answering what they thought they should answer (so called “social desirability bias”), and just rate the objective vignette—which avoids terms like mother and father, and is not personal to the respondent.

If it is not outlook that shapes different outcomes between classes, Ishizuka suggests it could be resources—poorer parents don’t have the money or time to invest in extracurricular activities and endless negotiations. But he says his study does not provide the evidence to support that.

“If we think that poor and working class parents have fundamentally different views, then we have to think about where those attitudes some from and can they be changed,” he said. “If they have the desire to engage in but their behavior doesn’t match up, that means we have to look at other potential factors intervening between attitudes and behaviors, which could include differences in money, in family structure, and the kinds of resources they have access to,” such as neighborhoods and schools.

The paper also showed respondents overwhelmingly believed that intensive parenting should be shared, with mothers and fathers engaged in it equally. However, the study did not report on frequency. In other words, it asked parents to rate which approach was better, but it did not ask whether this approach should be used in all situations (negotiating rules, organizing a child’s free time, how kid’s interact with institutions) rather than just the one presented.

“How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”
– D.H. Lawrence

WHAT IS A “HELICOPTER PARENT”?

Helicopter parenting means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting. It means staying very close, rarely out of reach, paying extremely close attention to your child and rushing over to prevent any harm, physically and psychologically, to the point of enmeshment. This is where personal boundaries are diffused, sub-systems undifferentiated and over-concern leads to a loss of autonomous development.

If you thought helicopter parents were too much, wait till you learn about Lawnmower Parents. These are the new generation of helicopter parents, who take overparenting to the next level. Rather than hovering, these parents actively prepare the way for their children to succeed, they mow down all obstacles they see in their child’s path; make sure their kids always look perfect and if they don’t, they’ll intervene and make it better right away. This does not sound good!

However, if most parents read this they will likely say, phew that is not me. So, let’s look at a few examples:

  • You prevent your child from exploring and stretching his abilities (e.g. your child climbs a tree (or anything), you run over and tell them to not do that).
  • In toddlerhood, you might constantly shadow your child, always playing with and directing his behavior, allowing them no alone time.
  • In elementary school, you ensure your child has a certain teacher or coach, selecting the child’s friends and activities.
  • You monitor and control their homework, providing disproportionate assistance for homework and school projects.
  • You shield them from failure, if they fail then you pull your weight to change that.
  • You do for your child what he/she can actually do for herself.
  • You influence your child to work as per your ambitions.
  • You negotiate your child’s conflicts.
  • You do their academic works or get overly involved.
  • You train your child’s trainers, telling them how to do things differently for your child.
  • You hold the responsibility for all your child’s house chores.
  • You don’t allow them to tackle their problems.
  • You don’t allow them to make age appropriate choices.

When we look at this list of actions we can see that the difficulty with this often is the degree to which they get exercised. If, for instance, your child is stuck with homework and he/she comes to you for help it is normal to offer assistance. However, if your child is doing their homework and you consistently check the homework or monitor what they are doing, this is a step further. If your child climbs a tree that is truly a danger then asking them not to is responsible. However, if they approach any tree and they are told not to climb, well then you restrict the growth of their neurological limitations. As such it is easy to see where a parent might not have the awareness of their own helicopter parenting.

LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES

This type of excessive parenting, even though done with genuine intention, has some serious kickbacks and severe long-term consequences that most are not aware of. Here is a list of these side-effects:

1. Underdevelopment of the brain.

Helicopter parenting implicitly involves parents taking decisions for their children, reducing their need to problem solve and make their own decisions. The area of the brain that deals with these components is housed in the prefrontal part of the brain. This part of the brain is found to only have fully developed at 25 years of age. However, it is like a muscle and if not given the chance to exercise it will not grow substantially, meaning that these skills will stay underdeveloped.

The brain is exercised by “doing”, this means by doing it yourself, failing and falling, and learning how to better do it next time. This is what increases the connectivity and effectiveness of this part of the brain. Having helicopter parents could be hindering a child’s ability to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills; skills that we want our children to have copious amounts of when they leave the nest, so they can make the most well-informed decisions in all aspects of their life and get through it as unscathed as possible. As such by not letting them fall and learn and do better next time, we hinder the development of brain and with it the copious capacities needed to thrive socially, personally and academically.

2. Emotional backlash.

Additionally, if parents exert too much control over situations and step in before children try to handle the challenge on their own, or physically keep children from challenging contexts altogether, they may hinder the development of self-regulatory abilities. Again, this is related to the control of the prefrontal cortex, the more developed it is the more of a lid it can hold down on emotions. This is a well-researched area, for instance a research study published in the journal of Developmental Psychology determined that 2-year-olds exposed to this kind of parenting ended up less able to regulate their own emotions and behavior by age 5. That upped the risk for emotional problems at age 10.

3. Low self-esteem and confidence.

Helicopter parenting backfires! The over involvement of the parent makes the child believe that their parents will not trust them if they do something independently. It, therefore, leads to lack of self-esteem and confidence. When we parent this way, we deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are. Although we over involve ourselves to protect our kids and this may in fact lead to short-term gains, our behavior actually delivers the rather implicit soul-crushing news: Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me. It is that which we as parents need to keep at the forefront, “What am I implicitly telling my child?” This is what our kids take away, not the physical words but the underlying message.

4. Immature coping skills, low frustration tolerance = disadvantage in the work force.

When the parent is always there to prevent the problem at first sight or clean up the mess, the child can never learn through failure, disappointment or loss – inevitable aspects of everyone’s life. They deprive the kids of any meaningful consequences for their actions. As a result, the kids miss out on the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons from the mistakes they make; life-lessons that would contribute to their emotional intelligence.

When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, making choices—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process.

This inability to cope—to sit with some discomfort, think about options, talk it through with someone, make a decision—can become a problem unto itself. When these kids grow up, they don’t know how to resolve difficulties. Hence the fallout is that over-protection makes it nearly impossible for these young people to develop problem solving skills and frustration tolerance and without these important psychological attributes, young people enter the workforce at a great disadvantage.

5. Mental Health Problems.

Helicopter parenting increases a child’s depression and anxiety levels. They are always in look out for guidance, and when left alone, they become too nervous to take a decision. Multiple studies over the past decade summarize the social and psychological risks of being a helicopter parent’s child. These kids are less open to new ideas and activities and more vulnerable, anxious and self-conscious.

The other problem with never having to struggle is that you never experience failure and can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Both the low self-confidence and the fear of failure can lead to depression or anxiety. Studies show that when they reach college, children of overbearing parents are found to be more likely to be medicated for anxiety or depression. The data emerging about the mental health of our kids only confirms the harm done. At the end of the day we want our kids to be happy. However, driving them does the opposite, it robs them of the ability to discover who they are and what internally drives them. Without this understanding of oneself, happiness hardly ever happens.

6. Sense of entitlement complex.

When parents involve themselves in their child’s academic, social and athletic lives, children get accustomed to always having their parents to fulfill their needs. This makes them demanding as they feel that it is their right to have what they want.

7. Meanness and aggression

Research shows that kids raised by intrusive helicopter parents tend to be meaner or more hostile towards other kids. This is believed to be a response of extreme parental control. Kids act out and assert their dominance as a way to regain a sense of agency over their lives. As such, they tend to become irritable and less patient when faced with having to relate well with peers.

HOW DOES THIS STYLE OF PARENTING COME ABOUT?

Fear for our children.

The standard of overparenting (helicopter parenting) is a few decades in the making and is largely derived from a cocktail of dread: fear that our children might be injured or kidnapped, anxiety that they might not be academically or socially successful in the absence of constant supervision, and worry that not tending to a child’s every need will somehow lead to irreparable psychological damage. As a remedy, some parents have embraced intensive parenting styles that are endlessly caricatured, but have nonetheless shifted the collective expectation of what it means to be a responsible, devoted parent and it seems like the situation is getting worse.

Comfortable financial situation.

A variety of factors shape the ability to provide such an involved and attached level of parenting, and finances are among the most important. Helicopter parenting is more readily adopted by parents in the socioeconomic stratosphere. Money may not buy happiness, but it creates space and time —including, in some cases, the option for one parent to stay home.

Research reveals an interesting self-perpetuating cycle: professional women who left work to prioritize parenthood often justified that decision by making child-rearing a full-time, all-encompassing job, which in turn raised the stakes of what ideal parenting looks like. This shifted goalposts, creating a new, hard-to-achieve standard for others to live up to. In our current times of social media, visibility and connection through digital means offers a new level of support, but also a new level of judgment. Parents—mothers, particularly—aren’t just living up to standards set by moms on the playground or the PTA, but the ones they encounter online.

Social media pressures.

Social media has upped the ante and parents are desperate to make their kids look as successful as possible in the eyes of online viewers. Parenting is a race to gain the greatest number of awards and experiences on behalf of their child in the shortest amount of time, and posting these successes on Facebook. In addition, due to the competitive nature of social media, parents fear their children will fail and can’t meet these requirements, and this leads them to take charge of their kids’ problems. For the same reason they fill their kids’ agendas from early age with dozens of extracurricular activities which, they indicate, are aimed to help them prepare for adult life.

Only child.

There are many other reasons for this particular parenting style. For instance, children being seen as material property of great value. The fact that couples have children in more advanced age, often after undertaking various fertility treatments, means that these children are considered a very valuable asset that must be protected at all costs. So children end up being considered gods, metaphorically speaking. Equally parents do not want to be seen as “emotionally distant parents” so they overcompensate by being excessively present.

And more…

Another reason is what parents “think” is expected of them, if a child loses their ball in the water, rather than letting the kid figure it out they think to themselves: “If I don’t run to get the ball others will think I am negligent as my kid might wade out to get it themselves”. Other reasons that parents overparent is a validation of how they did themselves as parents. And so especially senior year is the witching hour, where this parenting style becomes over prevalent. One principal said, “ I think for a lot of parents, college admissions is like their grade report on how they did as a parent.”

Each one of us will innately know what our reasons are if we sit down with this question for long enough. Regardless of the reasons behind this we must, for the health and wellbeing of our children and in turn their children, move away from this pattern.

HOW TO PREVENT HELICOPTER PARENTING

Always, always, think of the long-term goal, not the now. What is it I want my child to achieve? Can he achieve it with my interference?

  1. A child is stuck on a homework problem and you help them by giving them the solution. The long-term goal is that they become their own problem solvers. So, this is an example of what not to do. What you can do is suggest ways of thinking about the problem or nudge them to research the answer to the problem.
  2. A child comes home after having a fight with a friend. The long-term goal is for them to learn to be flexible in their thinking and come up with potential solutions. Telling them what to tell their friend would not be the answer. However, offering a listening ear and hearing them out as they track through the possible solutions, is the right thing to do to achieve the long-term goal.

Remember to think “What am I implicitly telling my child”. Our children take away the underlying message, not the actual words.

  1. Remember their brains grow by letting them do. If we always pick up what is on the floor, what they drop, then the physicality of checking and reaching to pick up does not wire and they will be hard pressed to become neat as they grow. If I pick up my child’s jumper when we leave the waiting room, what am I implicitly teaching my child? Well, that others will do the work for him (and again they are not creating those neurological connections for themselves). If I keep checking my child’s work each time he does his homework, what am I implicitly telling my child? Well, “you need to rely on others to do a good job because on your own you might not do it well enough”.
  2. Ask “Whose problem is this?” If these really are kid problems, then our job is not to solve them. It’s to help the kid solve them. Research on rats shows that when you shock them, it’s extremely stressful. But if you give them a wheel to turn after, it gives the rat a sense of control and the prefrontal cortex activates. Then in similar stressful situations, the rat can leap into a coping mode, even in situations that are uncontrollable.What we want to do is condition kids when they have a problem to leap into coping mode as opposed to waiting for their parent (or someone else later in life) to solve the problem. The latter can again also lead to learned helplessness, anxiety and depression. There are some problems a kid can’t solve themselves. If they’re being mercilessly bullied at school, an adult needs to step in. But we want as much as possible for kids to develop that coping impulse. It almost inoculates kids from stress by experiencing that. There’s a big difference between coaching a kid and trying to solve problems for them.

HOW CAN PARENTS GIVE UP CONTROL WITHOUT CHECKING OUT COMPLETELY?

When kids feel securely attached to a parent or caregiver they feel safe, and when they feel safe, they explore and take risks appropriately. They’re more adventurous. Having the internal sense of safety, or a “safe base,” is simply good for human beings. In one study, researchers separated baby rats from their mothers every day for a couple of weeks, which was extremely stressful for the rats, and then bring them back to their mothers. When mothers licked and groom them for a long time after and let them know they were okay, these rats became almost impossible to stress as adults. But you have to have that den, that environment to let your guard down.

  • Stop saying “we”! I catch parents saying this a lot “we need to go home to do homework”. Huh, no, it should be “we need to go home so you can do homework”. I hear “we didn’t do so well on that test”. Hum? Who’s test is it?
  • Stop arguing with adults in your kids life. Let them do the problem solving, but you can guide them.
  • Stop doing their homework! Stop checking their homework! Parents seem to find this the hardest. When this is stopped from a young age, kids will learn to self-monitor. Don’t worry the negative consequence of looking bad before their teacher and peers will mostly motivate them to do their homework. When they are coached through their homework and suddenly at 12 years they are expected to do it on their own, this becomes a terrifying chore with no internal self-regulation.
  • Stop solving your kids problems!! Ask them, “ well what do you think you should do”. Ok, go try it out and then tell me how it went. Do not give them the answers! Let them trial and fail and trial and succeed. Do you know how much effort and energy parents put into trying to find solutions or giving the answers? I am sure you know!
  • We need to stop over-scheduling our kids and let them play outdoors on their own, without adult supervision or control. We need to trust our kids and recognize that they’re smart, resourceful young people, better able to care for themselves than we might imagine. When our kids can spend time just playing and hanging out with one-another, they’ll learn essential life skills including leadership, cooperation, problem-solving, flexibility and compassion.

Keep in mind a good motto: “ Our job as parents is to put ourselves out of job!!”

LET THEM FALL!

The main message here is clear and bears overwhelming importance: LET THEM FALL. Oh I can hear it already “What! that is totally irresponsible and dangerous”. Hear me out….. Yes let them fall……but…this is the image you need to keep in your mind: Your child is a tight rope walker in a circus (life), his aim is to walk that tight rope as safely as possible and get through the walk with his head held high, a sense of accomplishment, joy and unscathed as much as possible.

So, if you hold your child’s hand as they try and walk that rope, what happens? Well, they will do quite well, they might wobble a little, they will get through it….but….will they learn it for themselves? What happens in this situation? Well, they won’t have made the neurological pathways to be able to sustain themselves on that rope, their brain will not have grown in those areas and they will fall, hard on to the ground.

BUT BE THE NET.

Now, if you are not the hand holder but are the net, what happens? Your child will get up there with fear in their hearts, sweating profusely, knees like jelly but at some point they will get the courage to start that walk as they know that if they fall the net is there, you are there to catch them. And they WILL fall, no doubt about that, many times. But what happens?? Well, they gain the confidence in themselves that bit by bit they can maneuver this challenge better, they gain the confidence that they can do it themselves but have someone there to not make the fall too hard when it goes wrong.

Slowly slow, the fear subsides, the sweating subsides, the wobbly knees dissipate and they start walking straighter, they start walking with confidence, they start smiling, they are sturdy, they are happy and they know in their gut and in their heart beyond a shadow of a doubt that I CAN DO IT on my own. Now when they leave your nest at whatever age it may be YOU too will know in your heart of hearts that YOUR child can make it in this world with or without you and that my dear parent is something worth striving for!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Laurence van Hanswijck de Jonge is a Developmental Neuropsychologist who provides developmental and psychological assessments as well as parental coaching and resilience training for English speaking children between the ages of 3 and 18 in Geneva and neighbouring Vaud, Switzerland. Her practice is rooted in Positive Psychology and her belief in the importance of letting our children flourish through building on their innate strengths.

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When it comes to raising a child, we’ve heard it all: strict parents who took it way too far, easygoing parents who don’t discipline their children at all, and parents who went viral for sharing their clever parenting hacks.

While there’s no one right way to parent your child, there is such a thing as being too controlling, as this Reddit thread proves. Here are a few stories of overprotective and over-involved parents shared by their friends, relatives, and children.

1. The mom who went to college with her child. One mother was so obsessed with ensuring that her child excelled that she enrolled in all of her daughter’s classes to make sure she was doing her work, a professor who goes by the username hansn wrote.

2. The parent who recruited friends for their kid. “I was at college orientation and one parent came up to my friend and said, ‘That girl over there is my daughter. You go up to her and introduce yourself to her and be her friend,'” one Redditor wrote. “It wasn’t done in a cute way—it was semi-threatening.”

3. The mom that applied to colleges for her daughter. “My senior year of high school my mom filled out an application for me to go to her alma mater, complete with an essay and a personal statement,” improbablity wrote. “I had no idea she’d done this until the acceptance letter arrived.”

4. The mom who threw food at her son’s competition. “I played a lot of hockey as a kid. I had a plate of nachos and a drink thrown at me by a mother and challenged to a fight by the father of one of the kids on the other team,” poissonsale wrote. “The reason being I scored twice that game, he was the goalie, and there were ‘scouts’ there.”

5. The dad who was thrown out of his son’s baseball game. “I’m a town cop, and just last night I had to ‘escort’ an irate father from the field before he took the Ump’s head off for ‘bad calls,'” another commentor wrote. “I made him sit in his Jeep like a toddler in time out until the game was over.”

6. The mom who attended her daughter’s job interview. “The mom wouldn’t shut up about how perfect her daughter was,” a commentor wrote. “I had my supervisor do the full interview with the girl while I talked to the mother. I told the mom, ‘You are ruining your daughter’s chances at getting hired at any job.’ She got offended and I clarified: ‘If your daughter can’t show up to work without her parent making her, it doesn’t make her look like a reliable employee.’ We didn’t hire the girl.”

7. The parents who didn’t approve of how professors graded their adult child. “Parents calling professors to complain about their kids’ grades or how their kid was graded—I’ve seen this all the way up to graduate students,” starsy, a university professor, wrote.

8. The parents who changed their child’s college major—without consent. They thought it was okay because they’re the ones paying for tuition. “This mother demanded that her son be a Biomedical Engineering major instead of a Computer Science major,” starsy also shared.

9. The mom who wanted access to constant video-monitoring of her child. “One mom wanted to pay for us to have cameras in our center so she could see what her kid was doing through out the day,” one teacher commented. “I said no. She decided that she would visit our school four times a day. Once for drop off, before nap, after nap, and pick up.”

10. The parent who was unhappy with their child’s food portions. “I worked at a dining hall in college and one parent called our manager to complain that her son was not getting big enough pieces of chicken in his General Tso’s,” stan_vega wrote.

11. The parents who wanted teachers to assign extra homework. Fee_line explained that she worked at an after-school tutoring organization and encountered many parents who requested further assignments to ensure that their child would perform ‘better than’ their classmates.

12. The parents who dominated their child’s games. “Public Easter Egg Hunts = watching grown men body check toddlers who try to pick up ‘their’ kid’s eggs,'” wizardofif wrote. Good point.

13. The dad who helped his son cheat. One Redditor explained how a chess player got extra help from his family. During a regional tournament, the boy’s father and grandfather attended the match and proceeded to break the rules by telling him how to beat the opponent, speaking in Russian so that the monitors wouldn’t know, winterbuyer wrote.

14. The mom who got in the way of her daughter’s interrogation—and was also arrested. “I once arrested an 18-year-old for DWI,” dasilence wrote. “Mom insisted that there was no way her darling was drunk (while she’s bombing the tests), and then when the cuffs went on, she insisted that there was no way I could arrest her. Long story short, mom ended up getting cuffed up for attempted bribery and obstructing, and she and her daughter ended up sharing a jail cell that night.”

15. The mom who moved into the house next-door to her daughter’s dorm. Apparently, she wanted to be near her child day and night, even while she was away at college. “Her mom left her husband to be with her daughter through college (the husband could not move due to work, and is now filing for divorce),” dang_yankee wrote. Yikes!

(h/t Reddit)

Jessica Leigh Mattern Web Editor Jessica Leigh Mattern is a web editor and writer who covers home, holiday, DIY, crafts, travel, and more lifestyle topics.

We’ve all seen them. The parents who enroll their kids in six different extra-curricular activities a week. Who shout directions from the sidelines of the soccer field. Who hover over their children while they finish their homework.

Roll your eyes if you’d like and call them helicopter parents or tiger moms or lawnmower parents—but all that over-parenting pays off.

That’s the gist of new research by economists Matthias Doepke of Northwestern University and Fabrizio Zilibotti of Yale. In their just-released book, Love, Money and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids, the two argue that an “intensive parenting style” leads to better outcomes for kids.

The researchers analyzed several different data sets and studies to reach their conclusion. First, they examined the results of the 2012 PISA, an international academic test of 15-year-olds, along with reports from the teenage participants on how they interact with their parents. There was a correlation between the high-scoring teens and parents who were more intense—regardless of how educated the parents were themselves.

And using data from a national study conducted in 1997 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that followed teenagers and tracked their achievements, they found that kids of parents with an “authoritative” style were more likely to graduate from college and get graduate degrees.

Authoritative parenting, as explained by Pamela Druckerman, an opinions writer for the New York Times, is using “reasoning to persuade kids to do things that are good for them. Instead of strict obedience, they emphasize adaptability, problem-solving and independence—skills that will help their offspring in future workplaces that we can’t even imagine yet.”

Children of authoritative parents were found to be more successful than those who had “authoritarian” parents, “defined as someone who issues directives, expects children to obey and sometimes hits those who don’t.”

From our Obsession

Being Human

We’ve never been as connected, or as isolated.

We live in confusing times. Kids have never been so depressed, averse to failure, and incapable of doing their laundry. Parents respond, understandably, by trying to help: assisting with homework, attending every imaginable activity, and giving detailed guidance on life skills, only to be reprimanded for over-parenting, helicoptering, and generally rendering their children helpless.

And that’s the positive spin.

The negative one is that parents are locked in a zero-sum arms race, which will inevitably force them to go a little cuckoo. Even if they don’t pay six-figure bribes to secure their child a spot at a top-tier university, as almost 50 people were charged with doing in a scandal that erupted this week, parents who meddle too much, we are warned, will ultimately do damage to their kids.

But before you swear off the whole idea of involved childrearing, know this: Recent research suggests that some forms of helicopter parenting are effective.

In the new book Love, Money and Parenting, economists Matthias Doepke of Northwestern University and Fabrizio Zilibotti of Yale University put parents in three categories: permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative. Permissive parents value imagination, independence, and freedom; authoritarian parents value obedience and demand control; and authoritative parents aim to influence kids’ choices by shaping values and reasoning with them.

Looking at one large US data set, and controlling for the mothers’ level of education, kids of authoritative moms had a higher probability of getting a college degree (34%) than kids of permissive ones (30%) or authoritarian (24%) ones. Children with “intensive” parents also scored higher on standardized tests versus peers exposed to other parenting styles.

So what’s a loving (but not coddling), supportive (but not psychotic), and well-intentioned (non-tiger) parent to do?

Redefine success

If you want your kids to be epic test takers, by all means, tuck into the homework and splurge on test prep. But Lisa Damour, author of Under Pressure, cautions against placing too much importance on this. Most parents want their kids to grow up to be happy, but they tend to think this path relies on professional and financial success. Since the future is uncertain, they focus on grades and test scores, the data closest at hand. This is logical.

But financial and professional success are not really correlated with adult wellbeing, according to Damour. She cites research from psychologist Daniel Kanheman showing that adult wellbeing is driven by high-quality relationships, thinking one’s work has meaning, and feeling one is becoming more skilled in their work. This implies that pushing kids to get good grades is, in addition to being fraught, not really borne out by the data. So if you want to push, push on what matters: relationships, cultivating interests, and discipline.

“How do they treat the people around them?” she asks. “Do they conduct relationships in ways that they feel good about? And do they get into relationships that seem to be positive for them? Are they able to discover what they can do with their talents that feels important and meaningful to them? Do they have the discipline they need to become increasingly skilled at those things?”

Kids need to push themselves. But if they are subject to unrealistic standards they cannot meet despite their best efforts, many are bound to feel anxious. “What I like about these levers,” Damour says, “is that they takes some of the heat off of traditional academic achievement or visions of future financial success.”

No, really: Back off

Parents often ask high school teacher Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure and a high-school teacher in Vermont, how hard to push. Her answer is clear: If you want them to learn, stop helping so much. “The moments we don’t step in can be incredible learning opportunities for our kids, and every time we steal one of those moments, we deprive them of learning,” she says.

Help with homework? This is stopping kids from developing skills they need to master, like executive function, planning, and execution. Interfere with teachers and advocate for higher grades? Impinging their autonomy and self-efficacy. Take over their science-fair projects? Effectively telling kids they can’t do it, all but guaranteeing they won’t be able to next time.

By not always stepping in, we show that we care about the life lesson—taking responsibility for one’s work—and not just the grade. Where parents should push their kids is toward greater independence. Lahey describes her advice to parents this way:

I say, “Pretend there’s a line delineating what you believe your kid can handle and what he or she can’t. Now, put your toe over it, just a little.” Let your kids try to do things that are just beyond what you think they can handle. In education we call it the “expectancy effect.” If we believe kids can do more, they often can, and our role is to support them in their efforts to succeed.

She also cites the work of Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg, an expert on adolescence, who said, “Protect when you must, but permit when you can.” This encourages parents to err on the side of letting kids try and mess up, and then being there to support them when they do.

Ditch the fast-paced city life

Another, more radical idea is to move out of hyper-competitive, expensive cities, into places which are designed for a normal-paced life. In Under Pressure, Damour cites research showing that some of the highest levels of wellbeing are measured in families who elect to live below their means in middle-class neighborhoods. Specifically, research by Terese Lund and Eric Dearing found that girls raised in the wealthiest neighborhoods were two to three times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression than girls in middle-class neighborhoods, while boys in richer areas were two to three times more likely to get in trouble.

“More is not always more,” Damour says. “You might reduce stress if they are not accustomed to a very comfortable lifestyle.”

Indeed, she says kids who come into her clinical practice from modest circumstances tend to have more expansive views about their future: they believe they can live and work in any number of places. Kids who come from means tend to see a narrower future—and profess less ability to navigate it when things go wrong.

“What’s been lost in the last decade is some sense that you can have an off day and your future isn’t ruined,” Damour says. “That may be amplified where competition is part of life, and where there is a sense of diminished resources.”

Psychologist Suniya Luthar has shown that teenagers from wealthy families are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than kids from parents in lower tax brackets. Possible reasons include the pressure to achieve in more competitive environments (kids are not built to behave like investment bankers, managing packed diaries), and that living in pricier neighborhoods usually requires that parents work more, and see their kids less.

Doepke, the Northwestern economist, made the decision to move from Los Angeles to Chicago due to the pressure and segregation of LA. “We were worried what it would do to our kids to be in this competitive environment,” he says. Indeed, the key thesis of his book is that parents aren’t crazy to push their kids harder than the generation before them—they’re just responding to their environment. Doepke and his co-author found that when countries becomes more unequal, parents become pushier. Higher stakes equals crazier parents.

What about college?

A huge amount of stress, for parents and children, comes from increasingly competitive college admissions. But just as you can move to Cleveland, you can also choose to not put Stanford or Princeton on a pedestal. Lahey suggests parents cast a wider net when they consider college options, considering finances as well as what might make their kids happy (specifically, she recommends consulting the Colleges that Change Lives program). She challenges parents “to find the college that’s right for their child rather than the sticker they want to display on the back window of their car.”

Parents (and kids) also might want to remember that building grit and learning lessons from failure is all well and good, but flunking one math test is not the same as getting rejected from college.

Do less, be more

Most of us don’t want to raise confrontation-fearing, anxiety-ridden sheep for children. We know that helicopter parenting might backfire. But we struggle with the day to day. Even Lahey admits she’s not 100% hands-off. “When my son forgot a test-prep review homework, I scanned it and sent it into the teacher via email, so she could have the information she needed to evaluate whether my son was ready for the test,” she says.

But she didn’t let her son off the hook: “I also asked her to not give him credit for that homework, and please hold him to consequences for having forgotten it.”

We’re probably not going to put away the keys to the helicopter permanently. But we can do less and be with kids more. We can let them fall on their faces once in a while, and make sure we’re there when they need help getting up. It’s a tricky balance and yes, the stakes are high, but maybe we are obsessing over the wrong stakes.

“I speak with thousands of middle- and high-school kids each year and I’m hearing about the stress they feel from everywhere—schools, peers, teachers, and parents,” says Lahey. “So wouldn’t it be nice if the one place kids can breathe, get respite from the constant pressure to be perfect, and speak about their fears, hopes, and goals is at home?”

Indeed, it would.