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Why Do Parents Become Helicopter Parents

Why Do Parents Become Helicopter Parents

It began innocently enough with Suzy helping her daughter Jane with her 1st grade diorama. Her daughter began the diorama on her own, but Suzy began to see that it looked as though a 3 year old had done the work. She knew she needed to intervene or her daughter would not get a good grade on the project and would be hurt when she saw how good the other kid’s projects looked. Suzy knew that all the other parents would be helping their kids. She didn’t want her daughter’s project to look like a joke. Suzy did such a great job on her daughter’s diorama that she got an A+. What a relief, since she was certain the diorama that Jane had begun would have resulted in a failing grade.

Suzy then started helping Jane with other homework projects, essays, and even extra curricular efforts like debate and mock trial speeches. Jane earned high marks in school and all her teachers adored her. Unfortunately, a day came when Suzy was no longer able to help Jane with all of these school projects. Jane went off the college and found herself overwhelmed. Instead of making A’s, she was now barely pulling C grades. She was feeling stressed out, defeated, and depressed.

Suzy’s case is becoming more and more common.

Our culture of competition is making parents try even harder when it comes to parenting their kids, which can lead to helicopter parenting. Many parents believe they are using good parenting skills to the max. Unfortunately, maximizing good parenting skills can skew the skill and it is no longer beneficial. For example, a parent who helps their child with homework when the child is struggling and asking for help is far different from a parent who hovers over their child at the table each night as the child completes hours of homework under the strict guidance of their parent.

Helicopter parenting is taking a good parenting skill to the extreme, where it is no longer helpful or beneficial in the long run. Helicopter parents are taking over their kid’s lives to the detriment of their children. There is a rise in the prevalence of helicopter parenting and a subsequent rise of children who are truly struggling when they leave home to begin life as an adult. Over parenting is harming our kids in the long run.

Research has shown that there is a correlation between helicopter parenting and children who develop depression and anxiety. This research also showed that these young adults had poorer coping skills, less ability to think creatively on their own, and had difficulties in problem-solving.[1]

How Parents Become Helicopter Parents

The first reason that most parents become helicopter parents is because they want their children to be safe.  This form of helicopter parenting is often seen with the parent who is following their child all over the jungle gym even holding them down the slide out of fear that they will get hurt if they are left to play on their own.

Some fears are legitimate when it comes to safety and some are stretching the fear to far and a blanket of worry envelops not only the mom or dad, but subsequently the rest of the family. Allowing for small injuries on the jungle gym is ok and even helpful in the long run, as children learn to be more careful on their own.  Otherwise, children may end up with bigger injuries when they experience bigger physical challenges, such as a skate board park when parents aren’t there to prevent injuries and provide the words of caution.

A few injuries when they are younger and in safer environments (places intended for small children to play) will help them learn on their own that they need to protect themselves from harm. Children need to learn to protect themselves from harm, as they will not always have their parents there to protect them, especially as they get older.

They love their children and don’t want to see them fail.  Parents want their children to succeed in life, as they want them to feel that confidence of doing well in life.  They desire the best for their children and their abilities.  They don’t want their children to be harmed, and failures can be painful.  However, not allowing for small failures prevents them from learning how to cope with failure, which creates more problems for children in their future.

The parent’s ego gets in the way. Too many parents are identifying their own personhood with their child’s.  They see their child’s failures and successes as their own. Therefore, they want to help their child be a success, so they over-parent to the detriment of their child in the long term.  Parents must separate their identity from their child’s for the sake of their child’s future.

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The Fallout of Helicopter Parenting

When parents over-parent or engage in helicopter parenting they are hindering their child in the following ways:

Stifle Creativity

That homework project they were assigned was for them to brainstorm and creatively think about in order to construct the project of their own ideas. If parents give their kids the ideas and brainstorm the ideas for them, they are stealing the opportunities for their children to think creatively.

Instead, parents need to allow their children to think creatively in constructing their projects or assignments.

If they ask for help, a parent can help their child to help themselves. Asking open ended questions that can lead to the child producing creative thoughts is helpful. Children should be praised for their own thoughts, even if it is far different than what their parents would think or do.

Encouragement of the child to think for themselves and not minimize their intellectual capabilities by criticizing their thoughts in any way is paramount.  If their thoughts are unrealistic then parents can ask more open ended questions so that the child can realize they need to reel in the idea on their own and see the potential pitfalls along the way.

Children may surprise parents with their creativity and solutions to set backs along with way.

Prevent Development of Coping Skills

If Jane had earned a failing grade because of the diorama in 1st grade, she would have experienced a failure and learned how to handle those feelings.  She would have also learned that she earned her grade herself, which gives her more autonomy and power over her academic career very early in life.  Allowing for failures along the way, allows children to develop the skills for coping with those failures.  It also allows for them to react to the failures by trying things differently the next time or asking for help if needed (help, not the parent to take over the project).

Instead, parents need to allow their children to experience small failures along the way, so that they can develop healthy coping skills.

Parents need to refrain from rescuing their child from all of their small failures.  They need to allow them to fail on their own.  Parents will see that their child’s character will begin to develop. They will discover their work ethic along the way and they will figure out how to best handle failures on their own.

If parents rescue their kids from all the small failures, then what will happen when they have a huge failure (like dropping out of college or getting fired from their first job) and there is nothing a parent can do to solve this problem or prevent the failure once it happens?  That child, or young adult, can get seriously depressed or worse, since they don’t have adequate coping skills developed earlier in life.

Parents must allow for their children to fail.  A parent can help them cope with the failure in a healthy manner.  Children will subsequently learn to do things differently to have a different or better outcome next time round.

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In developing good coping skills, parents should be there to provide support. This means parents are there to listen to their child when they experience a failure, hard ship, or are simply dealing with a difficult situation.

A good way of coping with these things is to verbally talk things through and to use “I feel” statements.  Parents can help a child develop coping skills by encouraging their child to express their feeling about the situation at hand using “I feel” statements.  Utilizing this method helps children take responsibility for their role in the situation rather than pointing fingers at others and simply placing blaming on others.

Helping children open up and talk is one of the key ways to help them learn to cope with a situation.  They can also problem solve their issue while coping with the difficulties they are feeling at the same time, as they can go hand in hand.

It can be hard for a parent to see their child experience sadness, anger, and disappointment.  However, if they can learn how to cope with these feelings earlier in life they will be better equipped to handle even bigger issues as adults, which will inevitably come their way.

Take Away Chances to Build Self-Confidence

If a child’s grades are being earned by projects completed entirely or even partially by their parents, the child can’t feel confidence in their own abilities.  Kids are smart.  They know when they have or have not earned the grade or marks based on their own abilities.

If their parents are helping so much along the way, that child can feel that their parent is helping them because perhaps they are not capable of earning decent or acceptable grades. Their parents stepping in to help all the time undermines the confidence they may have in their own abilities.  If a parent is continually overstepping the child’s ideas and work for a project then that child will learn that their work is subpar and thus their confidence slips away.

Instead, parents need to encourage children in their own abilities and capabilities.

This means that parents need to allow their child to do projects on their own so that the child can earn the grade themselves so that they have confidence in their abilities.

When they do things on their own, it is empowering.  Even if the grade is not what a parent may desire, it’s more important that children are confident and able to do tasks on their own.  Parents can’t hold their child’s hand through adulthood and help with the projects that they will undertake on the job, so parents must allow them to experience doing things without help early in life.

Allowing for independence in the completion of their work will help them become confident and competent at the same time.

Inhibit Decision Making Practice

When a parent decides everything for their child from their clothing, to their food, to which schools to apply to study at, they are taking away that decision making power from their child.  If the child has not experienced the necessity of making everyday decisions, then they will be ill equipped to enter adulthood.

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Adults needs to be able to make good choices and decisions. If a child hasn’t been allowed choices or decisions, they haven’t experienced the success or failure of their own personal decisions.

Instead, parents need to help guide and direct their children on big life decisions but also allow them to make smaller choices and decisions along the way.

It is empowering for a child to make personal decisions over their life, but it can also be scary. That’s why parents must start small and grow the decision making abilities as their child matures and shows good judgement. A good parent isn’t going to allow their 5 year old to get a tattoo, because they want it and made that decision for themselves, as this is far too important and permanent decision. However, it is empowering at age 5 to allow the child to pick out their own clothing or to select gifts for their siblings for holidays.

Parents need to allow their children to begin to make age appropriate decisions at a young age, that way when they become adults they have made enough good and bad decisions along the way that they know the consequences. They also will develop personal preferences and opinions. These are all empowering things to have as a young adult.

Obscure the Consequences of Their Own Behavior

If a parent is continually bailing out their child from bad situations and not allowing consequences to occur, then the child will not develop an understanding for real consequences.

For example, if a child is continually late for school and they walk themselves to school, yet their parent calls the principal and takes the blame, thereby getting the child out of detention, then the child has not learned that being late for school leads to detentions. They learned that their parent can bail them out and get them out of trouble. This can lead to higher risk behavior because the child believes their parent can rescue them from consequences.

Instead, parents need to allow their child to take responsibility for the actions and suffer the consequences.

Will it be hard for a parent to see their child suspended or kicked out of an activity because of their actions? Of course. But these are all learning experiences. The goal is for a child to understand that their behavior affects themselves and others. Consequences are essential to this learning process. If a parent always prevents the consequence then the child does not learn the lesson. This can lead to worse behavior and worse consequences that a parent may not be able to help their child with in the future (such as jail time).

Parents who allow their children to learn from their consequences are being good parents, even if those consequences are difficult on the child and parent.

Hinder Independent Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving is an essential life skill in order to become a competent adult. If a parent is always solving their child’s problems that child doesn’t learn how to think of solutions on their own and carry out these solutions. If the parent is problem solving for their child always because they are trying to make their child’s life easier, they are doing a huge disservice to this child.

How will they know what to do when their flight is cancelled someday in the future, or what to do about their flat tire when they are stranded on the side of the highway? They can call their parent for advice, but what if that parent isn’t available? Their ability to survive in the real world is greatly diminished when parents problem solve their issues all throughout childhood.

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Instead, children need to experience problem solving from early on in life to learn how to get out of tough situations.  Parents can guide their children through appropriate questioning to get their child started in the right direction.

For example, if a child cannot find their toy anywhere and they go to Mom to find it, then what is the best response from Mom? Is it to go and look for the toy? Or is it better for Mom to ask the child where they last had the toy and suggest that they take some action on their own?  The later is more helpful, as it empowers the child to think about where to begin looking for the toy and they do it on their own.  They will find the toy and thus solve this problem with little to no help at all.

That is goal of parenting, to help our children develop skills by which they can solve their own problems as they arise in life.  If they feel that their parents will solve their problems, then they will become dependent on their parents for this life skill that is utterly essential for survival in the real world.

Parents must help their children problem solve their own issues early in life, with some guidance and directed questions, but allowing the child to follow through with the solution on their own. Doing so will empower their child to eventually become independent problem solvers in the future.

Helicopter Parenting Turns Children into Sheep

The end result of parents who helicopter parent their children is young adults who don’t know how to be human on their own, they are merely sheep and the parents are the shepherds.

Children who grow up with helicopter parents don’t have the skills needed to make life decisions, to cope when things go bad, and they don’t understand the consequences of bad decisions and behavior. Their parents have been hovering over them for years, making every decision, completing every project, and controlling every behavior to the point that the child doesn’t have an identity that is separated from their parent and likewise for the parent.

Parents whose ego or identity is tied to their child will make decisions on the basis of themselves, rather than allowing for the child to have autonomy (with some parental guidance and direction along the way). Parents must realize that independence, and to experience failure, are essential to creating competent and successful adults. If children never experience failure or the ability  to even make their own decisions during childhood, they won’t be able do so in adulthood.

Parents need to allow for their children to do the things that they are able to do, to try to do the things they may be able to do, and to allow for failure and consequences along the way in order to learn from these things. Doing so will help children become autonomous, confident, and competent young adults ready to take on the world, not sheep who enter adulthood and the real world without their shepherd.

Featured photo credit: Helicopter Parents via bing.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

How to Help Your Child with Behavior Problems How to Be a Good Parent and Raise Successful Kids 15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success How to Get Your Kids to Stop Whining All the Time These 17 Life Skills Will Teach Your Kids Responsibility

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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