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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

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Last Updated on February 28, 2019

The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected

The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected

Admit it, you feel good when other people think you’re nice. Maybe you were complimented by a stranger saying that you had a nice outfit. You felt good about yourself and you were happy for the rest of the day.

    We all like to feel liked, whether by a stranger or a loved one. It makes you feel valued and that feeling can be addictive. But when the high wears off and you no longer have validation that someone thinks you’re a good, sweet person, you may feel insecure and lacking. While wanting others to like you isn’t in itself a bad thing, it can be like a disease when you feel that you constantly need to be liked by others.

    Humans are wired to want to be liked.

    It’s human nature to seek approval from others. In ancient times, we needed acceptance to survive. Humans are social animals and we need to bond with others and form a community to survive. If we are not liked by others, we will be left out.

    Babies are born to be cute and be liked by adults.

      The large rounded head, big forehead, large eyes, chubby cheeks, and a rounded body. Babies can’t survive without an adult taking care of them. It’s vital for adults to find babies lovely to pay attention to them and divert energy towards them.[1]

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      Recognitions have always been given by others.

        From the time you were a child, whether at school or at home, you have been receiving recognition from external parties. For instance, you received grades from teachers, and if you wanted something, you needed approval from your parents. We’ve learned to get what we want by catering to other people’s expectations. Maybe you wanted to get a higher grade in art so you’d be more attentive in art classes than others to impress your teacher. Your teacher would have a generally good impression on you and would likely to give you a higher grade.

        When you grow up, it’s no different. Perhaps you are desperate to get your work done so you do things that your manager would approve. Or maybe you try to impress your date by doing things they like but you don’t really like.

        Facebook and Instagram have only made things worse. People posting their photos and sharing about their life on Instagram just to feels so good to get more likes and attention.

        Being liked becomes essential to reaching desires.

          We start to get hyper focused on how others see us, and it’s easy to imagine having the spotlight on you at all time. People see you and they take an interest in you. This feels good. In turn, you start doing more things that bring you more attention. It’s all positive until you do something they don’t like and you receive criticism. When this happens, you spiral because you’ve lost the feeling of acceptance.

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          But the reality is this is all just perception. Humans, as a species, are selfish. We are all just looking at ourselves; we only perceive others are giving us their focus. Even for those who please others are actually focusing on making themselves feel good. It’s like an optical illusion for your ego.

            The desire to be liked is an endless chase.

              Aiming to please others in order to feel better will exhaust you because you can never catch up with others’ expectation.

              The ideal image will always change.

              It used to be ideal to have a fair weight, a little bit fat was totally acceptable. Then it’s ideal to be very slim. Recently we’ve seen “dad-bods” getting some positive attention. But this is already quickly changing. In fact, a recent article from Men’s Health asked 100 women if they would date a guy who had a dad-bod, about 50% of women claimed to not care either way, only 15% exclusively date men with a “dad bod”.[2]

              People’s expectations on you can be wrong.

              Most people put their expectations on others based on what’s right in the social norms, yet the social norms are created by humans in which 80% of them are just ordinary people according to the 80/20 rules.[3]

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              Think about it, every day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you filter what you believe to be truth. If someone compliments you, you take it and add it to an idea of what the best version of yourself is. When someone criticizes you, even in a destructive way, you might accept it altogether, or add it to a list of things you’re insecure about. When you absorb the wrong opinion from others, you will either sabotage your self-esteem or overestimate yourself by accepting all the good compliments and stop growing; or accepting all the destructive criticisms and sabotage your own self-esteem and happiness.

              Others’ desires are not the same as yours.

                If you live your life as one long effort of trying to please other people, you will never be happy. You’re always going to rely on others to make you feel worth living. This leads to total confusion when it comes to your personal goals; when there’s no external recognition, you don’t know what to live for.

                The only person to please is yourself.

                  Think of others’ approval as fuel and think of yourself as a car. When that fuel runs out, you can’t function. This is not a healthy mindset.

                  In reality, we’re human and we can create our own fuel. You can feel good based on how much you like yourself. When you do things to make you like yourself more, you can start to see a big change in your opinion. For example, if being complimented by others made you feel good and accepted, look in the mirror and compliment yourself. Say what you wish others would say about you.

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                  Internal approval takes practice, but it’s worth the effort. You have to re-train your own mind. Think of the dog who knows there is food when the bell rings, the reflex is hard wired into the dog.[4] We need our own triggers to reinforce the habit of internal approval too. Recognize yourself every day instead of waiting for people to do it for you, check out in this article the steps to take to recognize your own achievements and gain empowerment: Don’t Wait for People to Praise You. Do It Yourself Every Single Day

                  Notice that when you start to focus on yourself and what to do to make yourself happy, others may criticize you. Since you’ve stopped trying to please others to meet their expectations, they may judge you for what you do. Be critical about what they say about you. They aren’t always right but so are you. Everyone has blind spots. Let go of biased and subjective comments but be humble and open to useful advice that will improve you.

                  Remember that you are worth it, every day. It will take time to stop relying on others to make you feel important and worth something, but the sooner you start trying, the happier and healthier you will be.

                  Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

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