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The Effects of Helicopter Parenting
Jacquie Jaffe & Ivy Ruths

“Helicopter Parents.” “Tiger Moms.” “The Blackhawk Parent.” Many of us would never consider ourselves to be these kinds of parents. Yet, we may find ourselves elbow-deep in glitter glue for our first grader’s 100th Day of School t-shirt, working to bring to fruition our ideas instead of their own. Or, we may find ourselves spending our entire weekend (and too much money) on our sixth grader’s Periodic Table of Elements project.

Parental involvement and cooperation with our children’s school and teachers are necessary. It sends a message to our children that we are accessible, supportive, and available to help guide them when school and life are overwhelming. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the way in which we support our children might send a different message altogether. For instance, when we send our eighth grader’s teacher an email questioning a grade, we are inadvertently sending our teen the message that we are not sure they can handle the situation on their own. It’s normal to want to protect our children from difficult experiences such as feeling embarrassment, discomfort, or anxiety; but at what cost? Are we sending the message that we are not confident in our child’s ability to solve the problem or bounce back?

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines helicopter parenting as “a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.” Isn’t it normal to be invested and interested in our child’s success? Of course! We love our children and love seeing them happy, but it is not our job to ensure they are happy every minute of every day. It is our job to raise resilient, ready, responsible adults who are good friends, good employees, good partners, and one day, great parents. Are we playing Superman or Super Mom to a kid that can likely “save” himself if given the opportunity? We need to be mindful about where to draw the line in allowing our children’s successes and their failures to be their own. It is every parent’s responsibility to raise adults who can successfully and confidently navigate their world.

Sometimes the motivation for our “excessive” or “overprotective” parenting is not our child’s discomfort but our own anxieties about who we are as parents and how others will judge us in that role. It is true; there is no manual for how to be a parent. We will most certainly make mistakes along the way, and when we do, we can model for our children important character traits, such as grit and resilience, accountability, and learning from our mistakes. It can take a shift in perspective; but, do we want our children to strive for the unattainable goal of perfection, or do we want them to learn to thrive through and cope well with the hard and messy parts of being human?

While our insecurities and our intense love for our children might lead to saving behaviors, research shows that this style of helicopter parenting is negatively related to a child’s psychological well-being and could lead to an increase in anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping behaviors, such as the recreational use of pain pills in college-aged children (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011). Helicopter parenting has also been associated with poorer emotional functioning, decision-making, and academic functioning once children reach college age (Luebbe, Mancini, Kiel, et al., 2016).

When we deprive our children of the opportunity to fail, we are essentially depriving them of a human experience necessary for being able to successfully navigate the world. We leave them helpless in a world in which things do not always go according to plan; they will need to know how to get back up and keep going. Our children deserve to independently own their successes, to learn and grow from their failures, and to go into the world with confidence. In the meantime, we can be their confidant, offer advice and support, encourage them, and provide unconditional love for when they fall and get back up again.

According to psychologist and author, Dr. Madeline Levine, there are three ways we might be overparenting and unwittingly causing
psychological harm to our children:

  1. When we do for our kids what they can already do for themselves
  2. When we do for our kids what they can almost do for themselves
  3. When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own ego

Dr. Levine’s research suggests that when we parent this way, we deprive our children of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, and to figure out who they are.

So, how do we know if we are overparenting? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you dressing your preschooler instead of giving them the opportunity to dress themselves?
  • Do you let your child win every game he or she plays with you?
  • Do you pack your child’s backpack for him or her?
  • Are you in it to “win it” on Parent Lap Day?
  • When your child forgets his homework at home, do you bring it to school for him?
  • When your child has conflicts with friends, do you call the other children’s parents to “help” them work it out?
  • If your child needs to make up a test, do you email the teacher to schedule it?
  • Are you doing your middle schooler’s project instead of playing a supportive, “coaching” role?

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