What Are Helicopter Parents, and Are You One of Them?

February 4, 2023

Hovering or hands-off? Knowing you might be adopting a helicopter parenting style can help you adapt and empower your child to grow into a self-confident and resilient young adult.

Although she would never admit it, my friend Susan is a classic helicopter parent. She thinks it’s important to set up her daughter for success in life, and she does everything she can to pave the way. Some examples: she makes sure her daughter is assigned to the “best teacher” every year; she calls other parents to work through arguments that have occurred on the playground; she “helps with” (does) difficult math homework; and she doesn’t allow her daughter to learn how to skateboard because it’s too dangerous. 

Helicopter parenting can be viewed as being overly protective and controlling, to a degree that is excessive for the child’s age. 

Sound familiar? If so, there are a few behaviours to look out for that are common to helicopter parents. Helicopter parents tend to:

  1. Seek information, which could include tracking their teenage child’s whereabouts at all times and insisting that they receive copies of all homework assignments
  2. Intervene directly, which could include getting involved in their child’s arguments with friends or contacting teachers when their child is not chosen for a starring role in a school play
  3. Limit autonomy, which could include restricting their child’s choice of after-school activities or the friends they make

While it’s natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children happy and safe, research shows that children of helicopter parents are less able to regulate their emotions and control their behaviour, which in turn leads to problems at school. Over time, they struggle to make friends and struggle academically. The negative impact of helicopter parenting can be seen from preschool age, and can affect people well into their adulthood.

Children need to be given age-appropriate space to learn and grow on their own, without their parents hovering over them. This gives them the opportunity to discover their passions, tolerate disappointment and failure, advocate for themselves, and internalize the relationship between hard work, persistence, and reaching their goals.

Here are some tips to stay engaged with your child while avoiding helicopter parenting:

  • Seek to understand your child’s interests and understand they may be different from your own
  • Encourage your child to pursue their passion areas even if they might not succeed
  • Assign regular tasks/chores for your child to complete; hold them accountable and assist them to take more responsibility as they grow 
  • Give your child leeway to make mistakes and fail; embrace these experiences as opportunities for your child to learn
  • Let your child choose their own friends and resolve their own arguments (unless the situation is unsafe) 
  • Teach your child how to advocate for themselves while being respectful of others

Letting children struggle, allowing them to be disappointed, and helping them tolerate and bounce back from failure are crucial for their development. In the long-run, this helps create self-confident and resilient young adults.

Talking to friends, loved ones, and healthcare professionals such as counsellors can help as you explore different parenting strategies and discover what works for you and your family.

Contact Sprout to learn more.

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References

  1. Segrin, C., Woszidlo, A., Givertz, M., & Montgomery, N. (2013). Parent and child traits associated with overparenting. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(6), 569–595. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2013.32.6.569
  2. Schiffrin, Holly H.; Liss, Miriam; Miles-McLean, Haley; Geary, Katherine A.; Erchull, Mindy J.; and Tashner, Taryn, "Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being" (2013). Psychological Science. 7 https://scholar.umw.edu/psychological_science/7
  3. Perry, N. B., Dollar, J. M., Calkins, S. D., Keane, S. P., & Shanahan, L. (2018). Childhood self-regulation as a mechanism through which early overcontrolling parenting is associated with adjustment in preadolescence. Developmental Psychology, 54(8), 1542–1554. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000536
  4. Segrin, C., Burke, T. J., & Kauer, T. (2020). Overparenting is associated with perfectionism in parents of young adults. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 9(3), 181–190. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000143

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