Karen Casey Coaching

The High Cost of Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting. We have all heard the jokes, criticisms, and whispers of moms and dads who fit the description. What is helicopter parenting? Here is a simple answer to that question. Helicopter parenting is an over-involved and extra-protective approach to their child’s experiences and problems. The helicopter metaphor fits parents who are caught up in the habit of hovering over their child’s every move reminding us of the flight pattern helicopters use. There is no limit to the age range for the child who is vulnerable to this experience. Just watch an episode or two of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’. Raymond’s mom, Marie dives into the lives of her adult children and well…meddles. While the scriptwriters have fun with the comedic scenarios, there is almost nothing funny to see it played out in real life.

We are all Vulnerable

There are 8 years between my two children. I was not the same parent with my second child almost a decade later. Forgive me, firstborn child. I was working so hard towards checking off every box to be an excellent mom that I fell into overdoing for you. Though a teacher myself, I found my pattern of knocking myself out to help her with projects and other assignments to be more than needed or helpful. After all, parents whose kids excel are extraordinary parents, right? Wrong. From a young parent to now a grandparent, I see the long view of why chronic hovering over our children’s lives does not work well. College instructors and school administrators began seeing the parents’ invasive behavior and publicly criticized it as the millennial generation started to become college-age. There have been many policies created on campuses to put boundaries up with the hovering parents.

Why Do Parents Hover?

It is normal to defend and work hard to protect our kids from harm. It is also natural to want your kids to succeed and grow into strong, capable, and happy adults. There are many reasons why parents fall into the habit of hovering over their children’s every experience. Here are some of them:

Struggling with Anxiety

It is common for a parent who is experiencing high levels of anxiety to project that onto their child. Worries about getting into the “right” schools, avoiding violence, friendships, and building character in our children. The reasons we can be vulnerable to worry seem like a never-ending list of things that could go wrong. Sometimes parents are looking to shield their child from hurt that may be experienced because of a physical condition or academic disability. As a classroom teacher, I have seen parents who will do whatever it takes to remove any type of disappointment or emotional difficulty from a middle schooler’s day. They typically don’t see it for themselves, but they are robbing their child of life experiences that help them learn healthy coping mechanisms. It is also the root of what we see as an explosion of entitlement from students of every age.

Giving a Better Childhood

Many times, a parent who experienced childhood traumas feels a huge pressure to change the generational patterns they have inherited. A parent can lack the balance necessary to help their child have their own experiences and learn from them because of their unhealed places in themselves. Perhaps a parent traveled extensively for their job or addiction was present in the home. Whatever the story, hovering over our children does not solve the wounds we have of our own.

Unsure of the Future

As a young parent, it is easy to believe that every single life experience carries a huge influence on their character and their future. Parents go into protective mode believing they are helping their children navigate life. I remember an audition for a musical in college and a conversation I had with a freshman who was also auditioning. Her mother had told her that not making a major role in the musical wasn’t worth even being in the production. It was all or nothing and she was stressed. We, parents, can dream dreams for our children. Maturing in our parenting helps us see that those dreams can be more for us and our ego than it is for our child.

Signs of Helicopter Parenting

If you see any of these in your parenting style, you might be a helicopter parent.

You Overbook their Schedule

Grooming your child for success by taking advantage and control of their school, athletics, music lessons, and every extracurricular imaginable. You make every effort to control their social position by selecting what seems to be perfect choices for their development. My daughter danced ballet with a large city company for many years. I saw more than one mother force their child into tights week after week while tears let everyone know how unhappy they were.

You micromanage your child’s life

Helicopter parents tend to be deaf to their children’s preferences and do not allow them to make their own decisions or share their opinions. Phone calls are made to teachers and even administrators if their child is points away from an A suggesting the teaching is ineffective. Maintaining control over every little area of their child’s life is not acceptable if one wishes to allow their child to grow, make mistakes, and learn from them. I have had upset parents call in the middle of a workday if their child’s grade dropped by one point. GPAs and other academic data were not even calculated in middle school.

Effects of Helicopter Parenting

While some families may stay closely connected and bonded with this style of parenting, it more often backfires and leads to a child lacking confidence in their ability to choose, think, and solve problems. Insecurity is the outcome of parents who speak for them, solve problems for them, and choose their friends and activities. Tweens/teens miss out on learning new skills that are acquired from disappointments and setbacks. Those early lessons help them to know in their adult years that they are truly capable of handling life’s hard lessons.

Helicopter parents often bring value to the circles they are in as they are active in school events and volunteer for leadership positions in their children’s activities. They often invest time and resources in schools and coaching staff. While their contribution to the school community is appreciated, it is the overdoing for the child that is not helpful for their development.

One trait I have often seen in helicopter parents is they speak for their children. If an adult asks a question of the child, the hovering parent answers for them and crafts the answer. Children of all ages need to opportunity to speak for themselves and learn to speak openly if they need assistance or have a question.

All of us must evaluate our parenting style and make changes as we grow and gain wisdom. We all find ourselves doing a little more than we need to from time to time with our children. It becomes a problem when this habit of interference becomes the norm and takes away from the natural growth of a young person. We are never too old or too late to grow as a parent and step away from habits that don’t benefit our children.

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