Nothing is worse than hovering parents. I had one myself growing up and it can be incredibly overbearing.
Even though the term is most often applied to parents of high school or college-aged students who do tasks the child is more than capable of doing alone (e.g. calling a teacher about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, etc), helicopter parenting can apply at any age.
Some parents begin hovering during toddlerhood. A helicopter parent might constantly shadow the child, always playing with and directing his behavior, allowing him zero alone time.
It is important to look at why parents hover. I will describe four common triggers.
Feelings of Anxiety
Worrying about the economy, the job market, and the world in general can push parents toward taking more control over their child’s life in an attempt to protect them. Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D, authot of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide, argues that worrying can drive parents to take control in the belief that they can keep their child from ever being hurt or disappointed. I mean the last thing we want is for our children to be living in a bubble.
Fear of dire consequences
Not getting a certain job, a low grade, or not making the team can appear calamitous to a parent, especially if it seems it could be avoided with parental involvement. However, it seems to me that many of the consequences these parents are trying to prevent- unhappiness, struggle, not excelling, working hard- are in itself great teachers for kids and not actually life-threatening.
Peer pressure from other parents
Other parents can be assholes, simply because of the subconscious effect they can have on us. When parents see other over-involved parents, it can trigger a similar response. Sometimes when we observe other parents hovering, it will pressure us to do the same since we can potentially feel that if we don’t immerse ourselves in our children’s lives, we are bad parents. Guilt is definitely a big component in this dynamic.
But more importantly, what are the consequences of helicopter parenting?
Helicopter parenting usually stems from a place of love and good intentions. However, it can definitely be tricky to be engaged with our children and their lives, but not so entangled that we lose perspective on what they need. And certainly, engaged parenting has many benefits for a child, such as increasing feelings of love and acceptance, building self-confidence, and providing guidance and opportunities to grow. I think the problems comes once parenting becomes governed by fear and decisions based on what might happen, it can be hard to keep in mind all the things kids need to learn when we are not standing beside them guiding each step. Having said that, failure and challenges teach kids new skills, and most important, teach kids that they can handle failure and challenges.
When hovering backfires
Lack of confidence and self-esteem: One of the main problems with helicopter parenting is that it tends to backfire. The underlying meesage (the parent’s) overinvolvement sends to kids, however, is “my parent doesn’t trust me to do this on my own”
Undeveloped coping skills and increased anxiety: If parents are always there to clean up a child’s mess- or by preventing undesired situations altogether- how does the child ever learn to cope with loss, disappointment, or failure? Several studies have found that helicopter parenting can make children feel less competent in dealing with the stresses of life on their own. Furthermore, these studies also corroborate that overparenting can be associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.
Sense of entitlement and undeveloped life skills: Children who have always had their social, academic, and athletic lives adjusted by their parents to best fit their needs can become accustomed to always having their way and thus they develop a strong sense of entitlement. If you are constantly tying your children’s shoes, clearing plates, packing lunches, washing their clothes, and monitoring school progress, even after children are both mentally and physically able of doing it these tasks, you are preventing your children from mastering these kills themselves.
So, how can you avoid being a helicopter parent
Perhaps the most interesting part of my article so far. What can you do to stop hovering. First of all, it is important to give yourself a pat on the back. Us parents have a difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our children now- their stressors, their strengths, emotions- and also an eye on the adults we are trying to raise. Getting them from here to there will involve some suffering, for our kids as well as for us (don’t say I didn’t warn you). In practical terms, this basically means letting children struggle, allowing them to be disappointed, and when failure occurs, help them work through it. Let your child do the tasks that they are physically and mentally capable of doing themselves. Keep in mind that making your 4 year old’s bed isn’t hovering. Making your 14 year old’s bed is.
All in all, remembering to look for opportunities where we can take one step back from solving our child’s problems will help us build reliant, self-confident kids.
Featured image courtesy of: https://infograph.venngage.com/p/113836/no-more-helicopter-parenting