“Helicopter Parenting”

Video available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo6uKoREbjI&feature=share&list=UUFshMVBrnnGZpXsq1eO5eLw 


A term we hear often nowadays as therapists who work with family issues is “Helicopter Parenting.”  What this refers to is moms, dads, or both who seem to ‘hover’ over their children – trying to control their lives in order to protect them from harm, disappointment, or mistakes. In this video I will be focusing on what I see most in my office, which is helicopter parenting of high school through college age kids. The term is primarily associated with over-engaged, over-concerned and overprotective parents of older children, sometimes all the way through young adulthood.

Why do some parents do this? Some parents are overprotective because they fear for their children’s safety, which makes sense in this day and age. Some may attach their own self-worth and identity to the accomplishments and successes of their children. In most cases, though, the parents mean well, and simply want to help their children succeed. Indeed, being involved with your children is largely a healthy thing.

These parents have a hard time letting go, are constantly intervening in the child’s life, and won’t let their children make their own mistakes so that they can learn from them.  It’s difficult to see your child struggle, and it can be easier to just step in and try to resolve problems for them. In a minute I’ll address why this is not always the best method of raising confident, independent, resourceful kids.

Another term used is ‘bubble wrap’ parents who want create a buffer between them and the real world. Helicopter parents take on the role of being their older children’s negotiator and advocate in order to make sure that their children experience an easy path through life.

How can this have a negative effect on our older kids?

When parents are always fighting their battles and fixing their problems, these children have a hard time realizing that their life is a result of their choices and that they do have the means to change what they do not like and create the life they want for themselves.

If parents act as a constant buffer between their kids and the world outside their home, they may grow up unfamiliar with the basic meaning of responsibility. They may not learn the natural relationship between cause and effect, or that their actions have an outcome and that they have to face the consequences.  

If overprotective parents have made mistakes disappear rather using them as opportunities to make them learn and grow, children can grow up without a sense of accountability. They may also sense that you don’t have faith in their ability to make good choices, and never develop the confidence they need to make their way in the world.

It’s perfectly fine to help our kids navigate the larger challenges in life and advocating for their health and safety.  We want to be nearby, but not smothering. We are aware of possible threats our kids face, but we want to allow them to participate in life. Believe me, it’s a difficult balance, and one you may feel shifts day to day. However, it is a vital part of parenting, and will help your children transition more easily into adulthood.

Try sometimes taking a step back so that your children can make decisions on their own and understand the concept of consequences, to help them realize that their life is a result of the choices they make rather than the ones that you make for them. By all means, let them know you are there if they need you.

It’s fine to offer your kids unconditional support as they take risks and sometimes make mistakes. They will have less fear of failure and learn to make wiser choices. Mistakes are not the end of the world. And again, you can be there, nearby, in case they need your support.

Communicate with your older children. Ask nonjudgmental questions that encourage your children to think about their actions and their effects. Discuss choices like college majors, for example, allowing your child to tell you the pros and cons of areas of interest or possible career choices. If they are struggling with a relationship, listen to their concerns and help them feel heard.

These are some ways you can help raise your child’s level of critical thinking and broaden their perspective, to enable them to understand the big picture before they make decisions.  Sometimes your child may just need a sounding board….talking through options and their thoughts, without judgment or advice.

In closing, it’s a normal instinct to protect our kids, take care of them, and of course we never want them to experience hurt, fear, or disappointment.  But sometimes we have to resist the urge to hover, to give unsolicited advice, or to step in and do things that your child needs to learn to do themselves. By allowing your kids the freedom to make choices, take ownership, and solve their own problems, you are showing faith in their ability to handle mature situations and empowering them to make good life choices. 

It is extremely stressful to BE a helicopter parent. They often don’t get the results they want, their children may become resentful or even helpless, and this can be confusing.  By taking a step back and allowing your child to make some decisions on their own, or work through problems, you will help to ensure their sense of accomplishment, self esteem, and independence.


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