Are you a helicopter parent?

Stop hovering, give them wings to fly

It was a bright Monday morning. I had barely taken few sips of morning tea when I heard the doorbell ring. It was Asmita, my friend, who rushed inside panting and looking as panicked as one could on such a pleasant, sunny morning.

“What’s the matter?” I ask.

“Umm…nothing much. I was just wondering if you could accompany me to the mall nearby for a movie today”, she says clasping and unclasping her hands.

When she notices my gaze fixated at her, she blurts out, “Rohan is going for a movie with his classmates and teachers as a part of school trip. I just can’t believe how I agreed to send him in the first place. My husband couldn’t stop nagging me that how I was being over anxious about a simple thing as a school trip. And I just gave in. But now I feel it was a terrible idea.”

“Relax Asmi, and tell me what happened?”

She looks at me with disbelief and continues, “He’s just 10. I know there will be teachers and attendants, but still, you know what I mean. What if he gets locked in washroom or he ends up eating junk food? They don’t even allow homemade food there. I’m so worried.”

“Asmi, I understand your concern. But he’s just a phone call away. I’m sure you’ve got the phone numbers of teachers as well as attendants.”

“I’ve called 3 times since morning and spoke to the teacher. And they’re not picking the call anymore.  I feel it’s better if we both can go and buy tickets for the same movie”, she announced.

I just leaned back and sighed looking at this well meaning and affectionate mom who I feared was entering into stifling zone and acting as what they call a “helicopter parent”. Though it’s natural for parents to keep their children safe, but not giving them the space to grow and learn on their own may stifle their growth.

As much as we would love to be the involved and engaged parents doing everything best for our children, it doesn’t take much to overstep that fine line and start “hovering”. Parenting is certainly hard. There’s no generic recipe, no formula for perfection. In fact, there can be as many parenting styles as there are parents. Though everyone may or may not agree on what’s the right way to do it, all would agree unanimously that parenting is a tough job. Add to it the pressure of being a parent in modern, hyper connected world, a parent has the added responsibility of putting up with constantly contradicting advice on just about everything. A plethora of choices and making choices every minute of every day can be exhausting. And it’s enough to overwhelm even the sanest parents.

What’s helicopter parenting?

The term “Helicopter Parenting” comes from the famous book ‘Parents and Teenagers’ by Dr. Haim Ginott where teenagers complain of their parents always hovering around them like a helicopter. Experts define helicopter parenting as an over controlling, overprotective style of parenting where parents are focused on too much responsibility for their children’s experiences.

Helicopter Parent

*Image courtesy Flickr

Why do parents enter into hovering mode?

No matter how well intentioned a parent is, helicopter parenting may backfire and can do more harm than good in the long run. Now the question is why do parents hover?  There can be many reasons, let’s have a look at few.

The famous psychologist Carl Jung said once, “Nothing affects the life of a child like the unlived life of the parent.” It certainly makes sense. Parents who faced neglect in their own childhood may tend to compensate it by being overly engaged in their children’s life, even if it comes at the cost of smothering them.

Moreover, if you were raised by helicopter parents, that may subconsciously become your parenting style if you’re not self aware. So if you always find yourself hovering like a helicopter around your child, be it school, playground, social media or school projects and swoop down without missing a beat every time they seem to be in trouble or need of correction, it’s time to introspect a little.

When parents constantly fret over a child’s future and their capabilities to navigate through life’s challenges on their own, overprotection streak kicks in and they do what they do to avoid the perceived negative consequences, be it tying shoe laces of their middle-schooler to frequent calls to the class teacher of their kindergartener to even stalking their teenagers on social media and even scheduling and structuring each and every moment of their children’s lives to their own likes. What they don’t realize however is this that instead of aiding the progress they’re in fact hindering it. Let’s see how.

Consequences can be huge

Though all of us have had our own hovering syndrome moments, it’s important to be aware when we’re always standing on our child’s shoulders screaming out each and every direction and not giving them the breathing space. Not yet convinced? Let’s see how helicopter parenting may do exactly opposite of what it’s intended for by the well-meaning parents.

Underdeveloped life skills: By providing the cushion from every day to day challenge and being extremely directive about how to handle a situation or do a task may never let the child experience what a problem looks like. He or she may never learn creative/critical thinking to deal with an issue or how to build perspective on things without precise instructions from their parents. Now tying shoe laces and feeding a 2 year old is different than doing the same for an eight year old. Research suggests when parents indulge in doing things for their children which they are mentally and physically capable of doing, their competence suffers as they don’t get an opportunity to practise and master their skills.

Emotional regulation gets hampered: Our love for our children surely wants us to protect them from all the unpleasantness and ugly things in the world, but we just can’t do it. And when we’re hell-bent on doing so, we are coming in the way of letting them experience the entire spectrum of emotions and learning to regulate them. When parents act as a shield between the child and disappointments, failures, setbacks, children never learn to manage negative emotions on their own in later life, which may deteriorate their overall quality of life.

Resilience suffers:  A child who has always been provided with a flower bed to walk on may never know how it feels to get hit hard on the ground, bouncing back from the fall is an altogether different thing. Life doesn’t move in a straight line and if we are not letting our children get an experience of real rocky terrain that life is, when they’re ultimately on their own, coping with highs and lows in life may become a challenge.

Over dependence: When basic need of autonomy doesn’t get met, a child may never develop the confidence in his or her abilities to accomplish age appropriate tasks and may continue to depend on parents for their chores, decision making, problem solving and pretty much everything. It may also lead to a sense of entitlement in children of such parents who may learn to expect that everything be served in a spoon to them.

Behaviour issues and mental illnesses: When parents over protect children, they keep them from learning natural consequences of their choices and behaviour. Such children may grow up to believe that nothing is ever their fault and may never learn to be accountable for their behaviour. Moreover, research suggests that helicopter parenting is linked to emotional and behaviour issues in children and makes it difficult for them to cope at school and in adult life.

How to overcome- Break the pattern

Ann Landers has rightly said, “It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings”. So sometimes doing “less is more”.  Breaking out of helicopter parenting may take some effort, but it’s going to be worth it.

A little bit of self introspection helps. If we look closely we may notice that many of the things that lead us down the hovering path have to do about our perception of their incapability to do a task and may not always imply their inability. Writing down and listing what you’re ready to let them do on their own and what needs work may help to begin with.

Embrace the imperfection. Though guiding them and giving constructive feedback is important, expecting and chasing perfection is impractical and doesn’t help either. In fact it may even stop them from trying so as to avoid failure. So if the blanket isn’t folded neatly or fruits aren’t chopped perfectly or there aren’t straight A’s on all the subjects, learn to accept their flawsome selves.

Risk taking develops trust.  Being a parent it’s hard to say yes to things that make you feel anxious while they feel confident of doing. However, remember that when they pull it off, the success that comes builds trust in their abilities and fosters self confidence. So, as and when possible, small risk taking activities can be done without compromising on the safety of course.

Let consequences teach. As hard as it may seem, we may need to fight the urge to correct and direct them at times and let them learn through the consequences coming from their choices. So if he/she insists to put tomato sauce on a cup cake and eat, let them taste it and find for themselves.

Learn to take that step back. No one like unsolicited advice, not even kids. Though our directions and demonstrations may certainly help them get it right the first time, but it can repress their natural curiosity to learn and explore. Let them put together that puzzle wrong for ten times to get it right the next time. Experiential learning is a thing after all.

Sometimes taking that step back can be the best thing we can do for our children. When instead of doing it all for them we focus on equipping them to do it for themselves, we help their wings grow.

Studies show that anxiety is one of the main reasons for helicopter parenting. It is handy to know some tips to keep anxiety in check.

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About the author

Asma Ansari is a content writer and translator with few years of experience in the corporate world. Intrigued by human behaviour, this writer at heart trod her path to the world of counselling and completed her Diploma in Counselling as well as Post Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapies.

When she’s not writing or counselling, she’s probably glued to her Kindle with a flask of tea in her cozy reading nook. She believes that following her passion has made her feel home with her innerself. And though she has found home, the journey continues.