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Helicopter Parenting: Enough is Enough

We live in a complicated and dangerous world. It's not difficult to understand why parents worry so much, and why they want to do all they can to protect their children - and they should.


In trying to protect their children, though, some parents end up overprotecting them. They do more for them than they should even as they grow into adulthood, earning them the label, "helicopter" parent.

Although it begins early in a child's life, helicopter parenting a college-aged child may be the most damaging time to over-parent or micromanage an offspring's life, according to a study by sociology faculty at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The researchers observed students struggling when forced to work independently and found that helicopter parenting is "negatively related to psychological well-being and positively related to prescription medication use for anxiety/depression and the recreational consumption of pain pills."

The phenomenon reaches even further than college, with some anxious parents still hovering after their children have entered the workforce, according to a report from Michigan State University. They send out resumes and contact employers and potential employers to advocate for their children. Some even go so far as to help their adult children complete work assignments.

Parents are encouraged by society to be actively involved and engaged in their children's lives. So how much is too much? Where is that line between solid parenting and potentially harmful hovering? What's a parent to do?


In her work, parenting coach and author Maggie Stevens sees a lot of children who suffer from the opposite problem - a lack of parental involvement. "That damages self-esteem, leaves them frustrated, and teaches them how to manipulate to get what they want. Parents need to be involved in their child's life. They also need to protect their kids - sometimes from teachers and educators."

A mother of five, Ms. Stevens says, "I always let my child tell me when they needed help or when they wanted me not to be involved. The important thing between parent and child is dialogue and that the child is able to come home after a day at school and talk about what has happened that day."


"Children who are hovered over and rescued from their own feelings never learn that they can persevere and succeed," says parenting educator and coach Sarah MacLaughlin. "They become anxiously attached to their parents, potentially timid, or even overly aggressive out of frustration rooted in their lack of competence."


Ms. MacLaughlin offers some ways to recognize when you're going overboard. "If you lack the knowledge or insight that your child's emotional state is very likely to mirror yours AND you have little clarity on where your own mood/emotions vs. your child's start and end, that is a problem. Helicopter parents are also potentially over-invested in how their child is a reflection of them and their parenting (certainly an easy trap to fall into).

"You might be a helicopter parent if you answer 'yes' to any of the following questions.

  • Do you feel uncomfortable or anxious when your child has strong feelings of anger or grief?When your child becomes frustrated with a task, do you take it away from them?

  • Do you have a hard time allowing your child to take age-appropriate risks?

  • Do you spend a lot of time reminding or prompting your child about manners and other social niceties?"


"In short," says MacLaughlin, "I think that helicopter parenting is an anxiety-based affliction. The worry could be about almost anything - from them getting hurt physically to feeling really upset to getting bad grades. The bottom line is lack of trust that a child will learn on their own from their experiences and mistakes. These kinds of parents want to 'help' their child skip over the hard parts of being human. Something that is, of course, not possible, and ultimately makes things harder in the long run.

"Even shorter: Parents are going overboard if they are never comfortable with their child's discomfort."

MacLaughlin, a licensed social worker and former teacher, is the author of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children.

High school English teacher Cynthia Darling advises parents to "let your kids make mistakes now when they are young. If you coddle them too much now, the mistakes they will eventually make as adults will be much larger and have longer-term consequences. As children and teens, students need to be able to make mistakes and learn how to pick themselves up and try again without the fear that it is the end of the world. When parents try to shield children from this, they are subconsciously teaching children to avoid failure at all costs, something that is virtually impossible."

Life's course is filled with obstacles. It begins the day we are born and never ceases. It is not the challenge itself, but how we deal with it that defines us. It's the "hard parts of being human" where we learn about courage, strength, and confidence. It is because of those hard parts that we can truly enjoy the good parts.

You know you've done a good job when your child squeals with delight, "I did it all by myself!"

Most of us do our best to toe the line between helping and hindering. It's hard to watch your children struggle, but it's one of life's greatest thrills to know that you've raised a self-sufficient human being.

References: Parent Involvement in the College Recruiting Process: To What Extent? (2007) Michigan State University; Professors study effects of helicopter parenting (2012) The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.

You don't need to navigate parenthood alone. Children spend a large part of their day in school. Choosing the right schools for them is a great start. Look for holistic schools that foster balanced childhood development - those that care about your children's physical, social, emotional well-being besides intellectual development. You can also get inspiration from women support groups. If you run into any roadblocks and would like professional assistance, family counselors can give you a helping hand.


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