Once you become a parent, you would like to believe you are doing your very best for your child. There are no fixed rules on how to parent one’s children, but studies have identified various parenting styles: tiger moms, panda dads … and the subject of this article, helicopter parents. The latter is a term widely used to describe many parents today.
When parents hover
A helicopter parent is basically a very overprotective parent. They constantly hover over their children (hence, the term ‘helicopter parent’), obsessively planning for and micromanaging their child from birth to adulthood. They do and decide everything for their child even when the child is capable of doing it themselves, thus within the context of psychology, such parenting style is considered developmentally inappropriate. The bounds of appropriate parental behaviour should naturally shift as a child grows. Therefore, experts say helicoptering robs children of important lessons, thus creating helpless teenagers and later adults, who always look for their mommies and daddies to save them.
Are you a helicopter parent?
- Feel the need to keep constant contact with your child and to always monitor his movements and activities, just like a watchdog?
- Take on the role of a bouncer in the playground so your kid gets to use the swing for as long as he wants, without allowing him to stand up or speak up for himself against other children?
- Help fix his conflicts with other kids in school, or argue with these kids (and their parents, teachers and anyone else who disagree with you) even if your kid is wrong?
- Find yourself enrolling your child for all types of extra-curricular activities, even if he isn’t interested? Come to think of it, you never even asked him if he wanted to do these things!
- Feel the need to instantly gratify your child ie, by giving him everything he wants right away because you feel he deserves it all?
- Constantly praise him even over matters that are not praise-worthy?
- Help your child complete his assignments, taking upon yourself to do almost all of these tasks because you refuse to see your child get anything less than an A+ for it? Is your child playing on the tablet or phone while you are doing his homework for him?
- Argue with your child’s class teacher because you feel that he deserves better grades (even if his actual performance did not warrant such a high grade), and demand exclusive treatment for your child from his teachers?
- Attend a college entrance interview with your child and then act as his agent – lobbying for your kid, hoping he gets picked because his CV is seemingly perfect (thanks to you)? Do you send in his CV on his behalf to firms that you think should be more than lucky to have him, often without his knowledge?
- Argue with your child’s lecturer if he didn't make it on the honorary list?
- Call your child’s boss at work to inform that he is on sick leave?
If you can relate closely to the above then you are a helicopter parent and you need to consider taking on a new approach in how you raise your child.
Your kid never asked for a helicopter
Most helicopter parents don’t think hovering over their kid is inappropriate. Some see it as a gesture of true love or dedication. It only seems right that they carry out their obligation to see their children through everything, especially in this increasingly demanding world.
However, psychologists say that parents who truly care for their child will allow them to learn from life’s experiences, instead of shielding them from potentially unhappy situations. This is because overzealousness and overprotectiveness can smother a child’s independent development.
The effects of helicopter parenting on a child have been associated closely with problematic developments such as depression, narcissism, constant sense of entitlement, dependency, laziness and poor social skills. Because the children of such parents have not been given the chance to learn from their mistakes, to think rationally, or to face consequences for bad behaviour and actions, they become incapable of functioning independently. They have known to also suffer severely from most forms of criticism, especially in school and at the workplace, because they never had to entertain the possibility that they may not be perfect at everything. After all, their parents led them to believe that they are always perfect, and any errors they made were instantly rectified by their parents. Hence, they never have to learn from their mistakes or be held accountable for them. When real life throws such situations at them, they do not know how to react or cope.
Also, the over-involvement of their parents with authority figures such as their child’s teachers or bosses can potentially dent the child’s reputation. Most children of helicopter parents end up living the dreams and ambitions of their parents instead of their own, and this may create a sense of discontentment later on in life. They may grow to resent their parents, and a rift may develop between the parents and child as a result.
Helicopter parents will also face some repercussions. Because so much of their lives were focused on their child, when the child leaves the house to start his own life, they do not what to do with themselves any more. As a result, they may feel lost, bereft, lonely, and even depressed.
How to be a parent, not a helicopter
The first and most important step is to let go – parents must start allowing their children to perform age-appropriate tasks on their own. Get their children involved in chores and allow them to hold responsibilities at home.
Let the child make his own mistakes, and learn from them. This means that parents should stifle the urge to fight their child’s fights in school or college. Don’t make excuses for them.
Don't make excuses for them when they have to take on a difficult task from school or work.
When it comes to difficult situations, advise, guide and teach. Do not take over and do everything for them, or else they will never learn how to solve such situations on their own.
Teach them important skills such as time management and prioritizing important tasks.
Parents should not hand everything to the child on a platter – experts recommend ‘fasting’ them of unnecessary material wants (such as by making him work for a new toy by doing small errands, instead of just buying one for him because he asks for it), to help them learn self-control and discipline. This also teaches them to appreciate the things they worked for.
Family counsellors also urge parents to allow their children to experience failure and heart breaks. Teach them what they can learn from it instead of shielding them. This will help create adults who are resilient.
Parents should give themselves and their child enough space between each other to grow and discover. Even as parents, there is a learning curve that helps mould their emotional and mental state, which needs to be attended to. Parents and children can reap a mountain of benefits just by enjoying their own space.
Finally, parents must listen to their child. Listen not only to their verbal communications but their non-verbal communications – their actions and reactions.
Matt Walsh, both an author and a parent, said, “Parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about, but the hardest thing in the world to do." Indeed, everyone will have an opinion of how to do the job, but the best course of action for parents would be to lead by example. It’s normal for parents to have high expectations for their children, but instead of ‘mowing the lawn’ for these children throughout their lives, guide by example. Show them how to ‘mow the path’ on their own, and help them understand the choices they can make. Let them experience their weakness and struggles, so they would learn the world is not a bed of roses and they’ll learn to avoid the thorns. And when they flounder, that is when the parents should step in to guide, advise and support … and step out again when the child has everything back under control. That is what it means to be a parent.
- Huffington Post. Available at www.huffingtonpost.com
- Parents. Available at www.parents.com
- Education. Available at www.education.com
- Live Strong. Available at www.livestrong.com
- TreeHugger. Available at www.treehugger.com
- Psychology Today. Available at www.psychologytoday.com