03 April 2024 Are you a Helicopter Parent?

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ~ William Butler Yeats

Do today's parents think the same, or have parents kept their children in a bubble, keeping them away from any form of risks in their learning experiences? 

Parenting styles and parenting behaviours play an important role in strengthening and nurturing the style of child-rearing on various aspects that range from physical, social, and psychological well being [5]. 

There has been an uprising phenomena amongst modern day parents known as helicopter parenting. While this parenting style sprouts from good intentions, it has become the cause of many of the flaws in younger generations [4,6]. In point of fact, helicopter parenting is said to have increased the stress of 35% of college students and has negatively impacted their academic performance [13]. 

What is Helicopter Parenting? 

Helicopter parenting is also termed "lawnmower parenting," "cosseting parent," or "bulldoze parenting."[1]. In general, helicopter parenting refers to a parenting style by parents who pay extremely close attention to their kids to prevent any harm, physically and psychologically, to the extent of entanglement [3]. In other words, helicopter parenting usually manifests the sign of over controlling, overprotecting, and over perfecting their child's lives in a way that is a surfeit of responsible parenting [1], with the key characteristic of Helicopter parenting being "over".

The term "helicopter parent" was first coined in Dr Haim Ginott's 1969 book "Between Parents and Teenager", the term where he described how parents would hover over their kids hovering them like helicopters [1,2].

Such parents want their children to be secure, happy, successful and well-educated. Out of their protective parenting nature, they make significant emotional and financial investments in their children [9] to the point of making sure their children never face any challenges of any kind. 

One common example of helicopter parenting is exerting control over a child’s friendships by helping them decide whom a child should befriend or end a friendship. This may sound absurd to some parents, but many cannot help but intervene in every aspect of their children's life, including their social circle. 

Some other examples of helicopter parenting might include compelling a child to practice certain musical instruments that he or she might not be interested in. It may also include giving significant extra schoolwork to improve their child's academic learning and/or taking control of your child's activities or hobbies [4].

For example, when a child wants to go skateboarding, they may be prevented from doing so because skateboarding is dangerous from the parent's perspective.

This behaviour from excessive and paranoia-like cautiousness parents will restrict the child's performance and limit their neurological development. Hence, it is worthwhile to dive deeper into exploring the question of why parents act this way? 

What are the common factors that contribute to Helicopter Parenting?

There are several plausible reasons to helicopter parenting. Some of the common factors that trigger helicopter parenting include:

1. Feelings of anxiety

Parents may be anxious about their child's safety and success, resulting in them taking unrestrained control over their child’s life to protect them [4]. Also, due to the highly competitive world economy, job market, social norms and the competitive world in general, parents may feel compelled to make all attempts to safeguard their children from harm and help them succeed in life [4,7]. Out of their virtue of being responsible for their children's future wellbeing, parents may feel anxious that they cannot safeguard their future livelihood, causing them to overdeliver. 

2. Competitive environment and an achievement-derived identity

Parents who send their children to attend competitive schools or who live in environments that demand high accomplishment might endeavour to assist their kids with prevailing through an intrusive parenting style. Some parents might overfocus to push their children to excel in every aspect, including academics, sports, music, etc. This competitive environment may cause parents to derive a sense of identity from their children’s achievements [4] and this in turn would contribute to parents being more competitive. 

3. Pressure from peers

Occasionally, parents may feel pressured to adjust to the parenting styles of their peers. Therefore, when parents surround themselves with over-parenting or helicopter parents it can pressure parents to adopt a similar parenting style. This is because parents may have a conscience and guilt that they think they are not a "good enough" parent if they do not live of to the "high standards" of their peers [1,8]. 

4. Social background

Different parents from different backgrounds, regions, religions and other cultural milieus have different parenting norms. Some cultures encourage a highly participatory parenting style. 

5. Fearing Failure

Parents might worry that their children have a low grade in academics, rejection from the eminent school or extracurricular team or a botched job interview. That concern is only normal for parents who wish the best for their children. Like all parents, helicopter parents want their children to be successful and excel in life, but they take a step too far by preventing their children from any exposure to harm and failures [10]. 

What are the long-term consequences of Helicopter Parenting?

Most parents do not have the awareness of their own helicopter parenting, what more its consequences.

Children raised by over-parenting or helicopter parents may suffer detrimental effects in the long run.

According to Jessica Lachey, a teacher and author of the Atlantic and the New York Times, quote "today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation."

So, what are the long-term consequences on children from helicopter parenting?

1. Reduce self-esteem and confidence.

Dr Anne Dunnewold, a PhD holder and licensed psychologist, said that “The main problem with helicopter parenting is that it backfires." [1] The over-involvement of the parent may cause the child to believe that, when they do something independently, their parents will not trust them. In turn, it may lead to decreased self-esteem and confidence in the child [1,3]. To a certain extent, this parenting style may denude the children to be creative, think divergently, build resilience, problem solve and have coping skills [3]. Ironically, the more parents get involved, it does more harm than good as these children perceive their parent's involvement as a testimony to their own lack of capabilities. Constant unrestrained involvement will only reinforce the child's lack of confidence. 

2. Children lack coping skills and frustration tolerance

A study highlighted that children raised by over-involved or over-controlling parents may feel less competent and less able to deal with life and its stressors [11]. When parents intervene to make decisions or help to prevent the problem, children can never have the opportunity to learn from failure, disappointment or loss. Parents may perceive their intervention as care, but little do they know they are robbing their children's opportunity to learn from experiences, including failures. 

Life lessons are critical to improve children's emotional intelligence. As children grow into a younger adult, they must be able to handle the disagreement, uncertainty, frustration, or the difficult decision-making process that are inevitable in the world. Hence, without these important psychological attributes, it will be arduous for them to enter school and/or the workplace in the future [3]. As the saying goes "Failure is the mother of success" and contrary to our beliefs, failure is an important element for a child to learn character like grit and perseverance. To put it in another way, without early childhood experiences of falling, children won't learn how to pick themselves up when they grow into their adulthood. 

3. Depression and Anxiety

A research study done in 2014 proposed that college students raised by helicopter parents tend to be anxious or depressed [9]. This is because when children are always provided with parental guidance, they are “programmed” to simply make decisions upon approval from their parents; and without parental guidance, they end up becoming too nervous and anxious to make decisions. 

Additionally, the low self-confidence and fear of failure caused by helicopter parenting can lead to depression and anxiety, as these children are less open to new ideas and activities and are more vulnerable, anxious and self-conscious [3]. The protective bubble that helicopter parents built around their children in their childhood and teenage years has prevented them to learn how to cope with difficulties in the real world, making them very susceptible to mental breakdowns when they face an obstacle in their adulthood. 

4. Less autonomous and dependence

Helicopter parents who tend to overprotect their children can cause them harm indirectly by withholding their autonomy and dependence. For example, parents who always help children clean their plates, tie shoes, monitor school progress and launder clothes, may prevent them from mastering these skills themselves and in turn, they become less autonomous and dependent [12]. 

Hence, it is vital for parents to exploit adaptive control techniques and appropriate independent parenting approaches to allow their children to be more autonomous and dependent as they grow up.

5. Sense of entitlement complex

Children who always have their parents accustomed to their social, academic, hobby or sports activities can also develop a sense of entitlement by getting used to always doing things their parent's way. As a result, this can lead to them demanding their parents because they may think it is their right to have what they want [1,3]. This may cause an eventual strain in the family relationship in the long run. 

In brief, parenting style plays an important role in the growth and development of children. It is crucial to take note of how the parenting style adopted on your child affect them now and in the future.

Lady Bird Johnson, an American socialite who served as the first lady of the United States said that “Children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.”. Indeed, “support” may be more beneficial to help children reach their potential as compared to “over-protection”.


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