The term helicopter parenting was coined in 1969 by Dr. Haim Ginott, psychotherapist and parent educator, in his book “Between Parent and Teenager.” A helicopter parent is defined as someone who is overprotective or overly interested in their child’s life. Several examples of this include telling a child how to play correctly, brushing a child’s teeth for him when he is a healthy 12-year-old, completing a child’s science project for her, cutting meat at the dinner table for a 16-year-old boy, or talking to a college professor about an adult child’s grades.
Being an involved parent is not a bad thing. Being active in a child’s life can increase the child’s confidence, build a closer bond between parent and child, and increase chances of the child being a successful adult. But where is the line that divides the actively involved parent and the overly involved parent?
Generally speaking, children of the ’70s were raised with the freedom to play outside until the sun set and drink out of a hose when thirsty. If you fell down, a parent would say, “You’re all right. Just get up and brush the dirt off your pants.” More than 30 years later, we live in an era where children play inside the house. If they want to go outside, they play in the backyard. Everyone generally drinks filtered water, and hand sanitizer is only a few steps away to ward off those nasty germs.
Because of some of these experiences growing up, parents develop their own ideas of how they want to raise their children. Perhaps these individuals had to learn to do laundry and pay bills at a very young age because their single parent was always working. Perhaps they were bit by a dog as a child so now they don’t want their own children to be anywhere near dogs.
Whatever the case may be, there are several good reasons for why parents hover over their children. Parents want what’s best for their children and want to keep them safe. It is a parent’s natural instinct to protect his or her children from harm. It’s necessary to prevent a child from putting his hand on a hot stove or chase a ball into a busy street. But amid concerns for keeping children safe and focusing on raising successful children, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the benefits that mistakes and disappointment can have for children.
Studies have shown that being too involved in a child’s life can actually foster anxiety. A study conducted in 2012 at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia found that children at age 4 who exhibited signs of anxiety had either overly-involved mothers or mothers who were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. By age 9 these children were more likely to have a diagnosis of clinical anxiety. To go even further, a study that was published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies in 2013 found that college students who have been “over-parented” report decreased satisfaction with life.
Children who have overly involved parents can grow up to lack confidence in their skills. If children are used to having their parents do things for them, they may not know how to do things for themselves such as doing the laundry or paying bills. The message they receive from this is that they are not competent enough to do these things.
It’s important to recognize how our own anxiety can affect the children that we raise. By making sure your child is safe from being harmed by a dog, are you also preventing him or her from knowing the joys and benefits of having a pet? Will your child begin to avoid places that have dogs? Our own personal anxieties can teach children that the world is a fearful place and challenging themselves to experience new things is a bad thing.
Children with overly involved parents also may not have a realistic view of the world. If everything is done for them growing up, what a surprise it will be as adults when others are not willing to drive them around town to run errands! These same adult children may even feel entitled to have that six-figure job right out of college because their parents argued with every teacher they had throughout their life about getting an A instead of accepting that B or C on a report card.
Each experience a child has is an opportunity to learn. Determining if a task is age-appropriate is one way to help your child begin the natural movement toward autonomy. By being overly involved, we run the risk of preventing our children from experiencing the joys of earning things through hard work, developing problem-solving skills to work through mistakes, and seeing the world with hopeful, curious eyes.
Ginott, Hayme. (1965). Between Parent and Teenager. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Hudson, J. L., & Dodd, H. F. (2012). Informing Early Intervention: Preschool Predictors of Anxiety Disorders in Middle Childhood. PLOS ONE, 7 (8). Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0042359
Schiffrin, H. H., Liss, M., Miles-Mclean, H., Geary, K. A., Erchull, M. J., & Tashner, T. (2013). Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23 (3). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257578750_Helping_or_Hovering_The_Effects_of_Helicopter_Parenting_on_College_Students%27_Well-Being
Overprotective mom photo available from Shutterstock