The term "helicopter parenting" was first used by Dr. Haim Ginott in the 1969 book Parents and Teenagers. It was used by teens who said their parents hovered over them like a helicopter. When I think of helicopters I think of a lot of noise, wind, and instability. But helicopters are also vitally important for rescuing and protecting. So how can we differentiate between parents that are hovering around being noisy and full of hot air or parents who are protecting and rescuing their children?
I recently ran into someone I know and she introduced me to her 16 year old daughter. When I asked if they would like to join me for lunch, the mom answered "Oh Sarah doesn't eat anything. It will be hard to find a place she likes." Sarah just stared off. When I asked Sarah what school she goes to, she answered with the name of the school. Mom said "Sarah is a good student, she's just a little shy so don't expect any details coming from her." Feeling increasingly uncomfortable I said good bye and went my own way. I have been thinking about it ever since. What's going on here? Why did Mom feel the need to answer for her child? A child who is a young woman completely capable of talking for herself.
Helicopter parenting is defined as parents who are over parenting. They seem to be almost obsessed by all aspects of their children's lives. You can recognize a helicopter parent by how often they bring forgotten lunches to school, the parent who answers questions addressed to the child, the parent that is overly involved in what goes on in the child's life when in school. It's loving to empathize when a child says "I don't have any friends." It is hovering when a parent reacts by calling all the parents in your child's class and asking them why their child doesn't play with your child.
How do parents become helicopter parents? I think the biggest reason is fear of the consequences if they don't get involved. The go to thought process is there will be terrible consequences either for the child or to the parent if the child answers the question, goes a day without lunch, or if the child doesn't have friends. I think Sarah's mom was embarrassed because her daughter gave me a one word answer.Helicopter parents want their children to lead "perfect lives" and to be viewed positively at all times. I also think the helicopter parent has real insecurities of the child's love towards the parent, somehow thinking my child will love me only if I step in and do everything for him or her. A helicopter parent may also like to be in control.
What's the message the kid gets? He learns he is fragile. He needs his parent to get through life, he wouldn't make it without his parent. The results are decreased confidence and self esteem. "My parent must not trust me to take care of myself for a reason." He has undeveloped coping skills. When a parent tries to prevent problems how does the child ever learn to cope with disappointment, loss, or failure? Helicopter parenting makes children feel less competent in dealing with stressful situations. There can be increased anxiety and/or depression. When you prevent your child from tying a shoe to doing her own laundry you are preventing a child from learning life skills. We must allow children, who are mentally and physically capable, to do tasks and fight their own battles.
Yes, that helicopter is used for protecting and saving lives. As a parent our job is to love and care for our children. To protect them from danger. But loving and caring for our child means we need to step back many times. It is challenging knowing when to get more involved and when to step back. We need to appreciate their strengths and their struggles, to help them get through stressful situations, as a loving observing parent. We are not living their lives for them. We must think about the future, about the adult they will become. This means letting our children struggle, allowing them to make their own choices,to experience disappointment and failure.