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Helicopter Parents: Do They Help or Hurt Kids

The Pros and Cons of this Type of Discipline


Man preparing his son for school
ONOKY - Fabrice LEROUGE/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Media sources have used the term “helicopter parent” to describe a type of discipline where parents become overly involved in their child’s lives, especially when it comes to education. Although it may sound like a good idea for a parent to be involved in their child’s education, helicopter parents often take this to the extreme. There are some potential drawbacks when parents become overly involved.

The term “helicopter parent” was first coined in a 1969 book titled “Between Parent & Teenager.” The teen featured in the book reported his mother watched over him like a helicopter. Since then, many college administrators have used the term to refer to parents who continue to try and watch over their children from a distance after they have gone away to college.

College administrators say that helicopter parents do things such as call to wake their child for class each day. Other tell-tale signs of a helicopter parent are when they get involved in trying to ensure their child has a job after college. They may create their child’s resume, contact companies on behalf of their child and even try to negotiate with companies about salary and benefits.

How Helicopter Parenting May Help

Helicopter parents are certainly involved in their child’s lives which can be a good thing. Most helicopter parents likely have the best of intentions as well. And they do manage to get things done. You can count on the children of helicopter parents to have their paperwork filled out, scholarship applications complete, and homework done on time.

Helicopter parents of younger children and teenagers are likely to know where their kids are at all times, which is an important safety consideration. They are also likely to be very aware of who their child is with and how their child is doing in school.

Potential Problems with Helicopter Parenting

Many of the parents who are being called helicopter parents are baby-boomers. Not much research has been done yet to determine what the ramifications might be for children who have grown up with a helicopter parent because they are just reaching adulthood. There does seem to be several potential consequences and it appears there may be more effective ways to discipline older teenagers.

  • Kids lack problem-solving skills– Kids of all ages need problem-solving skills. Whether you have a 5-year-old who needs to learn how to sound out words or a 25-year-old who can’t find a job, kids need to know how to solve their own problems. When parents solve all of their child’s problems, kids don’t learn these valuable problem-solving skills

  • Fosters dependence instead of independence- Helicopter parents do so much for their kids that it can make their kids dependent upon them. If a mother calls her 19-year-old to wake him up each morning to ensure he gets to class on time, he won’t learn how to do this for himself. Parents should be helping kids learn how to survive without them.

  • Kids don’t learn to advocate for themselves- If a child is used to his mother calling his teacher or professor whenever he gets a poor grade, he may not have learned to advocate for himself. It’s important for kids to be able to ask questions, gain clarification and speak up when they need something. In the workforce, these kids won’t have Mom or Dad available to help them deal with a mean boss or challenging policy at the office.

  • Shields kids from natural consequences- It’s important to allow kids to face some natural consequences in life. After all, in situations where parents don’t intervene, kids are going to face natural consequences. For example, if 19-year-old oversleeps for class, he’ll likely have to answer to the professor or his grades may suffer. However, if his mother has always shielded him from facing these natural consequences because she wakes him up every morning, he won’t have ever experienced any real-world discipline. It’s important for kids to know that the rest of the world will hold them accountable.

  • May interfere with parent-child relationship- The actions of a helicopter parent may interfere with the parent-child relationship as well. Constantly nagging your child to get his homework done or checking up on his every move isn’t likely to make your child want to talk to you more. Instead, it may push your child away. A healthy relationship should encourage kids to talk with parents about problems as needed and a helicopter parent may lead to kids keeping more secrets as they try to maintain some sense of privacy.
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