You see them every day. They’re everywhere.
They’re at school.
They’re at the playground.
They’re at the mall.
They’re buying ice cream.
“They” are helicopter parents, and whether you know it or not, they are causing problems. You may even be one yourself. If so, I urge you to read on so that you might see the trouble you are causing. If not, I urge you to read on anyway as a pre-emptive measure.
What is a helicopter?
A helicopter is a parent who pays extremely close attention to their child’s actions, experiences and activities. These are constantly over their child’s shoulder, in the teacher’s ear and generally being overly involved in their children’s lives. Some helicopter parents even go so far as to micromanage their child’s college roommate situation or get involved in salary negotiations.
Actually, this Capri Sun commercial can more succinctly summarize this than I could in print:
So what’s the big deal? Isn’t it good for parents to pay attention to their children?
Well, yes, but as with all good things, one can go too far. Every child needs attention, to be sure, but no child needs or likes to be overparented. Do you like it when your micromanaging boss sticks her nose into your work 12 times a day, asking for project updates or showing you how to do some minute task the “right” way? That’s effectively what helicoptering feels like from the child’s point of view.
What motivates most overprotective parents is an apparent fear that their child will fail or get injured in some way, but guess what? Kids learn from failing. Allowing children to fail safely is one of the best things we can do to help them learn. Yes, if he climbs one more rung on the monkey bars, he may fall. But in doing so, he’ll begin to learn his own limitations and abilities. And in most modern playgrounds, odds are he won’t even be hurt. Have you felt the squishy rubber mats that cover most playgrounds these days? I’ve fallen on beds that hurt more than that.
Or maybe he won’t fall, in which case you both just learned that he can do something awesome.
Further, kids learn confidence and autonomy when forced to do things on their own. For a while, Yoshi always wanted my help putting his shirt on and taking it off, because he lacked the confidence in his ability to do it on his own. One day, I stopped helping him. I told him he was old enough to do it himself. He whined and cried a bit, but when compelled to take on the task on his own, he learned to do it just fine. Now, getting dressed on his own is just something he does.
For older kids, having a parent be that involved is embarrassing. Did you notice in the video above that when Mom shouts out, “Deoxyribonucleic acid!” that the boy rolls his eyes and does a face palm? An extreme example, to be sure, but the point is he’s ashamed of being helicoptered.
Not to mention that monitoring that closely is so much work. I see helicopter parents at the park, and I feel exhausted just watching them. Meanwhile, Yoshi is playing happily and safely with his friends while I read on a bench.
I think Dory summed it up best in Finding Nemo when she said:
That’s a funny thing to promise. Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him, then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
OK, I get it already! How do I avoid being a helicopter parent?
Listen, if you care at all for your kid(s) — and you likely do, if you’ve read this far — you’re almost certainly going to wind up overparenting at some point. It happens, and it only happens because you care. Just accept that and move on.
The main thing is to not let that overparenting become a habit, to the point that you become a full blown Blackhawk. Here are some tips to avoid that:
In closing, it’s OK to be attentive to your kids. It’s even OK to get in their business to the point of making them a little uncomfortable, especially when they’re older. Let them know that you’re paying attention.
But don’t overdo it. Your parenting style and strategies shouldn’t be motivated by fear, nor should hinder a child’s development. Let them make their own mistakes, figure out how to live with their college roommate and negotiate their own salary. That’s how people learn.
Do you ever get annoyed by helicopter parents? Or ARE you a helicopter parent? It’s OK to admit it. We’re all friends here. Sound off in the comments!
(Image credit: rickpilot_2000 on flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.)