Do friends and family tell you that you are an overprotective mom? Are you being told that you need to chill out and let your child do things on their own? Yeah, I get that a lot, too. Like, every day. I can’t help it, there is just something hardwired inside me that makes me believe that I have to watch over their shoulder while they do their homework, or sit on the bench beside my daughter the entire time she practices her piano lessons. I have to make sure that they have perfect grades and excel at all of the extracurricular activities that I have picked out for them. I have to oversee everything that they say and everything that they do. I have a plan laid out for them and I have to micromanage every aspect of their lives to make sure that they follow the path I have laid out for them. I have to. Or at least that is what I have been telling myself for the past seven years. Until recently, we someone dubbed me a helicopter parent, and it didn’t sound like a compliment.
I had heard the term before, but wasn’t a hundred percent sure what it meant, so I looked it up (and by looked up, I mean Googled). According to Wikipedia, a helicopter parent is “a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.” Well, ok, that does kind of sound like me, but so what? I mean, what harm can come from a parent caring so much about their children’s success? Isn’t having an involved parent a good thing?
The answer to that question, it turns out, is yes and no. It is good to be involved in your children’s lives: to make sure their homework is done, to keep track of their progress in school, and to know who their friends are and what is going on in their lives. But it is not good to make all of their decisions for them, to decide what they should and should not choose to do, or who they should or should not become. Here are some of the negative effects I’ve discovered that helicopter parenting can produce:
Fear of Failure. This is something that has crossed my mind before, when I found out that my daughter had lied to me about the grade she received on a test. She was too scared to tell me that she made an 80, so she lied and said she made a 100. When I found this out I was shocked. She was scared to tell me she made a “B”?! Obviously I am putting some pretty serious pressure on her if she has determined that an 80 is too bad of a grade to own up to. I don’t want her to grow up believing that she has to be the very best at everything, she is going to be better at some things than others and that is OK. The important thing is that she always put her best foot forward and try her best. Children learn from their mistakes, and we need to give them the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, as they grow older, they may become so afraid of failure, and not being perfect, that they avoid taking risks altogether, which is no way to live a full and successful life (you know, the one thing that we are so determined for them to have in the first place).
Development of Codependency. According to Dr. Michele Borba, author of “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions”, children of helicopter parents could suffer from irrational fears, or anxiety and depression, which could cause them to drop out of college or frequently change jobs. This is because they never developed coping skills to deal with life’s challenges while growing up because their parents always took care of everything for them. This could also lead to them seeking out unhealthy relationships with partners who are controlling or will take care of them like their parents did. So the next time your child gets in a fight with a friend, or has a conflict with a teacher, allow them to try to work it out themselves before intervening. This will allow them to develop the coping skills they need in order to deal with the many difficult situations that life is going to throw their way.
Lack of Confidence. When our child is faced with a sticky situation, we helicopter parents tend to want to immediately step in and handle it for them. We do this as an act of love, but the message we are sending our children may be that we don’t believe they are capable of handling anything on their own. The fact is, children develop self-esteem by learning how to complete tasks on their own. By always intervening on their behalf, we are denying them a vital ingredient in their growth. Feeling confident in their actions is important for doing well in school and developing friendships. So the next time your child is faced with a task, as painful as it may be for you, take a step back and allow him to stumble through it on his own. He will benefit from it in the long run.
Sense of Entitlement. One of the unintended side effects of being a helicopter parent: raising a spoiled brat. That is exactly what can happen when Mom is always hovering near by, ready to clean up their messes and smooth over their difficulties. Growing up with a helicopter mother is like growing up in a protective bubble, and a child could develop a mantra of “it doesn’t matter what I do, right or wrong, mommy will fix it for me”. I’m sure we can all agree that growing up with this sort of attitude is never a good thing and can only lead to trouble in the future. While there are some situations that require parental intervention, when a child is truly at fault, sometimes the best thing for them can be to have to face the consequences of their actions.
Parenting is hard work. We all know that. And being a helicopter mom can be lonely. When your single focus is on your child and their life, you tend to neglect your own. So a taking step back can be good for both mother and child. I’m not saying to stop paying attention to what is going on in your child’s life, of course. In fact, studies have shown that having supportive parents can be key to a child’s success as an adult. So be there for them, love them, coach them, wipe their tears … but let them fall down sometimes and make mistakes, and learn in the process.
So does this mean that I am going to stop my hovering altogether? Let’s face it, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so probably not. But for now, instead of hovering directly overheard, I may just settle for a mile or so down the road.