The effects of helicopter parenting have become a subject of fascination for scientists and parents alike. While there are no doubt benefits to being 100% focused on your child, more and more research is highlighting the negative effects of helicopter parenting. And it's not difficult to see why.
Helicopter parents are mums and dads who are overprotective or excessively invested in the life of their child. They become so protective that they tend to solve their child's problems for them. As a result, their children end up incapable of making decisions for themselves.
Helicopter parents may not entirely be aware of how they deprive their child of valuable life lessons.
The negative effects of helicopter parenting, backed by research
Helicopter parenting is depriving kids of the ability to self-motivate, which is a trait that is the root of independence and autonomy.
"Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative," professor Larry Nelson of Brigham Young University, said in a statement. "Regardless of the form of control, it’s harmful at this time period."
But this is just one of the detrimental effects of this form of parenting, with other negative effects of helicopter parenting being many, if not worse. One such effect is on a child's brain development.
1. Anxiety and depression
Helicopter parents can also be described as overly "intrusive," imposing unrealistic expectations on their kids. Because of this, a 2016 study claims kids grow up to be overly critical of themselves. Being too hard on themselves could also put them at risk for anxiety and depression.
"When parents become too intrusive in their children's lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never good enough," Ryan Hong, a professor at the National University of Singapore, tells Health.com.
"As a result, the child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being 'perfect,'" he explains.
2. Lack of confidence
A study published in the Journal Emerging Adulthood found that kids of helicopter parents were less engaged in their studies.
Researchers found that decreased self-worth and high risk of poor behaviours were linked to having parents lacking in warmth. But even increased love and affection did nothing to combat the negative effects of helicopter parenting.
What children need is a safe space to learn through trial and error.
3. Dependency issues
Children of helicopter parents can also become too dependent on their parents.
Letting your child fail, and try again is an important part of growing up. So allow them to test their limits, to empower themselves through independent learning.
It's natural to be tempted to make life easier for kids, but struggle is necessary and beneficial.
In fact, letting your kids see you struggle can also teach them valuable lessons about resilience and even set them up for future success.
Equipping your kid for adulthood means granting them agency and autonomy, not controlling them. Of course, you should be there for them, but there is a fine line between being involved and being controlling.
4. Meanness and aggression
Research has found that kids raised by intrusive helicopter parents tend to be more mean or hostile towards other kids.
This is believed to be a response to extreme parental control. Kids act out and assert their dominance as a way to regain a sense of agency over their lives.
As such, they tend to become irritable and less patient when faced with having to relate well with peers.
The negative effects of helicopter parenting go beyond behaviour, they affect brain development, too
The prefrontal cortex, or the part of our brain that makes decisions, controls the brain's amygdala or 'fight or flight response.' When kids feel anxiety, their amygdalas are in control. This makes them feel helpless and overwhelmed.
Even well into their teen years, having helicopter parents could be hindering their ability to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.
"It’s a learning time. You have to learn from experience," explains Frances Jensen, co-author of The Teenage Brain, told the Huffington Post. "I think parents should make sure they stay out of the day-to-day trial and error, because your kid is going to need to use that experience to learn when to take a risk and when not to take a risk.”
How can parents fight the negative effects of helicopter parenting?
- Trust kids with tasks that are age and developmentally appropriate.
- Equip children with the skills needed to complete a task.
- Be prepared to guide them when they make mistakes.
- Observe how your child deals with frustration first before intervening.
- Listen to them intently. Reassure them that you care for them before helping them solve a problem.
- Engage them in conversation that helps stimulate their critical thinking and problem solving skills.
- Emphasise how their struggles can be an opportunity for learning and collaboration.
- Highlight the importance of the process more than results.
- Celebrate their efforts, not just their successes!