Helicopter Parenting: the Signs, Risks and Alternatives
Doing things for your kid might speed up the process and avoid stress, but it won't help them learn.
In our first article on parenting styles, we examine one that is becoming increasingly common in Singapore, and around the world: helicopter parenting. While you might have heard of this method of parenting, in this article, we dive deep into the topic to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of it. Here are the signs of helicopter parenting, its effects of children, alternatives, and more.
What is Helicopter Parenting?
"Helicopter parenting" involves pouring an unhealthy amount of your attention into your child's life. As the name implies, parents tend to hover over their children at all times, like a helicopter, even when they are grown up.
From giving advice all the time to dealing with your children's issues, helicopter parenting goes hand-in-hand with intruding into your children's lives – a lot.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, says that helicopter parenting is "a maladaptive", since the parent is "overprotective, hovers around the child, and gets involved in his affairs and activities excessively".
And it's not just young children. Helicopter parenting can even affect teenagers and adults.
Although children grow up and move out, they remain financially and emotionally reliant on mum and dad. Parents can still withhold financial support or tenderness to penalise children and obtain the results they want.
Signs of Helicopter Parenting
There are many ways to identify whether you're a helicopter parent or not. Helicopter parents have a particular mindset, unlike others parents.
Do any of these signs of helicopter parenting seem familiar to you?
Signs of Helicopter Parenting: Do you believe that...
- Your main role as a parent is minimising pain in your child’s life?
- A smooth life will help your child to grow up happily?
- You can't stand seeing your child experiencing painful or negative setbacks?
- It's okay to intrude into your kid's social life, continuously giving them advice and listening to their problems?
- Your child may not be able to handle life's challenges, such that you call them excessively throughout the day until even they become anxious?
Signs of Helicopter Parenting: You...
- Take full control and handle your children's social issues (e.g. arguments with other kids or teachers) by talking it out with the adults who could be responsible.
- Finish your child's assignments for them and ask teachers for an extra grade.
- Preach to your child's teachers after class, telling them what they should be doing.
- Keep your child within your sight at all times when possible (e.g. driving your teenager to meet their date, even if it's close by).
- Organise your older child's room, wash and fold your teenager's clothes, even though they are quite capable of doing such tasks themselves.
- Don't let them take any risks (e.g. telling your primary-schooler they are not allowed to ride a bike for fear of injuries).
- Don't accept failure in your child.
Why Helicopter Parenting Doesn't Work
Helicopter parents overly shield their children from a huge range of issues. They may go so far as solving the child's problems and making decisions for them even if they are old enough to do these things for themselves.
While such parents have the best intentions at heart, the reality is they could be harming their child's development.
Parental behaviour such as this results in a generation of helpless children who are at a loss when tasked with making a decision. Without the confidence to self-motivate, children of helicopter parents find it harder to be independent at any stage in their life.
Here is how helicopter parenting does not help your child.
- Helicopter parents want to find easy ways to prevent their children from getting stressed, such as by doing their assignments or chores. However, some frustration can be good as it helps your child improve his problem-solving skills. Meanwhile chores can teach your child how to be responsible.
- They think they know how to best guide their children's physical activities. However, when it comes to sports and teamwork, too much hand-holding only deprives your child of learning experiences, such as resolving conflicts, cooperating, leading others towards a common goal, and coping with defeat. They can only learn these skills by experiencing them on their own.
- Some parents strip children of the opportunity to be independent when they keep them by their side all the time. However, doing so only reduces your child's self-confidence and may even lead to aggression and/or depression.
- They want to protect their children by not allowing them to take any risks. However, not taking any risks at all can hamper one's mental and physical growth.
- They won't accept the child's mistakes, instead taking over the tasks that their child has to do. However, doing so will only deny your children a chance to learn from trial and error. Trial and error allows your children to teach themselves, and eventually, how to navigate the world or resolve issues later in life.
Psychological and Emotional Effects of Helicopter Parenting
Our previous articles have also summarised the effects of helicopter parenting. Sadly, although helicopter parenting may come from the best of intentions, it comes with a lot of negative consequences for the child.
With extensive helicopter parenting, your child could become:
- Anxious and depressed. Helicopter parents can also force unfeasible expectations onto their children, who become self-critical, faulting themselves even for the slightest of errors. Over time, this behaviour can slowly develop into anxiety and depression.
- Developing low self-esteem. Previous studies have shown that children whose parents don't care for their children, or don't give them opportunities to improve via trial and error, were at risk of perceiving themselves as worthless.
- Too dependent on you. By doing everything for your children instead of letting them figure it out on their own, you're creating a situation of dependency. Your children will only ever see you as the solution, even in adulthood. Always remember that struggling is actually good, as it helps a person learn how to do things better.
- Aggressive and impatient to their peers. Parents who over-impose their authority and intervene too much in their children's lives can make them feel as though they're not in control. In response, their children uphold their own influence by becoming irritable when talking to peers.
- Overweight. Helicopter parents tend to limit their children's outdoor playtime activities (to avoid injuries, mostly). This often results in children sitting indoors. Most of the time they'll be in front of a TV or computer. And this deprives them of opportunities to develop social skills and exercise.
A study by the University College London has discovered that children brought up with parents who did not impose as much psychological control over them become happier, more satisfied adults.
Tips to Curb Helicopter Parenting Habits
There are ways to curb the signs of helicopter parenting. Here are some practical tips:
Don't Punish Mistakes
- Trust kids with tasks that are age- and developmentally-appropriate.
- Equip children with the skills needed to complete a task.
- Encourage them to make mistakes, but be ready to guide them when they do so. The aim is to teach them life lessons so that they can learn responsibility and accountability.
- Observe how your child deals with frustration first before intervening.
- It's fine to let your child get a few minor injuries. Remember: the point is to keep him as protected as needed, not as protected as possible.
Open Communication Channels
- Listen to your children intently, especially with regard to social conflicts. Support them as they talk and let them express their full range of emotions. Then, teach them to soothe themselves and find ways to resolve the issue.
- 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.
- Be vulnerable and let your kids see you struggle. They will learn about persistence, which might even set them up for future success.
Teach Them Independence
- Emphasise how their struggles can be an opportunity for learning and collaboration.
- Highlight the importance of the process more than results.
- Let your children solve problems on their own, as it helps them learn to become mentally stronger. Let them test their limits. Celebrate their efforts, not just their successes, especially when they persevere through difficult problems.
- Don't forget to start small, and don't push further if they can't take it. Let them explore their own passions that they naturally excel in, instead.
- Teach your child to talk to his own peers or teachers if he has issues with them.
- Provide times for your children to be free. You can leave older children in the fenced backyard or playground while you prepare dinner or do something else.
Julie Lythcott-Haims was the Dean of freshmen in Stanford University. In her 10 years of serving the University, she realised that new students were increasingly academically brilliant, but also increasingly unable to care for themselves.
She pinpoints the source as helicopter parenting. While this style of parenting may help students perform excellently in terms of academics, it protects them from hardship, failure and disappointment. She points out that such parents are stripping their children of the chance to learn who they are, what they love and how to navigate the world.
Lythcott-Haims advises four simple ways to curb helicopter parenting:
- Independence: Encourage your older children to be independent by asking them to run errands, teaching them to cook meals on their own, and so on. According to Lythcott-Haims, this is a good thing. It teaches your child valuable social skills such as self-sufficiency, a good work ethic, and confidence.
- Individuality: Don't say "we" to refer to your child. Letting your child own the important aspects of his life allows them be at the forefront of their dreams and aspirations, so that you don't need to do everything for them.
- Trust others: Let your child's older mentors guide him as needed. By letting these other adults do what they do the best, your child can interact with and question them independently. You are essentially teaching your child how to stand up for himself.
- Step back: Don't do their work for them – it makes them feel helpless (even if it gets the grades). Instead, make your presence known should they they need guidance. Give them the chance to express their sense of fulfillment when they nail a school project independently.
Parents, remember that it's alright to be involved in your children's lives. But it's impossible to protect or advise them 24/7.
As Lythcott-Haims says, putting yourself out of your job as parents is the only way you’ll know you’ve successfully raised an adult.
WATCH: Long-term risks of helicopter parenting