The Helicopter Parent

By Lavinia Ball-Marian, MA, LPC

Lavinia Ball-Marian, MA, LPC

Photo by Cristin Spielman Photography, LLC

Many of us have heard the term “helicopter parent.” If you’ve heard it and are wondering what it really means, read on…

We are naturally wired to take care of our kids and meet their needs on a daily basis. We want to love our kids, feed them nutritious food, dress them nicely, make sure they have what they need when they go to school, and protect them from disappointments and failures. Wanting to do so is very natural and all these instincts kick in once we hold that newborn for the first time.

Hen&Chix-Ohmmy3d

Image courtesy of Ohmmy3d at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we first see our child we know that we are responsible for that life and that we will do anything we can to succeed as a parent. With that introduction of child and parent also comes unmeasurable love and devotion; from that moment on, our mission is to protect our child and do the best we can to raise him well so he is happy, healthy and well adjusted.

The term “helicopter parent” was first used by Dr. Haim Ginott in his 1969 book Parents and Teenagers in which he reported that teens said their parents hovered over them

like helicopters; the term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. Ann Dunnewold, PhD, a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, calls it “overparenting.” “It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting,” Dr. Dunnewold explains.

Being a helicopter parent, we are – sooner or later – confronted with a child who is inflexible, can’t deal with disappointments, doesn’t know how to take care of himself (the lunch box is always forgotten somewhere), and doesn’t know how to manage in difficult situations. This did not happen overnight; we are the ones who molded the child this way. We are the ones who did everything for the child, who never let him fail or be disappointed or manage for himself.

Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Characteristics of a Helicopter Parent

  1. Caters to every need of the child, even if child is capable of taking care of some things
  2. Never allows the child to be disappointed and does whatever they can to make the child happy
  3. Always oversees everything the child does, gives direction, advice, suggestions, when the child should be able to manage by him- or herself
  4. Always tells the child how to do something, when to do it, what to wear, how to talk, etc.
  5. Doesn’t allow the child to do tasks that he is capable of doing [this seems like the same thing as #1]

Consequences of Being a Helicopter Parent

  1. Decreased self esteem – the message sent to the child when we are “helicopter parents” is that he cannot do anything on his own, because he is not trusted and we have to oversee everything he does.
  1. Lack of coping skills – a child who has a parent who always prevents a problem or solves it for the child when it happens, doesn’t have good skills to cope with failure, loss, or disappointment.
  1. Increased anxiety –  when a child is in a difficult situation and the parent is not there to “solve “ it as the child is accustomed to, he experiences an increase in anxiety.
  1. Entitlement – a child who doesn’t  know disappointment because life is arranged for him in a way that prevents it, will grow up to think and expect that he can always have his way in life.
  1. Poor life skills – if we are always there to clean messes, organize his room, pack lunches, do laundry even if the child is capable of doing so himself,  the child doesn’t develop the skills necessary to be successful as an adult.

How to Avoid Being a Helicopter Parent

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As parents, we have a very difficult job. When we become  parents we always need to take care of our child and his needs, keeping in mind that our goal is to shape him to be a well adjusted adult. We can prevent being helicopter parents by allowing our child to make mistakes, to struggle, and when failure happens, to help him process through it and learn how to solve problems.

It is important to take advantage of the situations when we can take a step back and let the child manage and solve a problem. This is how we can help build a strong, confident, well adjusted human being.