It is an unspoken right – and even social expectation — among those who have reached a certain age to express concern about the younger generations. You know the comments:
- “Kids today just don’t have any respect for authority.”
- “What’s going to happen when these kids start running the country? We are going to be in serious trouble.”
- And a host of remarks that begin with something like…“When we were growing up, we didn’t have…”
But today, perhaps more than at any other time since the height of the Baby Boom Generation, parenting styles also have taken the spotlight. We hear much of what happens if you raise your children without structure and rules, and what happens if you have too much structure and too many rules. We hear about raising your kids with too much self-esteem and not enough self-esteem. And you might remember all the media attention paid to the “Tiger Mom” and how it prompted a national discussion about parenting.
Nevertheless, it is the phenomenon of Helicopter Parents that is the most discussed and analyzed by professional psychologists, family therapy experts, parents and educators. The consensus is that this type of parenting, while often well-intended, tends to do more harm than good.
For those who may not have heard of the term, it refers to parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives and who tend to “micromanage” their kids’ day. In many instances, this “hyper-involvement” continues into the college years and sometimes even beyond. The consequences of this type of parenting style can include hindering kids’ ability to gain a proper amount of age-appropriate independence and to solve their own problems.
Suzanne Carroll, professor of marriage and family therapy at Southern, and Phyllis Gordon, manager of the university’s Family Therapy Clinic, are quite familiar with this trend. Both say that many people might not even be aware that they have fallen into the Helicopter Parents category. They offer four examples of how you know you are probably a Helicopter Parent:
- You are doing homework assignments for your child or are frequently checking to make sure they’ve done them.
- You are the one managing their responsibilities, such as doing their homework, waking up on time and attending athletic team practices.
- You refer to your child’s team, club or organization as “we.” For example, saying that “we have a game today.”
- You and your child are communicating too frequently, such as with multiple texts and/or phone calls each day.
Carroll and Gordon are not in any way suggesting that parents should be oblivious to their children’s lives. On the contrary, they underscore the importance of showing concern for their children’s well-being. But being overly involved in their lives can create long-term problems. Here are some suggestions that Carroll and Gordon offer to strike that balance of being a responsible mom or dad without being a Helicopter Parent:
- Set REALISTIC goals and expectations with your child, based on their age and abilities.
- Work with your child to make a plan (if needed), on how to meet those goals/expectations.
- Step back. Have your child take responsibility for meeting those goals/expectations.
- Be prepared to renegotiate.
- Let your child accept the natural consequences of their efforts.
Carroll and Gordon recognize that resisting the inclination of parents to “fix” their children’s every problem or task can be difficult – especially at first. After all, it is perfectly natural for parents not to want to see their children struggle. And, of course, there are times when swift parental intervention is necessary. But a consistent pattern of micromanaging can have significant consequences as a child gets older and enters the world of adulthood.
“Remember, parenting is the illusion of control,” Carroll says.
For additional reading about the phenomenon of Helicopter Parents, check out a recent column written by Anne Michaud, interactive editor at Newsday.