Parenting Styles Helicopter Parenting Parenting

Helicopter Parenting, a fine line: Smothering or Supporting?

Helicopter Parenting - Are you smothering your child?
Helicopter parenting: Uncover the reasons behind overprotective parenting, its impact on children's growth, and explore practical advice for striking a balanced approach in nurturing independent and strong kids.

Though we hear about it more and more, the concept of helicopter parenting is not a new one. A Frontiers in Psychology report indicates that helicopter parenting was first used in 1990 as a metaphorical reference to how parents may closely monitor and excessively intervene in their children’s lives. Helicopter parents are known to swoop in to protect their kids from disappointment and painful experiences. Think of it like helicopters hovering overhead, ready to provide rescue and support. But the question back then, and still today is, what is the harm or problems with helicopter parenting?

What exactly is helicopter parenting?

As mentioned above, helicopter parenting is where parents tend to micromanage every aspect of their child’s life, from schoolwork to extracurricular activities. They may also shield their child from negative experiences or consequences, always ready to step in and rescue them. Let’s explore some examples of helicopter parenting:

  • Constantly monitoring and controlling a child’s academic life, such as choosing their courses, pushing them to study for long hours, or doing their homework for them.
  • Protecting a child from the consequences of their actions, such as calling the teacher to dispute a grade or taking over a project to ensure a good result.
  • Managing a child’s social life, such as micromanaging their friendships or interfering in their dating life.
  • Making all the decisions for a child, such as choosing their career path, hobbies, or clothing.
  • Not allowing a child to experience failure or disappointment, such as insisting that they always win or receive a participation trophy, regardless of effort or outcome.

While this parenting style may come from a place of love and protection, it can hinder a child’s ability to become independent and learn life skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making. 

Why is helicopter parenting so prevalent?

When we think back to our childhoods, especially those who grew up in the 1970s and earlier, the concept of helicopter parenting was non-existent. Many middle-aged people and parents today can remember that leaving their homes in the morning to play was expected, with kids not returning until their moms yelled out the front door that it was time for dinner. Though parents had a general idea of where their kids were, the specifics were all hazy. And the parents didn’t worry.

But then something unthinkable happened. And though by no means were reports of missing children new (during the late 1970s and 1980s, it’s estimated that more than one million children per year went missing from their homes and neighborhoods), the Minnesota abduction of Jacob Wetterling in 1989 was a tragedy that shook the nation and sparked a wave of awareness around child safety. 

While it’s impossible to say, the Jacob Wetterling case may have shaped parents’ attitudes toward their children’s safety and their desire to monitor and protect them closely. The incident received significant media coverage and prompted many parents to become more vigilant about their children’s safety, leading to increased awareness and concern for children’s well-being. This newfound concern may have contributed to the rise of helicopter parenting, which gained more attention the following year. 

A growing concern for children’s safety 

But that wasn’t all. According to the Department of Justice, crimes against children and violence involving children have increased recently, making parents increasingly vigilant and protective. Additionally, cases of missing children have increased, as have concerns about childhood bullying.

Bullying is a growing concern among parents and educators, with recent statistics indicating that it affects millions of children yearly. According to the Pacer Center, nearly one in four students in the U.S. report being bullied, and one in five report being cyberbullied. Bullying can seriously affect a child’s mental health, self-esteem, and academic performance. The increased prevalence of bullying in recent years is another reason parents are hyper-vigilant about their children’s safety and well-being, leading to the rise of helicopter parenting. But once again, that’s not all.

Academic competition is fierce 

If the concerns about the safety of our children aren’t enough, the competition for college admission has also become more intense over the recent decades. Although the requirements for college admission have not changed significantly, the number of students applying has increased dramatically. This has made parents feel the need to control every aspect of their child’s life, including their academic performance, extracurricular activities, and social life, to ensure their child’s success in the future. 

Frustrated teen studying at tableThe pressure on parents to prepare their children for the competitive world has led them to adopt an overprotective and “let me help you do that” parenting style.  This in turn can cause a lot of added pressure to the child. While helicopter parenting may help their child succeed in some ways, it can ultimately hinder their development by limiting their ability to make independent decisions and learn from their experiences.

What are the signs that we might be helicopter parenting our kids?

As adults, it can be hard to admit when we’re in the wrong. And even though helicopter parenting is about trying to protect and shelter our kids, helping them avoid pain and failures, sometimes we have to bow our heads and admit that we’re doing too much. That said, 

helicopter parenting can be challenging to recognize, as most parents believe they are doing what is necessary to ensure the safety and happiness of their children. 

Here are five signs that you may be a helicopter parent:

  • You constantly check in with your child and track their every move, such as monitoring their phone and computer usage.
  • You make all of your child’s decisions for them, including their extracurricular activities and who they spend time with.
  • You are overly involved in your child’s schoolwork and constantly communicate with their teachers.
  • You do not provide your child with the independence to pursue self-directed activities.
  • You have difficulty letting your child make mistakes and learning from them, and you often intervene to protect them from any potential failures or consequences.
  • Even in relatively safe situations, you are overly anxious and worry about your child’s safety and well-being.

If you notice any of these signs in your parenting style, take a step back and reassess your approach. Remember that allowing your child to make mistakes and take on age-appropriate responsibilities is integral to their development and growth.

What are the short- and long-term consequences of helicopter parenting on today’s kids?

While the goal here was not to create a dire picture and increase the desire amongst parents to hover and smother, it indeed outlines the ‘why’ that all of this has transpired in recent years. Parents are worried and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some serious ramifications for the perceived smothering that helicopter parenting has created.

Many parents who engage in helicopter parenting may not realize the negative impact their actions could have on their children in the short and long term. While some parents may want to ease up on their hovering tendencies, they may not know how to stop or feel it’s too late to change. However, parents need to understand that the consequences of helicopter parenting can include difficulties with emotional regulation, decision-making, and independence. 

Here are some specific examples of how helicopter parenting could be affecting your kids:

  • Difficulty managing emotions and behaviors
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Poor decision-making skills and a lack of autonomy
  • Reduced academic performance and achievement
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships and social skills
  • Decreased resilience and adaptability
  • Limited exposure to challenges and experiences that promote growth and development
  • Reduced motivation and initiative
  • Increased risk of substance abuse and addiction

Again, while helicopter parenting may stem from a desire to protect and support children, parents need to find a balance that allows their children to develop the skills, independence, and resilience they need to thrive in life.

How parents can step back and lessen the negative effects of helicopter parenting 

Looking at those negative consequences listed above is enough to make anyone feel anxious in the pit of their stomach. Yet as we know, behavior modification isn’t always easy, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. And for parents, that’s more true than ever, especially when their hearts are in the right place – we want nothing but the best for our kids.

How can we ease the pressure we inadvertently place on our children? And how do we allow them to start speaking for themselves and making more decisions about what they do and don’t do? It may be easier said than done, but there’s no doubt that stepping back is likely the best course of action, even if only by baby steps.

Here are some tips to help you fly your helicopter a bit higher.

  • Allow children to make mistakes and experience the resulting consequences.
  • Encourage children to take on age-appropriate responsibilities and chores like helping to clear and set the dinner table, load the dishwasher, and clean their own room.
  • Resist the urge to micromanage or constantly monitor children’s activities. Part of learning is taking on the responsibility for themselves.
  • Focus on building children’s resilience and problem-solving skills by showing them the importance of a routine, connecting with others, practicing self-care, and learning self-discovery.
  • Model healthy coping mechanisms and stress management strategies for children such as physical activity, journaling, and giving thanks.
  • Foster open communication and active listening with children by maintaining eye contact, avoiding interruptions, asking questions, and repeating what they heard.
  • Encourage children to pursue their interests and passions.
  • Practice mindfulness and self-awareness to recognize and manage anxiety or controlling behaviors.
  • Build trust with children by respecting their privacy and boundaries.
  • Support children in developing independence and autonomy while providing guidance and support as needed.

Finding the right altitude – grounding helicopters or soaring higher

Parenting is scary, and it’s natural to want to protect our children from harm. However, helicopter parenting is not the solution. As parents, we must find a healthy balance between being involved and letting our kids grow and develop their independence. Setting boundaries and rules can help parents manage their anxieties while also allowing their kids to explore the world on their own terms. 

By grounding our helicopters or flying a bit higher, we can help our children become more confident, capable, and resilient as they navigate the challenges of childhood and beyond.

Answers to your frequently asked questions (FAQs) about helicopter parenting 

What is helicopter parenting?

Helicopter parenting is where parents become too involved in their kids’ lives. While there are varying levels of helicopter parenting, it is generally classified as one where they typically take on too much responsibility for their children’s experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures.

What are the cons of helicopter parenting?

The cons of helicopter parenting include an increased risk of anxiety and depression in children and a potential lack of resilience and problem-solving skills. 

Children of helicopter parents may struggle with decision-making and self-regulation and have difficulty adjusting to independence as they grow older. In many cases, their hovering and smothering can contribute to stress and burnout for the parents, as they feel pressured to monitor and control their child’s experiences constantly. It can also lead to strained relationships between parents and their kids and may limit that child’s opportunities to learn from mistakes and develop confidence in their abilities.

How do you set boundaries for helicopter parents?

Teachers and school administrative staff tend to see the effects of helicopter parenting more than anyone else. For this reason, they are often put in the position to set some boundaries for parents, helping parents see that their children need the ability to spread their wings and learn to fly. Teachers often have to help parents learn how to step back and allow their children to grow and learn independently. 

Teachers often clearly communicate with parents and establish expectations for their involvement. Encouraging parents to let their children take ownership of their education and responsibilities can also be helpful. Additionally, creating opportunities for parents to participate in school events and volunteering can help them feel involved without being overbearing. 

But teaching parents how to step back isn’t a responsibility that should fall to educators. Parents need to own their actions and consider the long-term ramifications for their children. Parents can set boundaries by reflecting on their behaviors and identifying areas where they tend to overstep. They can also set clear expectations and guidelines for themselves and their children, such as establishing rules for communication and decision-making. Additionally, seeking support from other parents or professionals can help parents stay accountable and maintain healthy boundaries.

Ann Schreiber on Linkedin
Ann Schreiber

Ann is a Minnesota native, born and raised just south of the Twin Cities. She is the proud mom of two adult children and step-mommy to a lovely little girl. Ann has been a marketing and sales professional for most of her career, and has been a freelance copywriter since 2019.

Ann’s work has been published in a variety of places including HealthDay, FinImpact, U.S. News & World Report, and more.

You can see more of Ann’s work on Upwork and on LinkedIn.

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