Have you heard the expression Helicopter Parenting? Are you wondering what it is?
It is an expression that has become common in the last few years to refer to parents who hover closely over their children. It describes parents who are rarely out of reach of their children, whether their children need them or not. These parents usually rush to their child to prevent harm or failure.
In Scandinavia, they call it "curling parenthood", because those parents sweep all obstacles off in front of their children. Another term used to describe those parents is "Black Hawks", by reference to the military helicopter of the same name.
The term helicopter parents is a pejorative expression. It is widely used in the media but there has been very little academic research into this phenomenon. The term was used in the book "Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility" to describe one of the ineffective parenting styles (F W. Cline & J Fay, published in 1990).
Why are some parents so overprotective?
The reasons are varied:
Fear of failure: It is hard for the parents to stay on the side and watch their offspring feel unprepared, inadequate or miserable. They find it heartbreaking and feel it is their parent's job to protect their child from all these unpleasant feelings.
Lack of good relationships: Some believe that a parent's lack of good relationships is at the root of helicopter parenting. The lack of connection to the spouse means that the parent is reliant to his/her child to fulfill his/her need for love and affection and that is what causes overprotection.
Living vicariously through their children: As bad as it sounds, some parents take so much interest and do so much of their child's work as a way to get acceptance and approval for their own actions. This is why they take it very personally when the child fails.
To keep their child young: Some parents do not like to see their children grow and would like to keep them young forever. They need to know that their child needs them, constantly.
Need for control: Unfortunately, parents cannot control the world in which they and their children live. For some, it's just too much and they make sure they will control all they can: how their child spends time and with whom.
These are only some of the reasons why parents can be so overprotective of their children, it is anyone's guess what the real reasons are. One thing is for sure, it is hard to let go sometimes. It takes patience and it requires to believe that your child can do it.
What are some of the effects?
Failure to learn and become self sufficient: It is obvious that overprotective parents want the best for their children but it seems that, in the long run, they are probably doing more harm than good. When children learn, they will make mistakes, that is part of growing up and learning from their mistakes will help them learn and become self-sufficient. By not letting their children experience this, overprotective parents hinder their children's learning.
Social inadequacy: A common trait of helicopter parents is that they "baby" their children, not allowing them to grow up. This results in children who are less mature than their peers and - according to studies - who don't really know how to get what they need, how to solve problems on their own, how to be safe or how to interact with their peers.
Fear of failure: Children of helicopter parents are often afraid of failure as they associate success with being helped by their parents. They are often afraid to try something on their own, without their parents' help. Failing helps children to learn perseverance and helicopter parents do not allow their children to face failure.
Parent anxiety: This parenting style also affects the parents. Research has shown that helicopter parents have more anxiety because they constantly judge their own value against their children's successes. Their self image is lower than that of parents who do not parent in this way.
To conclude, I would like to stress out once more the importance of letting children fail and learn from their failures.
Children need to learn perseverance, they need to understand that if they put their mind to something their will succeed. Having a parent there constantly as a safety net will lessen their determination. I believe that parenting this way is a sign of the parent's own fears and only teaches the child that the world is a hopeless place. Now, that's not what we want to be teaching our children!