Why Helicopter Parenting is Hurtful to Children

Helicopters are supposed to hover. Parents are not!

“Helicopter Parenting’” is the negative term given to parents who have too much of a parental presence in their children lives. The practice is the perfect example of parenting gone wrong.

All parents want to do as much as possible to make things easy for their children and to be sure their children are successful. No parent wants to see their child experience disappointment or failure to achieve something the child really wants, whether it be a part in the school play, a good grade on an assignment or even a great job.

What causes parents to become overly involved in their children’s lives and when does good parenting cross the line into “helicopter parenting”?

JoNel Aleccia, NBC News, links the rise of this type of parenting with the onset of ‘Baby On Board’ signs in vehicle windows, car seat laws, bicycle helmet requirements and child finger printing to ease parents’ fears of abduction.  Aleccia feels this created a greater sense of anxiety in parents to protect their children. She also feels that sometimes parents who feel more anxious and regretful of their own missed goals may be more overprotective and overly involved in their child’s daily activities. These concerns and strong desires to see their children do well and have everything they want leads these parents to intervene inappropriately – removing obstacles and solving problems for their children rather than letting the child handle the situation on their own. What parents need to realize is that they are doing more harm than good for their children.

Learning to handle and resolve daily life situations and challenges helps children of all ages develop problem solving and coping skills and teaches them how to handle setbacks. Parental interference actually undermines a child, leaving the child feeling insecure, incapable, powerless and unsupported. 

Aleccia stresses that it is very important for parents to be able to differentiate between harmful over-parenting and a healthy parental desire to help a child get through a challenging situation. Sometimes, separating the two isn’t easy to do.

But how can parents accomplish this?

In a report on CBS News, Pittsburgh, when a parent becomes aware that their child is facing some challenge or difficult situation, rather than just jumping in and trying to fix it, parents should ask themselves “What will happen if I let me child try to fix this on their own and they fail?” So long as the child is in no danger, parents should step back and ask the child what they are trying to accomplish and what outcome the child would like to see in the situation. Let the child come up with and voice his/her own problem-solving ideas regarding the situation.  Make suggestions but don’t take action. Letting the child figure out his/her own means of handling situations the child is confronted with helps that child develop problem-solving skills, build self-confidence and become independent. 

The article suggests using a concept called the “FedEx Rule”. The popular shipping company has a policy of waiting two days after being notified that there may be a problem with an article that was shipped using their service before initiating any action in the matter. The CBS News article suggests parents listen to their child if they want to talk about what is taking place and how it has given the child concern. Then, wait a couple days and ask the child if there is still a problem and how he or she is doing at resolving the situation. Ask what actions the child has taken thus far. Then make suggestions of other possible things the child may want to try to reach a successful conclusion. 

The hardest thing for parents to realize and to accept is that sometimes they may have to allow their children to try numerous times to resolve a situation without success. And, ultimately, the child may never accomplish their desired result. But failure is one of the critical life-lessons that helps a child grown into a resilient adult who can bounce back from life’s challenges.

Chris Segrin, a behavioral scientist who studies interpersonal relationships and mental health, says “The problem with all that help is that when it’s overdone, it keeps children from developing their own age appropriate strengths and skills.  When we don’t give the child the freedom to try on his or her own and maybe fail on his own, he doesn’t develop the competency that children who fail learn.” He goes on to say that children and teens who are in constant contact with parents whether face-to-face, by telephone or through email and text messages still cling to that reliance on Mom or Dad to jump in and fix things when the going to gets too tough, even after the children are well into adulthood.

Segrin goes on to suggest that over-parenting is motivated with the idea of doing good things but it does the exact opposite in the long run. In the long run, parents are impairing their child from developing essential life skills. The parents may be winning that battle for their child, but is really losing the war in the long run. In the short-term, it is very important to let kids suffer discomfort or failure, no matter how tough it may be for Mom and Dad to watch. It is best to let them fail and then offer them comfort and support and talk to them about what they have learned from the experience and how they can use that lesson in other areas of their lives.