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We all want the best for our children. But there is so much more to parenting than just good intentions, and sometimes, even when we do our best to act according to those intentions, we end up doing more harm than good. Parenting can be challenging – especially when the best thing we can do for our teen takes a step back and allow them to learn from life.

When we fail to recognize these opportunities and try instead to micromanage our children’s lives and individual decisions, we often end up stealing an essential lesson from them. Moms and dads who take their love too far and become overbearing might find themselves turning into helicopter parents – leaving their kids unable to deal with life’s challenges when they are not around.

What Is a Helicopter Parent?

A helicopter parent is a term coined to describe many different parenting techniques and behaviors that can best be characterized by a need to self-insert in a child’s autonomy, make all of the critical decisions for them, and remove all adversity. Helicopter parents can be found “hovering” over their children. Sometimes, they might feel they need to always be around for their kids, perhaps more so than their parents were.

Others might inadvertently or even consciously see their children as a chance to start life over, which can be an incredibly unhealthy mindset to have. On the surface, a helicopter parent sounds like someone who wants the best for their children – but it becomes abundantly clear that doing too much can backfire in many ways, as kids (and especially teens) need to learn to develop independence the path to adulthood.

Why Is Helicopter Parenting a Bad Thing?

Behaviors and techniques that can be interpreted as overbearing, or signs of a helicopter parent, have a marked effect on children and young adults’ psychological development. Overprotective parents, intrusive parents, and parents who intentionally or inadvertently stole their children’s autonomy during research tended to be raising kids with lower self-esteem, more significant anxiety issues, social communication problems, and more.

On one side, children who are not put through life’s paces in one way or another never develop the skillset needed to be their person. On the other hand, they intuitively pick up that whenever their parents step in to “help” or solve any problems, they are:

    • Incapable of doing it themselves, and thus not good enough.
    • Supposed to fear what they are being protected from.

Effects on Self-Esteem and Mood

A study specifically aiming to research the effects of helicopter parenting on developing young adults found higher incidences of low mood (depression), anxiety, and self-esteem issues among the children of parents who were more likely to engage in helicopter parenting behavior. Helicopter parenting was also associated with “poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making, and academic functioning.”

Intrusive Parents and Increased Anxiety

While one facet of being a helicopter parent is taking away independence and a chance at autonomy, another is shielding a child from a challenge, thereby inadvertently handicapping them. Researchers found that parents who intervened more often in a puzzle-solving exercise meant for their kids tended to have children who more often struggled with anxiety as well, as they might have grown up to perceive challenges as being more threatening than they are.

Signs of a Helicopter Parent

It might feel like the line between a caring, attentive parent and a helicopter parent is quite acceptable. Still, definitive characteristics set the two apart and distinguish those who hover over their children. Those who strike a healthy balance between offering love and support to children need to be safe while giving them the necessary freedom to develop in their intrinsic way.

Wanting to Know Every Detail of Your Child’s Life

Much like any good relationship, there is a limit to how much control you should exert over your child’s life and an inherent need for trust. One sure sign of a helicopter parent is the need to know every detail in a teen’s life, often betraying their faith or intruding on their privacy.

The term “helicopter parent” became popular among college admissions staff when they realized that a certain kind of parent was more likely to insert themselves into the admissions process than let their children and their respective accomplishments speak for themselves.

Direct and Intrusive Interventions

The next step towards distinguishing a helicopter parent from other parents is a direct and unwanted intervention. Helicopter parents involve themselves in who their children meet and play with, who they become friends with, who they date, what their interests are, how they develop academically, where they invest their time, and much more.

They do this all in the interest of wanting the best for their child but might be doing so without first considering what their child wants. This behavior can be incredibly toxic in families that prioritize filial piety. There is inherently cultural and societal pressure to put one’s parents’ wishes first, breeding resentment and self-esteem issues.

Appearing Too Restrictive

The line between protective and overprotective is often the most blurred, as parents may often be rightfully worried about their children’s safety while acting independently or alone. It is not easy to distinguish between when it is right to intervene and hold back. But helicopter parents set themselves apart in protection and restriction by making two distinct mistakes:

    1. Failing to support their children’s choices.
    2. Taking control over nearly every decision they make.

Simply avoiding these behaviors might not necessarily be enough guidance for parents who feel intuitively more likely to lean towards overbearing behavior with their children out of an overdeveloped sense of protectiveness or fear of seeing their child hurt. The core argument against helicopter parenting is that children must learn to become autonomous to survive as adults.

An essential part of growing up is learning from mistakes and taking responsibility for one’s actions, without intervention from friends or family. Support is not intervention, and you must take care to make that distinction and define and uphold certain boundaries where you should not interfere with your child’s life.