Over the past seven years, educators and employers have been dealing with the extraordinary increase in the parenting phenomenon called “Helicopter Parents.” These are overprotective parents who hover over their children and try to fight their battles in a well-intentioned attempt to solve their children’s problems and painstakingly plan all their experiences from childhood through college and into the work world.
The print and entertainment media have explored numerous examples of overzealous parents doing it all for their children, including:
Entering schools to deal directly with bullies;
Physically fighting with athletes who foul their child during an athletic competition;
Demanding their child have a starring role in the school play;
Fighting with school officials over the scarring effects of even minor disciplinary issues;
Hosting lavish graduation parties for passing each grade level;
Giving their children trophies to inflate their egos when they lose;
Providing children with two or three cell phones, so that when a phone is taken away at school, they can still communicate;
Placing a GPS tracking device in their child’s backpack to monitor the route and speed of the school bus taking their child to school;
Asking to stay at overnight camps in order to observe the day to day activities;
Leaving the baby video camera in their children’s rooms until they go to college;
Completing college applications and essays for seniors;
Calling their children at college to wake them up for morning classes;
Driving to college each week to clean a dorm room and do the laundry;
Questioning professors on the grading of college essays!
Helicopter parenting is obsessive over-parenting intended to resolve the problems of childhood and prevent children from coming to harm by keeping them out of what the parent perceives are dangerous situations. An unintended effect is that the parents nurture the child’s dependency, as well as promote and inflate the child’s ego well beyond what is healthy. Some parents have gone beyond a mere excessive zeal to unethical behavior, such as writing their children’s college admission essays and forging letters of recommendation for employment.
Helicopter parents may be well-intentioned, but their behavior makes a major dent in their children’s personal development and ability to build the resiliency and perseverance needed to deal with their own problems.
These well-meaning adults want their perfect child to avoid every bump in the road, have every opportunity, receive every possible honor and, ultimately, have the perfect life provided by them, the perfect parents. They may use a variety of rationales to justify their actions: I want to give my child every possible advantage in life… There are many unsafe and risky situations, and a little extra protection never hurts… Other parents may put their child at risk, but I’m just not willing to do so… I’m just protecting my long-term investment in my child.
In recent years, the number of “Helicopter Parents” has increased to an estimated 21 percent of all parents. This increase is linked to Baby Boomers who, having started families late in life, are attempting to become stars at parenting as reflected in the success of their children. Some of these parents have such a serious aversion to risk that it reaches a state of disproportionate paranoia, severely restricting the child’s activities, interactions with others, diet and even ventures into the world outside the home. Children are forbidden to do the simple things that are part of being a normal child, like riding a bike, going on sleep overs and playing sports.
What starts as young parents wanting to provide every possible positive experience for their children has, in some instances, evolved well beyond, creating generations of kids, teens and even young adults who are totally dependent, incapable of problem solving, and lacking the self-confidence to fend for themselves in all aspects of their lives.
Part of being parents is recognizing that our ultimate success will be measured by the fact that our “prodigy” has developed into a balanced, well-functioning adult. In a world where some children do not receive enough of the attention and simple support that healthy parenting provides, the “Helicopter Parent” goes to the opposite extreme, seeking to control and manage every aspect of their child’s life well into adulthood.
My hope is that this column strikes a chord and becomes a call to action for parents to examine and, where necessary, adapt their parenting style, so that all our children will grow up to become well-adjusted, competent and resilient adults who are prepared to successfully face the challenges of the 21st century.