When I was an adolescent, I thought nothing of going to school or the store on my own. I played in neighbors’ yards down the street from my home, listening for my mother’s voice calling me to come in. In my early teens, I took three buses on my own to go to high school. There were no cell phones, Internet, or GPS tracking devices.
Many children today do not enjoy the same freedom. Overprotective parents drive them everywhere and hover over their kids. Their parents use smartphones to check on their kids via calls or text constantly, and some even track their movements by following them or via a GPS tracker. They are determined their children will never feel uncomfortable or feel pain, so they try to swoop in to do everything for them. They also rescue them from difficult situations such as children quarreling over a toy.
This parenting style is known as “helicopter parenting.” This behavior seems to be driven by the parents’ anxiety and fear that harm will come to their children.
The "World's Worst Mom"
Several years ago, Discovery/TLC international aired a show called “World’s Worst Mom.” The show featured Lenore Skenazy, who was called that name after a media frenzy revealed she let her nine-year-old ride a New York subway alone.
She has a book called Free-Range Kids and promotes the idea that children should be allowed to do some things on their own so they can develop self-confidence and independence.
Her show and other forms of media have exposed some common helicopter parenting behaviors such as:
- Doing things for children that they are capable of doing for themselves
- Doing all their housework and not requiring kids to do chores
- Constantly checking on children by phone calls, emails, or text
- Secretly following them and watching them
- Not allowing them to go anywhere alone
- Forbidding anything perceived to be potentially dangerous such as sports or riding a bike
- Constantly warning about stranger danger and not allowing children to go on activities with peers such as sleepovers
- Running police checks or hiring private eyes to investigate the people involved in their children’s lives such as teachers or neighbors
How Overprotection Affects Children
It Creates Resentment
Children want to learn how to be independent and be confident in their ability to handle the world. They may resent parents who do not give them opportunities to build these skills. Some may even become rebellious.
Makes Children Fearful or Entitled
If parents are anxious and fearful, their children are more likely to pick up these traits. The kids are afraid of strangers.
Some children of helicopter parents grow up thinking they are the center of the universe and are entitled to anything they want.
Children Lack Social and Problem-Solving Skills
The reason is that children lack basic coping skills is that parents swoop in and interfere when their children have a conflict with others and try to resolve things themselves instead of allowing their children to solve their own problems.
The result is that their children are inflexible and do not know how to cope with failure or challenging situations independently. Children of overly vigilant parents do not perform as well academically as their peers.
Kids Have More Health Problems
Kids of helicopter parents have more health issues in adulthood. These kids are so used to their parents managing their medical appointments and lives that they do not care for their bodies enough.
Ways to Build Self-Confidence and Self-Reliance in our Children
There are many ways that we can cultivate these characteristics in our kids. For example, a helicopter parent will not allow an older child to cross the street on her own. A balanced parent will teach their children how to interpret the lights, look both ways before crossing the street, and always be watchful for potential dangers.
Ask The Children Questions
Many day-to-day situations can become teaching tools. A question such as: “What do you do if (name) took your toy from you?” can open up a discussion that will help children explore ways to cope with stressful situations.
Teach Them How to Think for Themselves
Parents can ask children to come up with solutions to everyday challenges. This boosts their kids’ confidence in their ability to handle difficult circumstances. Caregivers can focus on strategies that children to become independent. Children grow and become more confident when they have to face risks. There is a time when the training wheels have to come off their bikes and they try to ride bikes on their own.
Teach Them How to Think for Themselves
Parents can ask children to come up with solutions to everyday challenges. This boosts their kids’ confidence in their ability to handle difficult circumstances. Caregivers can focus on strategies that children to become independent.
Children grow and become more confident when they have to face risks. There is a time when the training wheels have to come off their bikes and they try to ride bikes on their own.
How our Overprotectiveness Hurts Us Parents
In the book The Overparenting Epidemic, authors George Glass and David Tabatsky say: "Our view is that too much involvement in a child's life can often be destructive, not only for the child but also for the parent." As parents, we earnestly want to keep our children safe and out of harm's way. Sometimes, this desire can become an unhealthy obsession that can actually hurt our kids and us.
According to experts at Iowa State University, our child-rearing should focus on helping children to:
- Become independent
- Develop a positive self-concept
- Develop social competence
- Help them explore the world
We can be so caught up in our hyper-vigilance that we forget that we are also supposed to help our children to develop these skills. Instead, our fears, worry, and anxiety drive us to see danger and threats that do not exist or are extremely rare. We crave constant reassurance that our children are OK.
In some people, this need can be as strong as a drug addict’s need for a fix. When these parents are assured that their children are safe, they feel a temporary sense of relief. However, this feeling does not last long, and they reach for the phone or use other ways to check on their kids yet again.
What Parents Can Do to Find Balance
So what can we as parents do to ensure their children are safe and secure? In our hyper-vigilant culture, it is difficult for us to give children the freedom that I enjoyed when I was growing up. The first thing we parents should do is analyze why we feel driven to over-parent their children.
In some cases, our fears and anxieties are all about us and not about our children. We use helicopter parenting techniques to assure us that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe. We do not want to feel guilty that we have not guarded our kids enough.
Sometimes parents are this way because they do not want their kids to suffer the hurt they suffered in childhood. Caregivers may have deep wounds that have not been healed that should be addressed.
Parenting is a difficult task. Those who undertake this daunting role need to find balance when they are teaching their children how to successfully navigate the world.
What's Wrong With Helicopter Parenting? Child Mind Institute, Gail Saltz
New Study Shows How Perfection and Anxiety Can Lead To Helicopter Parenting, Forbes, Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.
What Is Helicopter Parenting? Experts Say It's Too Much For Kids, Good Housekeeping, Marisa Lascalla
What Is Helicopter Parenting? Parents.com, Kate Bayless
Signs You’re a Helicopter or Pushy Parent and How to Find Balance, Iowa State University
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Carola Finch
Mark Landry from Denver on September 29, 2016:
So true, thanx for your thoughts on this. My wife and I are two extremes, over-protective and under-protective (me)... this helps me think about a better balance.