Kathleen Odenthal is an entrepreneur and stay-at-home mom juggling a business and a toddler all at the same time.
What is a Helicopter Parent?
A helicopter parent is someone who hovers over their child. The term was coined in 1969 by Doctor Haim Garnett in his book Parents and Teenagers. By definition, this approach to parenting involves over-controlling, over-protecting, and cosseting the child. The term is usually used negatively to describe a parent who is too involved in their child's life.
Oftentimes, helicopter parents are believed to not trust their child or are thought to hover so that they can take credit for their child's successes. Parenting may cause them to feel intense anxiety, so they shadow their child in an effort to protect them. Other times this type of parent may be overcompensating for their own childhood, one where maybe a parent was absent.
(Note: this is the textbook definition for helicopter parenting and other people's beliefs on why parents hover. This is not how I view helicopter parenting, but we will get into that later.)
Criticisms os Helicopter Parenting
Helicopter parenting has a number of negative connotations. This approach to parenting is considered excessive and is believed to have negative impacts on the child.
Common criticisms made about helicopter parenting include:
- Lack of Trust- By constantly intervening in your child's life, you aren't helping develop a sense of trust between you and your child. You are giving them the impression that you don't have confidence in their ability to do things for themselves.
- Low Self Esteem- Constantly intervening in your child's life not only weakens trust, but it also can impact their confidence. They may feel like you don't believe that they are capable, and as a result, they may begin to doubt themselves as well.
- Sense of Entitlement- Some people believe that over-involvement in your child's life sets them up for failure and disappointment because they will always expect you to intervene when they cannot or don't want to do something themselves. This can allow them to develop a sense of entitlement.
- Inability to Cope- An important thing that every child needs to learn is how to cope with sadness, loss, and negative emotions. When a parent is constantly comforting their child, it may impact their ability to develop helpful coping skills.
In Defense of Helicopter Parenting
I believe that helicopter parenting gets a bad rap. I think all parents know the importance of allowing their child to develop a sense of self and a sense of independence. That being said, I think that being close to your child and wanting to be involved in their life is a magnificent thing.
Far too often I find that parents today are less involved than they should be. We use nannies and babysitters, daycares, and tutors to fill the role that parents filled when I was young. I would much rather have someone tell me that I am too involved in my child's life than tell me that I am not involved enough. I want to be there for my son, I want him to know that I will always be there for him, day or night, regardless of his age, any time he needs me. I need him to know that.
I know people who put their jobs before their families and I honestly believe that we need to take a good, long look at our priorities. When did this happen? When did we as a society decide that our careers outweighed those closest to us? We work longer hours, we travel more, we rely too heavily on technology, yet for some reason, the over-involved parent is viewed as the bad guy?!
It makes no sense to me.
I'll be honest. My family could benefit from me working more hours, but we decided that it was in the best interest of my son that I stay at home with him as much as possible. I do what I can to make money from home, I take shifts once in a while when a family member can watch him, but both my husband and I realize the importance of being involved in my son's life, even if that means we need to make sacrifices elsewhere.
Is It so Bad?
There are even some studies that have recently come out that show that helicopter parenting isn't as terrible as people thought. These studies have found that heavy involvement during late adolescence and young adulthood can benefit the child emotionally, socially, logistically, and psychologically.
"Obviously, there are horrible extremes that helicopter parents can go to, where they don't allow their children to succeed or fail on their own," says researcher Stephanie Coontz, "but in the majority of cases, this increased closeness between parents and kids is found among healthy students, not unhealthy ones."
Knowing When to Step Back
As much as I enjoy being a helicopter parent, I understand the importance of allowing my son to make his own mistakes so that he can learn and grow. I embrace our time together, but I can also step back and allow him to experience things for himself.
In my opinion, being a helicopter parent isn't about doing things for my son that he can do for himself, it's about doing things with my son, so that he can learn to do things for himself. It is about developing a sense of trust, not a lack of trust.
I absolutely love watching my son grow. I love seeing him learn new things and do things on his own. It gives me immense pride and joy. That being said, I want to be an active part of his life as long as I am alive. I want him to need me. That doesn't mean I want him to need me all the time, or need me to do everything for him. But if he needs help, I want him to know that I am there and that I will always help him.
I do believe in helicopter parenting. I believe that is so desperately needed today, more than ever. That doesn't mean that I don't know when to step back and allow him to pick himself up by his boot straps if need be.
Why I Believe in Helicopter Parenting
Sure, we all need to allow our children to develop minds of their own through their independent life experiences, I get that, I really do. That being said, more children in today's society are being raised by computers, iPads and televisions than ever before.
No, I am not a helicopter parent by definition, but I do believe that I am much more hands on with my son than other parents I know. I don't do things for him that I know he can do for himself, but I do get on the floor and play with him, roll around and the dirt and get messy with him, and embrace every moment I get to spend with him because I realize that he is only little for a very short while.
I think it is time that we redefine helicopter parenting. A desire to be close to your child should not come with this belief that you are smothering them. Instead, it should be viewed as a sign of love and a sign of compassion. It is a way of building up your child's independence and sense of self, while still knowing that you will always be in their corner.
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.
U suk on June 29, 2020:
Maurice Glaude from Mobile on November 24, 2017:
I have never heard of the helicopter parent. I think your way of parenting is teaching him to relate and be more in touch with his empathic self. He will be able to be more in tune with others and probably be more successful in getting his point across and getting what he needs. Some of my own nieces and nephews don't understand or relate to adults well. I'm not sure why but I believe it's because they have a fear of speaking to adults. My generations were taught to talk to adults by way of being polite. I was also taught everyone is equal in life and should be treated like your own mother and father. I think some parents today just aren't taught to also teach those values to their children. The grandparents normally did that in my family as we were all so close.
Ann Carr from SW England on November 30, 2016:
Great hub, Kathleen! I haven't read any of yours for a while as I've been really busy renovating a house but I'm trying to catch up with my old favourites!
I must admit I'd never heard of helicopter parenting but I can see what it can mean.
I totally agree with you. It's great to see how our children do things and succeed and there's nothing better than helping them to do just that.
My daughters spend much time with all their children and the youngsters are all the better for it, shown mostly in my oldest granddaughter, an almost 16 year old; she is confident, talks to her mother about anything (and to me which is great) and is really comfortable socially.
Great to read one of your hubs again.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 10, 2016:
Kathleen, I guess you could say I was a helicopter parent. I was very involved in my son's life, school, etc. when he was young. It amazed me that his teachers would tell me they wished other parents were as hands-on as I was.
You're right - too many parents aren't involved enough in their children's lives. Many seem to not want to be bothered. Being a parent is the most important job in the world. How can we give our kids a strong foundation on which to build themselves without being in the trenches with them?
I guess helicopter parenting can be taken too far. As long as we allow our kids to make decisions, make mistakes and learn from them, close involvement is a positive learning experience for parent and child. It's a bonding experience. We just have to be careful not to smother. Not only does that lead to insecurity, but it can also lead to resentment.
My son is now 24. He still lives with me and I have no problem with that. He makes his own decisions and I let him fall when they are the wrong ones. It's very hard for me not to pick him up, but he'll never learn if I'm constantly there with a rope for him to hang onto. I support his efforts to better himself. As parents, we're constantly learning, no matter how old our children are. The hardest part is seeing them fall. But if we don't let them, they'll not have the strength, knowledge and insight needed to carry on with life and become parents themselves one day.
I support your decision.
RTalloni on October 24, 2016:
Brave you, and good for you! Speaking up on this topic might bring in some interesting responses.
The first time I recognized the attitude was within the medical community. Just recently I read something from a supposed doctor who said that children aged 13 and up should always see the doctor alone. It's shocking to tell parents to trust people with their children on an intimate level that they basically do not know anything about (even though they are called professionals).
As a young mother an older mother told me, "Never let medical professionals separate you from you child. You don't really don't know who they are." Of course, she did not mean in the case of a need for emergency surgery. I understood what she meant.
You've got some great quotes in this post:
"I would much rather have someone tell me that I am too involved in my child's life than to tell me that I am not involved enough."
"It is time that we redefine helicopter parenting."