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How Not to Be a Helicopter Parent

Helicopter parents hover, intervening in their college-age kids' roommate disputes and making their academic decisions. Are you likely to become one?

You may have heard the term "helicopter parent." More and more colleges and universities are using it. But what exactly does it mean? Helicopter parents hover. They are always on the lookout for threats to their children's success and happiness. If a problem does surface, these parents are ready to swoop in and save the day.

In recent years, colleges have reported that helicopter parents are making their presence felt on campus. They are intervening in roommate disputes, registering their children for classes and questioning professors' grades. The consequences of such behavior have been negative for students, parents and colleges.

How Do You Know If You're a Helicopter Parent?

If the following items describe you, then you're probably overmanaging your child's life:

  • You are in constant contact with your child. Cell phones have led to frequent communication between parents and children. If you dial your child's number every day or multiple times each day, then you are hovering. And if your child calls home at any sign of stress or trouble, you are likely overinvolved.
  • You are in constant contact with school administration. One of the main goals of going to college is for kids to grow into independent adults who can direct their own affairs. If you're emailing or phoning school officials on a regular basis to resolve your child's conflicts, then you are overmanaging.
  • You make your child's academic decisions. If you are choosing courses, majors and a career path for your child, then you are too involved. Giving advice or input is certainly acceptable and warranted, but being in control of these types of decisions is a sure sign of hovering. On that note, if you ever find yourself doing research or writing a paper for your child, you are definitely a helicopter parent.
  • You feel bad about yourself if your child does not do well. If you consider schooling an experience involving both parent and child, then you probably view your child's accomplishments, or lack thereof, as a reflection on you. Helicopter parents base their own self-worth on their children's success. If you feel like a failure when your child fails, you are hovering.

What Are the Negative Effects of Helicopter Parenting?

Parents may have complex reasons for hovering. No matter what the motive is though, the results of doing so are negative for everyone involved. Harmful effects of helicopter parenting include the following:

  • Children's growth is stunted. Helicopter parents seem to be stunting their children's maturation. Numerous students are arriving at college without basic social and survival skills. They lack knowledge about how to negotiate for what they need, coexist with other people in shared living quarters, stay safe and solve their own problems. With their parents always ready to step in, kids are failing to learn accountability and responsibility.
  • Parents feel more anxiety. Research indicates that helicopter parents' mental health is suffering. One study released by the Society for Research in Child Development in Atlanta states that parents who judge their own self-worth by their children's accomplishments report sadness, negative self-image and diminished contentment with life in general. According to Peter N. Stearns, provost of George Mason University, parents' anxiety and dissatisfaction with life have markedly increased during the past 20 years because of overinvolvement in their children's lives.
  • Colleges must use their resources to deal with helicopter parents. Colleges are taking steps to mitigate the influence of helicopter parents. Some are holding extra parental orientation sessions, some are hiring staff members to field parents' phone calls and emails and some are employing "bouncers" to keep parents at bay. All of these plans require monetary resources, and parents will end up financing them through increased tuition costs.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/11/2010:
"I have to agree with most of these parents but the article does have some good points. Unfortunately, mistakes cost money in this society. It is hard to have a healthy balance. My last son is not doing well in school and that can cost him in the long run as far as getting into college or even graduating high school. I am sure I have been thought of as a hovering mom but children do not come with manuals and none of us want to blame ourselves for making sure they do not make major mistakes that will cost them their freedom or their lively hoods. It is so hard being a parent these days. The risks are so much more greater!"
07/10/2008:
"Theoretically, we should give our children more and more responsibility as they grow older, so that by the time they go to college, they are ready to handle things mostly on their own with limited intervention from their parents. I agree it might be a disaster to take an 18 year old who's never been responsible for anything in his or her life and give total freedom. But with most kids, if when they're young you teach them strategies for handling things, whether it's budgeting their allowance to buy a toy they want, keeping a calendar of assignments so they can keep up with their homework, or how to do laundry, and then give them responsibility for those things once they've had a little practice, by the time they're 18 will be able to manage college life on their own and will only need you to step in if there's an emergency. That's how my parents brought me up, and as an 18 year old I did just fine choosing and registering for my own classes, selecting a major, doing well in classes, finding a part-time job, choosing housing and roommates, paying bills, and staying out of trouble (mostly ;-)). My kids are still very young but I hope I can do as well at that aspect of parenting as my own parents did."
06/30/2008:
"This is a great article. By the way to the mom on 7/17/2007, are you prejudice? Comparing white/black and other kids with oriental kids and saying that oriental kids are more mature!! I also invite you to come to the park next to my house and see how many oriental kids are sitting under trees, taking drugs or making out with each other in their car or smoking or even drinking under age. We are talking about the best neighborhood. So being mature has nothing to do with the race of anyone. Moms like you are dividing our schools and nation. I am sure when you see a white or black person, you tell your kids,'Hey watch out, these are aliens, don't talk to them! These people are stupid.' White, black, oriental, middle eastern, and others have nothing to do with this article. Don't judge people by their race. That is called being prejudice. This article is definitely for people like you. It's time for kids to make mistakes and we are not in Hawai vacationing, we are all! working hard to raise our kids to be independent and successful in life like ourselves. A high schooler and the college student should have freedom to choose and become anything he/she wants to be not what his/her parents wanted to become and couldn't become. Our children are not born to be our slaves and be under our command. Let them explore the world on their own. If you have done a good job teaching them what was wrong or good during the time they lived with you before college, they will choose the right path and they will come to you for help. Let them be themselves and explore themselves and their world on their own in high school and college years. It's okay to fail. Failing makes people stronger. "
06/30/2008:
"How can I get test results for my high school student? Tests results were shown to him @ school, but never received @ home after several calls to the school. Thank you."
06/20/2008:
"Absolutely. This is what is wrong with so many kids, the helicopter overly defensive of their kids, parents. They are doing way more harm than good. If you don't let go, they will be dependent on you the rest of your life - unless, of course, that's what you helicopter parents want. Parents, ask yourselves, did you want your parents hovering over you? "
06/20/2008:
"As a reformed 'helicopter' mom of two daughters (one now in college and one starting high school), I've learned that there are two types of parents: Givers and Takers. The Givers GIVE responsibility TO their children. These are the parents that instill core family values, and trust the children to make more and more choices based on those values as they grow. They watch their children struggle and congratulate them on their victories, and let their children fail and encourage them to try again or to try something altogether different. The Takers think that they are Givers, because they give their children everything they've ever wanted; however, what they really do is TAKE responsbility FROM their children; taking away the self-esteem and confidence they will get from succeeding on their own, and taking away the opportunities to learn valuable life lessons that come with failure. My job as a parent is not to micromanage my girls, but rather to nurture them to become confide! nt, independent young women, and ultimately to be physically-, emotionally-, mentally-, morally-, socially-, and financially-responsible parents themselves someday. "
06/20/2008:
"Good information. I have two teens-both boys. One almost 18 and I refer to him as 'hover child'. He is unmotivated, in need of frequent validation and I am always encouraging him to 'keep going' and 'branch out'. Computer knowedgeable, for sure. He doesn't even want a driver's license. Whoa!! My other son age 15, is independent, gets great grades, and is an exceptional athlete. Made all varsity teams as a Freshman. Completes homework without asking, only checks in when needed. The point is...I think some parents are 'hover parents' when needed-based on the personalities of their child just like kids are different....I have 2 kids that when people meet both of them, can't believe they are brothers from the same parents. Both very tall-the 18 year old is 6' 4' but 280 lbs., the 15 year old is 6' 3'-but 175 lbs. Even the friends of each of them don't see how they possibly were raised in the same household. Parents do what they think is needed for each child based on the n! eeds of the child, I think. If they are 'hovering' over all their kids, then I'd be concerned. There are certain types of kids that need that constant guidance. Believe me, I'd like nothing better than to go a whole day without a phone call!!"
06/20/2008:
"It is a very good article! I know too many of that kind of parents even in High School. Get a life on your own and stop calling your child every day. Children will never be independent and Happy with overcontroling parents. You have to trust your child then they will trust you back and do not try to know everything give them space."
06/20/2008:
"I agree- I am a mother AND work at a school- it is hard to let your kids fail and LEARN from their mistakes- but that is HOW I GREW - from my parents letting me fail and pick up the pieces- I started to 'save' my niece recently when she was a grown woman - the second I started letting her learn from her mistakes is when she started to grow. and YESSS it is hard to realize we are not helping but we are teaching then COACHING- standing on the sidelines so to speak- encourage but don't interfere- be cocerned but don't worry endlessly- it will ruin your own life."
07/17/2007:
"Yeah right, step back and watch the young adult (kid) make all the errors in life and get ruined. 18-22 yrs is when a person is maturing and without ADULT guidance and with just his/her own judgement added with peer pressure they could ruin their whole life. No wonder we have so many drug problems in this country. College kids do need active supervision from their parents who are the only people in the whole world who would want to see them grow into responsible adults. College administrators are more concenrned about 'Green bags' and not much about a young adults life turning into a nightmare. C'mon by not hovering you are shunning your responsbilities just because you want to have a good time in hawaii and no one should disturb you.. wake up and learn from other oriental countries and their way of bringing up kids. The numbers speak for themselves, how many American (white/black and other) kids are responsbile enough when they are in their 20's and just count the number o! f Asian kids who are way too mature for their age in their 20's, that will answer your question. This article is a recepie for disaster. It's a lethal combination, college going age and total freedom. It never turns out to be good unless properly supervised."
06/27/2007:
"So, step back parents and watch your 'child' make one independent mistake after another. College administrators don't want to be bothered with you except when you're handing over the $20,000 a semester check. Then they're all smiles. Most of us can't afford too many mistakes at this price."
06/25/2007:
"This article keeps referring to a young adult (you'e normally over 18 in college, correct), as a 'child'. Maybe the key to treating your 'child' correctly at this age is not to think of him as a child. It also bothers me that this article is all about helping your child grow into a responsible adult while in college. I thought you did that up to grduation from high school? After that point, they're on their own for their sake as well as yours."
06/22/2007:
"thank you so much for this article. I found it very helpful and I'm glad you ended with 'when to step in..' advice. I guess I am guilty of becoming a hovering parent. My son has two years left before he graduates from HIGH SCHOOL and I feel I need to be involved because without me he would do a lot worse than he's doing now. Hopefully we both can stay in our roles and he can grow a little more independent these next two years. I know this article was geared more towards college age students but I found some good pointers for his education level NOW . Thank you."
06/22/2007:
"Excellent article! Trying to find the balance can sometimes be very difficult. Thank you for your input. Sincerely, Reformed 'Helicopter Parent' :)"
06/21/2007:
"Hovering starts way before college - thanks for the article! I think I could write an article about hovering over a 10 year old. Thanks for opening my eyes."
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