Parents: Don't Hover, Let Your Child Be Free

Blog post by Chris Segrin, head of the Department of Communication

With the start of another school year, many young people are beginning to think about class schedules, homework assignments, papers, tests and navigating their way through the requirements and hurdles of school. 

As it turns out, many parents also are thinking about the same things, perhaps even more than their children are. Such parents might be examples of the phenomenon known as "helicopter parenting" in popular culture. 

Helicopter parents are those who hover over their children, always ready to swoop down and provide help and guidance at a moment's notice.

Although assistance and support from parents can be beneficial to children of all ages, as children grow into young adults, there can be too much of a good thing when parents do not adjust their parenting style. Helicopter parenting occurs when parents offer intensive guidance, problem solving, advice and assistance to their children, especially when those children could be doing at least some of those tasks on their own — or, at least, without so much input.

Children exposed to helicopter parenting end up having high levels of anxiety, an excessive sense of entitlement, minimal faith in their own ability to solve problems and higher use of prescription medication.  In addition, they are less satisfied with their family's communication.

Behavioral scientists believe that helicopter parenting interferes with normal developmental experiences that allow children to build their own problem-solving skills and competence. For many people, these are developed through trial-and-error experiences. Helicopter parenting restricts those learning experiences, as parents dispatch their wisdom gained through experience and their resources to solve too many of their children’s problems.

What can parents do to help their young adult children in life, without going overboard to the extent of becoming a helicopter parent? 

  • Know the difference between healthy involvement (e.g., knowing your child's whereabouts, who their friends are, taking an interest in how they are doing in school) and intrusiveness (e.g., giving your child advice on who to date, intervening in conflicts that your child has with another person, trying to solve problems that your child could easily solve on his or her own, and taking personal responsibility for your child's happiness). 
  • Do not be afraid to let your child struggle a little. Struggles are part of life, and most people who conquer their challenges with their own energy and resources come out better fit to face subsequent challenges. 
  • Carefully examine your own motivations for helping your child. Do you want to see your child become the person he or she wants to be, or the person you want them to be? Are you preoccupied with seeing that your child does not make the same mistakes that you did when you were young? Did you miss some opportunity in life that you want your child to experience? These are some of the underlying issues that drive helicopter parenting.
  • Gradually back off the supervision and replace it with observation. As high school students become college students, consider beginning the move from coach to spectator. Realize that the high levels of surveillance and oversight that were possible — and perhaps necessary in some cases — during high school will no longer be possible and hopefully not as necessary. The goal here is not to bring parenting to a halt, but rather to back it off to make room for more autonomy and decision making by your child.       

Finally, there are things that young adult children can do as well. If you feel yourself caught in the downdraft of a helicopter parent, don’t be afraid to speak up. Tell your parent that you appreciate the offers of advice, assistance, etc., but that you want to try taking on some problems on your own. When you are successful, be sure to follow up with them and let them know how well things went and how you managed to take care of things with your own efforts and actions.

UA blog link here.

Published Date: 

08/26/2015 - 1:45pm