Making the Case for Helicopter Parents

The term “helicopter parents” was first mentioned in a section of a 1990 book about teaching children responsibility that discussed ineffective parenting styles.  Playing on the idea that helicopters hover, the term “helicopter parenting” has become widely used and associated with parents overprotecting and over-spoiling their children.  Helicopter parents hover over their children in an attempt to spare them from disappointment.

So what is so wrong with helicopter parenting?

Psychologists and parenting experts feel that by sparing their children from disappointment, helicopter parents in turn prevent them from learning and growing.  I get that message loud and clear.  Life is far from perfect. Not letting a child experience that for him or herself is actually setting that child up for more difficult times later in life.  Rather than coming to the rescue all the time, as parents we need to help our children develop coping skills.

The term “helicopter parents” often applies to parents who are over-involved in their child’s classroom and extracurricular activities, especially when they are essential to a child’s future success.  Some psychologists feel that helicopter parenting has risen dramatically since cell phones and smart phones have become a commodity.  One University of Georgia professor facetiously even called cell phones the world’s longest umbilical cord.

Here is where the term has gotten confusing.  The term “helicopter parents” has been associated not just with parents who overprotect their children from failure and disappointment, but also with attachment parents and parents who are overly concerned with their child’s safety.

Deciding whether or not to be a helicopter parent:

Here’s where I struggle.  I struggle with giving them freedom and being overprotective of their safety.  The world we live in is so much scarier than it was when we were growing up.  The ideal of childhood innocence is not nearly the same.  My kids know so much more than I did at their age.  The lyrics to songs, what they see on TV, what they hear on the school bus, what they learn at school all contribute to a childhood that is a lot less carefree and pure than in previous generations.

I guess I am okay with helicopter parenting when it comes to safety.  So maybe I cringe a little too much when my kid hanging upside down from the monkey bars, but I don’t stop them from climbing trees or rolling down hills. Helicopter parenting in terms of keeping them out of dangerous situations is helping our children.  A recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that both physical and sexual abuse of children has dropped significantly over the past 20 years.  Between 1993 and 2005, the number of sexually abused children declined by 38%, the number of physically abused children fell by 15% and the number of emotionally abused children declined by 27%.  Though ideally those numbers should have dropped to zero, the declines are significant enough to make the case in favor of helicopter parents.

As a parent, I am trying to figure out where to draw my line in the sand.  Prior to having children my husband and I talked a lot about the type of parents we intended to be and how much overprotective parenting irked us.  Then we had a child with health issues and those parental instincts kicked in immediately.  It is the job of a parent to be a young child’s advocate.  It’s also our job to help him become his own advocate as he grows but I will never stop worrying or wanting to know that he is safe and well.

Because of his health issues our son already knows what disappointment feels like and there was no way to spare him of that.  While I personally don’t believe in sharing a bed with my child nor will I be filling out his college applications for him someday, right now we do work to limit his sadness as much as possible and do not care one bit if someone else thinks we are being overprotective of his feelings.

How do you decide when to hover and when to back off?  How much freedom is too much and how much hovering is too much?  As a parent, where do you draw a line in the sand?


  1. I am also a selective hover-er. My son broke his leg at 23 months and then just a few months later was hospitalized with what we thought was MRSA (it wasn’t thank God). But since then, I am so gun-shy and nervous when I see him taking risks. I let him do it, but I am constantly telling him to be careful. Now he sometimes tells ME to be careful! Oy. I think we are learning together and growing up as mama and child. As he gets more independent I see myself backing off, but for now I am ok with the way things are.

  2. When it comes to safety, sure it’s important to be all over it but what constitutes “keeping them safe” outside of the obvious?

    The is a fine line I think we parents walk everyday. It is a scary world and we know too much sometimes but I find myself struggling with that part. What I do is go with my gut b/c it has never led me astray.

    • That’s what I’ve done as well. Trusting my instincts so far has been just what I’ve needed to keep him safe and to maintain my own sanity.

  3. Interesting question…I think there is a little helicopter parent in all of us – we just all have a different area where we obsess (and obsess rightfully so).
    For me – it is sleepovers where I am not familiar with the parenting and house….for others, it is something else.
    I get it – these are our kids we are talking about. A very fine line in raising emotionally equipped kids and still remaining sane ourselves.

    • Oh yes, Sleepovers. My son’s friends don’t have too many of those – yet. I’ve got a story about one of my son’s friend’s parents to share with you one day!

  4. Jessica, I really agree – some things are too important to risk. I try to use my gut as a guide also, in that if I feel a little uncomfortable I figure my kids are taking healthy risks. If I feel VERY uncomfortable I rein them in! Thanks for giving me so much to think about.

    • Thanks for your input. This has been bothering me of late, that fine line between letting them be and hovering over them. I appreciate your thoughts!

  5. I have a real problem with the helicopter-haters of parents of teens. There are so many out-of-control teens because parents back off as their kids age – right when those kids need support and guidance and yes, eyes, the most.

    • What a great point. I always hear that the teens is when parents really need to keep their eyes open. Oh, those looming teenage years!

  6. I like age appropriate independence. It is important to keep them safe and watch out for them, but it is also important that they be set loose on the world (in a responsible manner). If we never let them do anything, then they never get to do anything.

    • :) That’s very true. Perhaps that’s why I’m feeling so conflicted right now. My son is starting to reach that age where I know he’s going to want more independence soon and I hope I’m able to balance both of our wants and needs. You know what I mean?

  7. As a behavioral analyst (psychologist) and a parent, I am all for helicopter parenting, but I define it as being involved in your child’s life (not over, not under, just enough). I’m not talking about calling the teacher at home for a disappointing grade, more like checking in with your child EVERY single day on what was good and not so good at school, who his or her friends are, what happens in the playground, in a casual conversational manner, of course. I believe the early years are imperative for a child’s healthy growth and I believe that it is absolutely the parents’ job to know everything about their child and to be there to guide them, especially through life’s disappointments (not do for them, just guide them).

    Maybe my definition is a little bit different than the rest of the psychological community.
    Great post! Linking to you through my blog.

  8. I usually intervene on anything which could potentially require a trip to the emergency room, or delay any future necessary activities by more than 20 minutes. Otherwise, it’s up to them to learn why it isn’t a good idea to use a chair with wheels to stand and reach something or swing the tire swing really hard and then not move when it comes back.

    I sound tough, but I usually verbally warn, but I won’t get overly excited or physically intervene unless it really seems like they are going to be really hurt.

    The emotional stuff is much more challenging to navigate for me. I find myself suggesting all sorts of things for my boys socially when I think I should mostly let them figure it out. Consequences of our actions is so important and learning to take responsibility for ourselves is something I want them to learn much more than learning disappointment, but figuring out how to do that? I’m taking it one day at a time for now.

  9. This is a tough call because I have dealt with my fair share of helicopter parents through Girl Scouts and it was awful. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a teacher and that’s the exact reason why I never became one.

    That being said, I actually think we are safer today than back when we were growing up (even if we are in different generations). So, that begs the question, what gives? I don’t think helicoptering has made children safer. I actually think hovering parents is in direct proportion to how cutoff we are from real community. The village, so-to-speak.

    As for how I parent: In a way I am too tough and hands off, so my daughter can learn to navigate. I can be an advocate, but not a crutch. I also don’t want her to live in fear of “what if,” I would rather her be prepared and that’s where navigation comes in. I think today too many parents parent out of an unfounded, over-hyped fear.

    • Last night I was at dinner with some friends who were telling me about some of the calls their camp director gets from parents. It was mind blowing what some people will call and complain about. I’m sure you got your fair share of that with Girl Scouts.

      Our kids are both at that pivotal age where they need those gentle shoves to get out there and be their own advocates. That’s probably why this topic is such an interesting one right now…

  10. good post…..

  11. It sounds to me like you are doing a great job! I don’t think the balance is something we find one day. I think it’s something we must continually navigate. And I think the fact that you are aware of your struggle and are actively striving to find that sweet spot means that you will find it more than you will miss. And I think that’s as good as any of us can hope for. Good work mama :-)

  12. Thanks for this!! I’m totally a selective hoverer!! I played out front in the street as a kid but now our street cars drive too fast, houses are too spread out. I don’t feel we have a village looking to help raise our kids and I barely know our neighbors. Anyways, thanks for this!!!

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