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?