Helicopter Parents

By Susan Kurlander, M.Ed.

I felt it was my responsibility to call my neighbor when my teenage daughter was late for her babysitting obligation even though she was the one who accepted the job. My daughter had slept at a friend’s house and was supposed to be dropped off in time to watch the two children next door. Where was she, or even more concerning, why was she being irresponsible? I needed to offer my availability if necessary. 

How surprised and embarrassed I was to find out that my daughter had already called our neighbor to explain the situation and to make sure her lateness wasn’t causing a problem. She was not happy to find out that I had stepped in unnecessarily. 

I told myself that my intent was to be helpful, however, the impact wound up undermining my daughter’s ability to solve a problem on her own in a mature and responsible way. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had become a helicopter parent in this situation. I had acted in an “overprotective or excessively interested way in the life of my child.” 

Fortunately, I very quickly recognized the consequences of this type of parenting: 

  • Getting in the way of children learning to solve problems on their own 
  • Teaching them they don’t have to be responsible for their own behavior 
  • Undermining their self-esteem and ability to succeed 
  • Interfering with their ability to be resilient 
  • Taking away their own voices 

How can we avoid being a helicopter parent and the damage it can cause? Lane Vasquez, writer and contributor to Moms.com, offers these suggestions:   

  • Instead of saying “Be careful,” ask your child “What’s your plan if . . .?” 
  • Be hesitant about saying “no” so quickly to something they might want to do if there is no potential harm, and the activity might result in them learning something new
  • Let them choose their own clothes as long as what they choose is reasonably clean  
  • Let them choose their own friends (except when they are being bullied) even if their choices may not be the friends you would choose 
  • Avoid making a special meal for them (a meal different than what the rest of the family is eating) 
  • Teach them healthy online habits before they have access to devices so that you don’t have to control every move they make once they do have access to personal technology 
  • Try not to contact their teachers related to assignments, projects, test grades, etc. 
  • Allow them to manage conflicts between themselves and their friends 
  • Encourage them to accept losing a game. It may help them learn to be humble. 
  • Don’t micromanage how they play. Let them be creative. 

Of course, there are exceptions such as bullying or situations with high potential of danger when a parent does need to step in, but in general, hovering over our child, being wrapped up in their accomplishments, or solving their problems for them may make us feel like a better parent, but in reality we are doing just the opposite. Our over-involvement is actually getting in the way of their growing up to be mature, problem-solving adults who will, hopefully, thank us one day for not doing what may come naturally. 

Susan Kurlander

Susan Kurlander, M.Ed. is a Health Educator at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence.

To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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