What are helicopter parents?
The term "helicopter parents" originated in the late 1980s to describe parents who so closely supervise their children that they could discourage the youngsters from establishing independence. Helicopter parents hover nearby, always ready to instruct, correct, or rescue children from challenges or problems.
Helicopter parenting is a style of parenting characterized by a micromanagement of children's lives that goes beyond normal involvement, support, and discipline. In some cases, helicopter parenting begins as soon as children are able to reach for toys and can last into adulthood. Helicopter parents hinder children's play, schooling, and relationships with other kids and make too many decisions for older children. When parents become too deeply involved in their lives, children find it difficult to learn to solve their own problems. Children need the opportunity to learn from experience.
Involvement alone does not define helicoptering. Parents are expected to supervise their children, show interest in their schoolwork, and comfort them when they are hurt. Helicopter parents cross this line by refusing children enough space to develop their independence and individuality. The mother who redistributes party favors because her son cried about the color of his lollipop, the father who storms into his daughter's classroom to question every test grade, or the parents who settle their child's minor arguments with a friend do not give their children the chance to experience disappointment, take responsibility for mistakes, or deal with conflict. As a result, these children receive the message that they are unable to handle their own problems. If helicopter parents continue to hover as children grow into adolescents and go off to college—for example, texting or calling their children many times a day—the road to independence becomes long and indefinite.
Usually propelled by love and a fear of harm coming to the child, excessive supervision also may reflect anxiety about the child's future success. Parents who have advanced degrees and work as professionals are more likely to become helicopter parents than those with bachelor's degrees or high school diplomas. Their taking control is motivated by a great concern about the child's ability to someday receive acceptance into a prestigious university and maintain a place in a higher social class, in addition to the worries other parents share.
A major concern about helicopter parenting is when it continues through adolescence, when most children strive for greater independence. Since technology has erased the child's ability to avoid the hovering parent's eye, even while at school or out with friends, the child learns to forgo some level of privacy. Parents can electronically monitor grades, homework, discipline reports, and lunch choices at school. They have access to the child's cell phone records and social media sites and even have technology that allows them to track their child's whereabouts in real time. Dedicated helicopter parents take responsibility for creating a portfolio of experience for the child to use for college applications, running him or her to music lessons, sports practices, and tutoring to ensure success. They also manage whatever paperwork and legwork are necessary to arrange college admissions tests and visits and meet college application deadlines. If helicopter parents always remain one step ahead of their child's needs, the young person never learns to take initiative or follow through on responsibilities.
After their children leave for college, helicopter parents continue to stay close—so close that some colleges have developed ceremonies to escort parents from campus after freshman orientation. Other colleges assign staff members to cope with the growing number of calls from parents who demand information or action on behalf of their child. Students who never have been allowed to experience failure—or even discomfort—generally have a hard time adjusting to the relative independence of campus life, where they are responsible for their own assignments and deadlines. At the first sign of trouble, these students text or call parents for advice, without attempting to solve the problem. College personnel even have a name for students who are too fragile to cope with ordinary challenges of college without parental involvement—"teacups." As college graduation approaches, the most persistent helicopter parents press career counselors for help in getting their child a job, and a few even accompany children to job interviews. The final outcome of helicopter parents' micromanagement of their children's lives can be adults who feel empty, indecisive, and vaguely unhappy in spite of having had so many advantages and so few problems.
Helicopter parents' overinvestment in their children also affects their own lives. Such all-consuming relationships leave little or no time for close friends, family members, or even spouses. In addition to taking care of their own demanding work schedules, home responsibilities, and other children, these parents take on hours of extra work each week to drive to activities, supervise homework, and monitor progress. Many parents consider their sons or daughters their best friends and suffer acute loneliness when their children leave for college. Helicopter parents mean well and make sacrifices so their children will succeed, but their efforts may hinder both their children's goals and their own.
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