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Are you a helicopter parent? | Column
We all want our children to succeed, but sometimes as parents we can be overly involved in our children’s lives. We don’t want them to get hurt or experience pain so we over-parent, also known as helicopter parenting.
“The result is that kids get out into the real world, and they don’t know what to do or can’t handle it,” says Caron McCune, a counselor with Youth Eastside Services. In fact, research recently released by University of Arizona Professor Chris Segrin found that children raised by helicopter parents tend to have fewer coping skills.
Helicopter parenting, or over-parenting isn’t about being concerned and active in your child’s life — that is normal and healthy. It becomes problematic when parents begin doing things for children that they should be doing for themselves or when parents become overprotective and don’t allow their children to grow and experience normal activities.
Oftentimes, over-parenting stems from a desire to calm parental anxieties — it’s no wonder, with news of school shootings, child abductions and other horrible events. McCune points out that oftentimes that overprotectiveness can rub off on the child, who in turn becomes anxious.
“Young kids can become anxious, and they don’t even know why,” says McCune, “while older kids get angry, rebel and stop telling you what’s going on.” She recommends parents try to calm their own anxieties and assess the true risks for their children.
The truth is as much as we want to protect them, all children will face hurts and adversity. It provides more protection in the long run if kids learn how to deal with those painful moments or risky experiences as they grow.
Instead of offering advice or solving problems for your child, empower kids to solve their own problem and offer support when they need it. For example, if you are concerned about a grade your son received on a test or project, don’t pick up the phone and talk to the teacher — talk with your son. If there is a problem, encourage him to solve it with leading questions such as: “Did you talk with your teacher about your concerns? What could you say to help your teacher understand?” Of course, responsibility has to be age appropriate. You may have to offer to help a younger child talk with a teacher, while a teenager should be able to handle such a task alone.
McCune reminds us that responsibilities with bigger risks and consequences come with age, such as taking the bus or driving. Before you say “no” or move into helicopter parenting mode, stop and think about what you are trying to achieve and make efforts to help your child be safe or check-in.
If you refuse to let your child grow and take on more responsibility, it sends the message that you don’t trust him or her. This can lead to lower self-esteem or an expectation that you will always solve problems.
Studies have also shown that helicopter parents are less likely to be satisfied with family communication and connection. Segrin’s team found that open communication and fewer instances of authoritarian parenting result in more balanced family dynamics.
So the next time you move in to solve a problem for your child, or think they can’t handle a responsibility, stop and think about whether you are over-parenting, and try to find ways to let your child grow and learn so they can manage when you aren’t there.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. For more information, visit www.YouthEastsideServices.org.