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Are You a Helicopter Parent?

Over the past several years, the phrase “helicopter parenting” has emerged in the media as a term for parenting styles that involve excessive intervention, attention, and guidance on the part of parents toward their children. The term is metaphorical; the parent is a helicopter constantly hovering over the child. It is often used pejoratively, and it tends to bring to mind images of parents completely sanitizing their children’s worlds, going to the hospital for every bruise or scratch, and acting in an excessively entitled manner on behalf of their kids.

But the media reports usually fail to capture some of the positive things about 21st-century parenting. Parents who advocate strongly for their children open up many opportunities for their kids, and there are certainly many legitimate dangers that parents need to protect their kids against. However, there is more to kids’ lives than safety and educational success, and every family needs to find a balance that works for them.

What makes a helicopter parent?
There is no single, widely agreed upon definition of helicopter parenting, but here are a few qualities that many helicopter parents have in common:

  • Over caution: Stereotypical helicopter parents forbid their kids from engaging in any activities that may lead to injury. For example, they do not allow their children to climb trees, go for hikes, or swim beyond the shallow end for fear of all the bad things that could possibly happen.
  • Over attention: Many modern parents give up their own hobbies, interests, and social lives to devote themselves completely to caring for their kids.
  • Meddling: Helicopter parents sometime annoy officials at school and in other institutions (such as day care or summer camp) with their excessive intervention.
  • Emotional access: Many of today’s parents feel a strong urge to know everything that is going on in their kids’ emotional lives. As a result, they try to establish themselves more as friends than as authority figures.
  • Suppressing independence: Helicopter parents do not allow kids to do anything for themselves. The danger in this is that it can create kids who do not know how to do anything and lack crucial life experience.

The Drawbacks
The main drawback of helicopter parenting is that it deprives kids of the means to learn for themselves and make their own way in the world. Kids learn by experience, and gaining life experience is inevitably going to involve a few scratches, bruises, and even broken bones. Kids have been climbing trees, riding bikes, and romping through the woods for time immemorial-and you probably had such experiences yourself-so to forbid these activities would be to deprive the child of essential aspects of growing up.

And let us not forget that parents need to have their own lives. Even if you consider yourself a parent first and foremost, it is important to pursue your own hobbies, interests, and social life, not to mention career. At least one study has found that parents who devote excessive attention to their kids are unhappy, and another has found that kids with helicopter parents are likely to grow up neurotic themselves. So all in all, parental over caution and over attention are negative for everyone involved.

Since there is no clearly defined philosophy behind helicopter parenting-and few parents would actually identify themselves as helicopter parents-it can be difficult to present alternatives. But there are a few clear points that no one would dispute. If you want to avoid being a helicopter parent, here are some things you can do:

  1. Understand that growing up involves some cuts and bruises. Do not deprive your child of life experience for the sake of absolute safety-which is impossible in any case.
  2. Give your child some independence. When it is reasonable for him or her to make her own way to or from school, for instance, let it happen. Of course, it is up to you to decide when your child is responsible enough to get some independence, but it must happen at some point.
  3. Trust your child’s teachers to do their job. If you think the school just is not good enough, then maybe your child belongs in a better one.
  4. Be an authority, not a confidant. Sure, there are times to embrace your emotional bond with your child, but kids need someone who is willing to make them do their homework and to punish them when they break the rules.
  5. In general, take a step back. Many of the behaviors characteristic of helicopter parenting are perfectly fine in moderation. Overdoing it is what creates problems.

By Jamell Andrews

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