Sometime ago I was out with friends and our conversation veered to how it appeared that children of this generation generally had an entitlement mentality, tended to be unappreciative, were selfish, self absorbed and unable to do things for themselves. As we tried to postulate what could be responsible for this trend, someone in the group said, “I don’t know what it is, but we parents seem to have missed it somewhere”. For whatever reason, that statement kept ringing in my head long after we said our goodbyes.
Because of my fascination with the topic of parenting I tend to read far and wide on the subject and it was in my bid to satisfy this passion that I came across the term “helicopter” parents. You know how embarrassing it can be when you’ve been caught red-handed… I still have this sheepish grin on my face just remembering how I felt when it hit me that I was a helicopter mom! Me!! I must be honest though; I was relieved to know (thank God) that in my ignorance I had not raised “teacup” children who easily shatter at the tiniest stress.
Helicopter parents are overprotective parents who “hover” over their children (whether their children need them or not) in a bid to protect them from harm, disappointment, or mistakes. Another variant of the overprotective parent is the “lawnmower” parent who mows down any obstacles in their child’s path. Many helicopter parents’ start off with good intentions – at least I did. Seriously I thought I was just looking out for the best for my children.
Usually we over parent because we fear for the safety of our children (physical and emotional) and want to protect them, which is what parents are supposed to do – right? Yeah – but there are also some other more subtle reasons why we over parent such as overcompensating for what we feel we were deprived of when we were growing up; succumbing to peer pressure from other parents who are overly involved with their kids; guilt – we feel like bad parents because we are not as immersed in our own children’s lives either and finally we unconsciously attach our own self-worth and identity to the accomplishments and successes of our children.
Unfortunately I didn’t realize when I crossed the line from being an involved parent to a helicopter parent. The good news though is now I know what this “malady” my children had increasingly resisted especially as they got older is, I am on the path to “full recovery”.
You know you’re a helicopter parent when you find yourself:
- Doing your child’s school project or assignment so it’s perfect or because it’s less stressful to just do it for them.
- Constantly using Facebook, instagram and other social and communication platforms to monitor your child.
- Fighting their battles with the school authorities, their bosses or even their friends.
- Making choices for them about whom to date, how to date, where to date….
- Doing chores for them that they are physically, mentally and emotionally equipped to do.
- Having a hard time letting go, constantly intervening and Raising kids that are overly dependent.
- Mowing down all obstacles you see in their path.
- Not allowing your children make their own mistakes – or at least acknowledge their mistakes so they can learn from them
- Always wanting them to look perfect.
- Talking too much and giving loads of unsolicited advice. – I am so guilty of this one. I guess it dawned on me during the summer that my “empty nest” was a lot closer and I needed to give my children a crash course on life!!! I doled out any and every advice on various topics. Guess who ended up exhausted and hurt – Moi. My kids didn’t fail to let me know when I was crashing into their space and there I was thinking they should be grateful that they had someone to give them such invaluable advice for free!!! Don’t get me wrong – it is important to advice and guide them but it’s also important to know where to draw the line.
Oh and before you go thinking that helicopter parenting is a mom thing, here’s what Dr. Patricia Somers an associate professor of higher education has to say – “Overprotective parents may have different focus areas that may be attributed to gender. Helicopter moms tend to be preoccupied in a broader, all-encompassing way than dads. These moms tend to dominate, manipulate pull the ropes behind the social scene making decisions about personal friendships, making sure their kids get good college roommates, keeping track of their kids’ Facebook status to make sure their friends come from a decent background etc. They also take on the role of being their kids’ unofficial guarantor of academic success not only helping their children with their essays but actually doing the research and writing it. Helicopter dads are typically less detail orientated but more concerned with overall status and career path. Whereas the helicopter mom is more subtle in her intrusion working behind the scenes, the helicopter dad uses overt confrontation going directly to the people in power with requests, complaints and sometimes even threats. Even though there are gender differences in over parenting, helicopter parenting is found in all social classes of society and ethic groups”.
You probably may be wondering – but how can wanting the best for my child not be a good thing? If I don’t look out for my child and help who will? Hopefully a look at some of the effects of helicopter parenting will help us be careful not to cross the line from involved to overprotective as this could result in consequences that in the long run won’t be in the best interest of our children and the up coming generation.
Helicopter parenting results in
- Decreased confidence and self-esteem – by consistently butting in, what the child is hearing is “my parents don’t trust me to do this on my own”. This leads to lack of confidence and over dependence.
- Immature coping skills – where a parent is always on hand to clean up a child’s mess or prevent the problem in the first place, it is unlikely the child will develop the maturity to cope with loss, disappointment or failure which are all in evitable facts of life.
- Entitlement mentality – Children who have always had their social and academic lives adjusted by their parents to best fit their needs can become accustomed to always having their way and develop a sense of entitlement.
- Undeveloped life skills – Parents who always do chores etc, even after children are mentally and physically capable of doing the task themselves, prevent their children from learning necessary life skills themselves.
- Not taking responsibility for oneself – Children with helicopter parents that are always fighting their battles and fixing their problems, have a hard time realizing that their life is a result of their choices and that it is possible for them to change what they do not like and create the life they want for themselves.
- Strained relationships –Constant “fighting” with your children especially the teens and young adults who are desperate to establish their independence.
Parenting can really be a tough juggling act. Let’s not kid ourselves it is important and necessary to be an involved parent. It shows your children that they are loved, accepted and it helps in building self-confidence, and providing guidance and opportunities for them to grow. But how does one love and care without hindering our children’s ability to evolve into mature, responsible and useful adults? The answer lies in BALANCE – while we keep one eye on our children’s current physical, mental and emotional capabilities, we must remain mindful of the adults we are trying to raise. Putting it bluntly and in practical terms, we must let our children do chores that they are physically and mentally capable of doing; let children struggle; allow them to be disappointed, and when failure occurs, help them work through it. It is through this that some of the most valuable life lessons are learnt.
We must remember that if we truly want to raise a crop of men and women that would be self reliant and useful to themselves and their society, we must be resist the urge to jump in and solve all their problems. We should teach our children how to handle diverse situations by coaching them. Jose Mourihno – Chelsea’s coach doesn’t play on the field. He coaches, watches and guides. It is also very important that we instill the right values in them. This serves as a compass for when they need to make choices. We must lead by example – children learn best by observation. And finally we should pray daily for our children and commit them into the hands of the One who created them – who sees and knows what they need and where they are at any point in time.
Remember the lesson of the butterfly – A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still. The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled. By trying to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we may actually be making it harder for our kids to really grow up.
As for me my chopper days are over! Truth be told it’s really exhausting to be flying a helicopter all day and night! I’d rather just enjoy the journey.