Why Helicopter Parents Cause Children to Crash and Burn

parent protective

Does being a helicopter parent impact how your child is able to flourish and handle life when they grow older?  Does being overprotective of your child impact how well they develop later in life?  Well, to some degree over-parenting can become a problem.  Parenting is a complex task and one requiring patience, humility, and a willingness to learn what’s best for your child, even when it doesn’t feel right.  We like to say things like, “My parents did that to me and look, I turned out okay!” as if we should be held up as the most well adjusted human being in the world.   And who believes “okay” is the target we should shoot for in our child’s life?  I don’t know about you, but I want my children to experience parenting that makes them the best human beings they can be.  Just being “okay” is not good enough when we’re talking about building people of character.  Because I want the best for my children I spend time reviewing the psychological research to identify what really works.  The research might not always be perfect, but it provides a great place to start.  I know what you’re thinking, there’s so much advice about parenting out there can any of it really be helpful?  Why are there so many people telling us to do so many different things if it can be explained so easily by research?  First, it’s important to recognize there is indeed a specific type of parenting that produces the most well adjusted people.  There’s no guarantee it will work 100% of the time with every child, but of all the parenting styles people use, authoritative parenting is found to be the most effective for raising well-adjusted children.  Authoritative parenting is a parenting style that provides parameters for attending to your child’s needs and setting clear boundaries and punishments for their behavior.  Here are two ways we can understand this approach to parenting:

  1. Responsive parenting – Attentive and responsive parents provide the psychological foundation children need to experience the world as consistent and safe.  Responsive parents know their child’s talents and  encourage them to use these talents to engage and explore the world.  These parents know how to communicate with their children in an age appropriate way making sure the child understands what’s being asked and what’s expected of them.  Warmth, love, understanding, and empathy are important elements of being responsive to your child’s needs.
  2. Definitive parenting – Authoritative parenting means providing clear and understandable boundaries for behavior.  Parents discuss what’s expected and behavioral guidelines are presented in a way that’s clear and understood by their child.  They reason with the child  in age appropriate ways and have age appropriate expectations about what children should and shouldn’t do.  Authoritative parents develop guidelines leading to a child’s independence and celebrate the steps their children take in that direction.  When there’s a need to discipline the child he or she is told why they’re being punished, that it’s done to help them learn to behave appropriately, and even though they’re being punished it doesn’t affect the love mom and dad have for them.  Power-assertion and discipline are only used as a means to help the child learn, not as a result of frustration and anger on the part of the parent.

You can see over-parenting, or what’s commonly called helicopter parenting, breaks a few of these “rules” for good parenting.  First, it assumes the child cannot do things independently and doesn’t celebrate the growing sense of autonomy that should naturally occur in human development.  Additionally, over-parenting might send the message that “The world is a scary place and you should be afraid of it.”  That message can create anxiousness in the child and limit the child’s desire to explore the world.  One can see how this sense of fear and anxiousness could limit an individual’s healthy development.

Recently, there’s been some interesting findings being discussed in a number of psychological periodicals about the fact many college students lack something called resilience (See the article in Psychology Today here.)  Resilience is developed in a person through a number of practices and experiences learned over a lifetime.  People who experience self-exploration, allowing oneself to fail, developing a positive view of oneself, and maintaining hope, seem to develop into resilient people more so than those who don’t.  You can see that over-parenting tends to limit the development of these experiences for people as they mature.  Resilient people adapt to stress and adversity well, manage relationships in an effective way, navigate interpersonal conflict appropriately, and overcome failure and disappointment in ways that facilitate growth.  

If we want our children to be resilient people we need to avoid becoming helicopter parents and adopt an authoritative style of parenting.  Being a successful parent means raising children who become people of character.  There’s no greater virtue a person can have than to be someone who deals with life’s problems well and learns from their mistakes.  Not only do they become a better person but they become an inspiration to others.  Isn’t that something you want your child to become?



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