8 Ways Helicopter Parenting Hurts Kids

little boy holding parents' handsBelieve it or not, "helicopter parenting" dates back to 1969 when it was first used in Haim Ginott's book Between Parent & Teenager. In the book, teens used the term to describe parents who would hover over them like helicopters. But it wasn't until three years ago that the phrase landed itself in the dictionary -- an indication that it is that much of a problem these days.

Even well-meaning parents who shuttle their kids to a plethora of after-school activities and keep a close watch on them at the playground could be doing a world of damage by "overparenting." "While good in its intentions to prevent children from experiencing pain, helicopter parenting can have serious negative consequences, resulting in children lacking essential life skills," says Kim Painter, Ph.D., a child and family psychologist in New Jersey.

Here, 8 ways the overzealous parenting style is hurting our kids.

  1. They won't be able to send back a bad meal in a restaurant. "Many parents mistakenly believe that they are simply modeling problem-solving skills and helping their child," explains Painter. "Instead, helicopter parenting robs children of the opportunity to experience conflict and to find a way to solve it on their own, which can be a deeply satisfying and self-esteem boosting experience." For example, figuring out the best way to deal with a clingy friend or discuss a failed test with a teacher without parent involvement will make it easier for kids to resolve similar conflicts on their own down the road.
  2. They might never leave the nest. Boomerang kids who still need financial assistance and constant emotional support into their 20s and beyond may very well have been helicopter parented. "Children can become reliant upon their parent to do things for them, and then come to expect it, which can lead to entitlement and lack of responsibility," notes Painter. She explains that these kids often do not develop a sense of self-efficacy, which means believing that they can do something on their own, in part because they're too easily overwhelmed and feel unable to handle even simple tasks or problems. "These are also the children who are more likely to struggle with launching from the nest and may, in fact, return home," says Painter.
  3. Your kid will do a lot of naval-gazing and selfie-taking. Helicopter parenting can foster selfish, self-centered behavior from kids who are more focused on their own needs than anyone else's. "Sometimes children with helicopter parents get an inflated view of the importance of their feelings," explains Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. "Of course their feelings matter, but so do other people's feelings. A catered-to child may have trouble learning to compromise or even to give in graciously sometimes, in the name of love or civility."
  4. It breeds bad losers. Parents may defend helicopter tactics under the guise of not wanting their children to experience negative emotions -- from disappointment to embarrassment -- but this is ultimately problematic, as it can keep kids from learning how to deal with distressing situations -- from losing a race to losing a boyfriend -- and stifle resilience. "When children aren't given the opportunity to sit with negative emotions, they don't learn the skills to cope with these emotions," explains Painter. "This can result in children who are easily frustrated and who are quick to give up when faced with challenges or barriers. It's important for children to experience a range of emotions and to learn that all emotions are temporary states. Negative emotions do pass."
  5. It creates wimps. Instead of letting kids act on their own or advocate for themselves, helicopter parents have a habit of inserting themselves into situations and acting assertively on behalf of their child and even playing referee. Again, this is counterproductive. "While it is certainly important for children to not be victimized, it is equally important for children to learn how to stand up for themselves in socially acceptable ways," says Painter. "Children need to learn how to recognize when they are being manipulated or treated unfairly and what to do about it. They need to learn to speak up if they have not gotten a turn or feel their ideas are being ignored." And if they don't learn these lessons as kids, the fact of the matter is that they'll have to learn it eventually. Better sooner -- "in the context of play," as Painter says -- as opposed to much later, in the classroom or in a board meeting!
  6. It quashes their happiness. The more parents are involved in schoolwork and selection of college majors, the less satisfied college students feel with their lives, found a recent study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. These students also reported significantly higher levels of depression. Researchers say this can be attributed to "the perceived violation of students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence."
  7. It makes that 4.0 GPA less likely happen. One study, led by the sociologist Laura T. Hamilton of the University of California, Merced, found that the more money parents spend on their child’s college education, the worse grades the child earns.
  8. It sugarcoats what life is really like. "Helicopter parents like to make sure everything is fair, that everyone gets a turn, and that no one's feelings are hurt, [but] this is not reflective of real life and denies children the opportunity to learn about these issues in small doses when they are young," explains Painter. In fact, allowing your child to face various challenges is beneficial in the long-run. "What we should wish for for our children is many small failures, so they can learn that disappointment doesn't have to be crushing," says Kennedy-Moore. "They can pick themselves up and keep going."

Ultimately, "play is child's work," says Painter. "It's where children learn many of the life skills needed to succeed. Life can certainly be happy and fun, but it can also include struggle and disappointment. There is important learning in all of these experiences."

How would you describe your parenting style? Do you try to avoid "helicopter parenting"?

Image via Corbis

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