November 8, 2013

Helicopter Parenting is a Problem

Helicopters are exciting because they make a lot of wind, noise, and vibration, and they don't go very fast (except for jet-powered attack helicopters; which we will discuss later). Their place in the world is to hover, rescue, and protect. Emergency response teams couldn't function without them.

But what if the helicopter hovers overhead when there's no emergency? Then it's a problem.

When parents insist on hovering overhead to provide constant protection, it's a nuisance. It can even hinder normal life. We call those who use this approach "helicopter parents." They stay close by in order to rescue their children whenever a problem arises.

To get a good look at helicopter parents, just visit your local middle or high school. You'll see them hovering in and out the front door, carrying field-trip permission slips, homework assignments, band or orchestra instruments, and coats. Helicopter parents watch for their beloved offspring to send up a signal flare, and then they swoop in to shield their children from teachers, playmates, and other apparently hostile elements. Unfortunately, they also shield their children from any of the significant learning opportunities offered; helicopter parents accept the worry for consequences their children should be shouldering themselves. You'll hear the principal muttering under his breath, "Wow! How long did it take the kid to train his parents to do stuff like that?"

Other moms and dads sometimes regard helicopter parents as model citizens. After all, look at how involved they are. They're on every committee and seem to be at school more than some of the teachers. They seem so caring. They're always "there" for their kids. Besides, the dangers are real, so kids need rescuing, right?

But if you look just under the surface, you'll discover that helicopter parents often do things for their kids because of the way they—the parents—feel. Out of "love" or guilt, they will refrain from imposing or allowing consequences, because they feel uncomfortable with consequences. When their children hurt, they bail them out—because they hurt too.

Helicopter parents behave the way they do because they confuse love, protection, and caring. Each of these concepts is good, but they aren't synonymous with each other. 

Helicopter parents won't allow their children to fail. If their kids fail, they mistakenly reason, it means they are uncaring and unloving parents. Rescuing parents often rescue out of their own needs. They unconsciously enjoy healing another's hurts. They are parents who need to be needed, not parents who want to be needed. 

Children who are raised with the "love" of helicopter parents will turn into helicopters themselves. But some day they will run out of fuel and crash their personal lives. Why? Because their learning opportunities were stolen from them in the name of love. 

These kids keep breaking the speed limit because they know Dad will pay the fine, or they engage in promiscuous sex because Mom paid for the birth control pills. A few years later, they flunk out of college, mishandle what little money they have, or meander about "getting their heads together." The real world, these young adults discover, doesn't offer a grand helicopter parent in the sky to heal their diseases, pay for their bounced checks, save them from irresponsible people, or literally bail them out of jail.

Hat Tip: Parenting Teens with Love and Logic
Photo Credit: Pinterest Pin 

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