Let's break down what it means to be a helicopter parent along with why it happens aaaand the consequences involved. Don't worry, peeps- after it's said and done, we'll talk about how to repair things as well.
Buckle up. This may sting a bit.
The term "helicopter parenting" has been around for a while but if you haven't heard of it, you will have witnessed hovering parental effects. Before we get into it, don't you just love the name helicopter parent? It creates a visual in my head of watching the news while they're recording a car chase...from above. The birds-eye view lets us, as viewers, take in SO MUCH information! We can see where the suspect is, where they're going, what they're doing...it really doesn't seem fair because the helicopter view sees EVERYTHING. Doesn't seem fair, does it?
Anyone else feel like it's unfortunate for the person being helicopter recorded? Kind of like watching a wounded mouse being toyed with by a cat.
Regardless, it's all a great example to explain this new style of parenting. With hovering parents, the child is being 'too closely' monitored. And too much observation often leads to excessive intervention. Helicopter parents keep tabs on all sorts of the kids life. Nothing is safe for the kid to do alone, including school, playmates, what they play, who they play with, how they read, what they read, when they're reading, are they reading too much? Too little? Are they isolating? What are they watching on the television and the list goes on and on...and on. Sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Wait, it gets worse. The hovering parent will OFTEN continue the controlling behaviors after the child grows into adulthood. We're talking parental control/strong influence of where the kid goes to college, what they do for a living and who they end up marrying or living with or 'seeing' if you really want to get non-committal.
I've even heard of parents calling up employers asking why their kid didn't get hired for a job. Whoa. You get the point, though - helicopter parents SEE EVERYTHING. Just like the news helicopter.
You may be getting the idea that this behavior may not be healthy. Correct. Here's the thing though, parents are doing this with the best of intention! They're not waking up in the morning thinking, "what can I do to take away opportunities to grow for my child?" So, why are they (we, because I'm guilty, too) continuing to behave this way? Well, let's ask this - do you want to help the fragile little mouse that's being toyed with by the mean ole' pussy cat? Of COURSE you do and it's the same thing with helicopter parenting - it's uncomfortable seeing a child struggle. Ends up, hovering parents are merely trying to protect their offspring. Call it a protection reflex...which ends up doing the complete opposite in the long run.
"Oh Jed, it's not that bad," you might say. "Oh, it's that bad" will be my reply. Consequences are many with the biggest bummer being correlated to resilience. Kids don't got it. They're...squishy and why wouldn't they be? It makes sense because they've not had the chance to figure out things on their own. They've had a 'buffered' life and when 'actual' life happens (like it always will), their little mouse is unprepared. The child turned adolescent turned adult hasn't built the emotional muscle needed to walk through much, if any, conflict or struggle.
Other negative effects include:
More health problems
Higher levels of anxiety and depression
A RELIANCE on medication
Labile emotions (can't regulate their feelings)
And - they're entitled. They confuse privilege with confidence.
Does any of this sound familiar? Listen, I'm not trying to bum anyone out, here. Parent's are doing the best they can with the thinking they've got - I get it! Like mentioned already, I am not innocent of this behavior. Now though, we've got more awareness. Now we can start raising our little mouses differently...so they don't end up being played with and punked by life. Instead of our young leaders running away or freaking out with potential struggle, we can teach them to be strong. It's not too late.
Here's what we can do:
Let them mess up. When you see they're going to very likely fall down - Don't help. JUST WATCH or better yet - turn around and walk away (but not too far). They'll get hurt when they fall down and then they'll get back up. Then, the beautiful part - when they get back up, they'll brush themselves off and look for you - THAT'S when you can be there for them. They can cry and we get to say, "I know you can make it through this" or "you can do this" or "it's ok to feel sad - we all do at times. You are resilient and I believe you'll do the right thing." And in our heads we may even thing, "eventually" while we raise our eyes in exasperation because they've made this mistake before and why are they doing it again!? When this happens, step back - don't pick them up - they'll figure it out.
A good saying goes something like, "don't do anything for them that they can do for themselves." The parents responsibility is to prepare the mouse-child for life - unbuffered.
Comments are welcome...and am I the only one who's guilty of this?!
Thanks for reading. If you're in the mood, check out my YouTube channel and watch the short therapy video on Helicopter Parents. It can all be found at www.meaningtolive.com
Until next time,
Jed Thorpe, CMHC