Over-protective, hovering over their children, often involved in all aspects of their childrenâ€™s lives, helicopter parents is a term that has been getting a lot of attention recently. Perhaps you know a helicopter parent, or have been called yourself. But is the term really deserved? As Ann Curry on the Today Show asked about a motherâ€™s decisions that could be perceived as being over-protective, “Is she an enlightened mom or a really bad one?”
On our August 2nd show, Dr. Bob Humphries, renowned family psychologist, illuminated the term for us and discussed with us how much parenting is really too much parenting.
How the phenomenon â€˜helicopter parentsâ€™ took off
Over the last few decades experts have preached to us to become more involved in our kidsâ€™ lives in order to have a positive impact. There seems to be a growing backlash that parents have become too involved and are overparenting, as typified by the critical term â€˜Helicopter Parentsâ€™. The term did not begin with academics or psychologists at all, but was coined by college administrations. Admission offices and residential deans used it to describe a parent who might call an admissions office directly about their childâ€™s application or ask on moving in day who was going to make their childâ€™s bed. In fact, an early scholarly study used the number of campus visits by parents to define the term.
What began as a desire to be better parents has grown with the increasing pressures of the changing organization of families. The â€˜traditional familyâ€™, two parents only one of whom works, has almost completely disappeared. Many families have a single parent, divorced parents, and/or both parents work. With greater mobility the extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins who used to live by and provide help and balance arenâ€™t as available as much anymore. In addition to having fewer children at an older age, these changes have resulted in parents feeling that they have greater responsibilities than ever before but with less time to accomplish their goals for their children. Just as parents feel pressured to accomplish more in less time, technology such as cell phones, GPS, and social media have made it very easy to constantly communicate with and monitor your children. The combined changes may have led parents into going too far.
How much parenting is too much parenting?
The same scholarly study that defined â€˜helicopter parents also showed their children were more successful academically. When parents become more involved, the children are more likely to do well in school and pursue advanced education. But, over-parenting can also lead to issues of low self esteem, less independence, and an inability to deal with problems creatively. What level of involvement is appropriate? The right amount of parenting naturally depends on the age of the child and the particular situation.
Toddlers. â€œLetting them have the experienceâ€
Itâ€™s important that toddlers not only learn from you directly but also through their experiences. As Dr. Humphries explains, â€œThere are some children that have to skin a knee to learn not to run on the sidewalk, but maybe they need to learn from that, and it is that experience that is the teacher, not the parent.â€
Of course, use common sense and keep your children safe. Itâ€™s why pools are gated. Parenting becomes the art of letting children discover world on their own while keeping them from truly harming themselves, â€œParenting is finding a way to offer children choices, and sometimes they chose the consequence instead of the beneficial choice that you wish for.â€, according to Dr. Humphries.
Young Children. â€œDonâ€™t be your childâ€™s cruise directorâ€
Every moment of a childâ€™s free time is increasingly scheduled by their parents from the time they wake up to the moment they go to bed. According to the psychologist David Elkind, children need un-programmed and unstructured time. It leads to higher self esteem and creativity. As Dr. Merle relates, â€œThey just need time off to do things like lay in the grass and watch the clouds. We just donâ€™t give our children or ourselves a break. And then you feel really stressed. Of course you are really stressed, youâ€™re running from soccer to art to piano.â€ Even more, unstructured free time helps your child become more independent. Organizing and filling this time is an important learning experience that helps children better manage and organize their time when they finally go to college and work.
Teenagers. â€œDonâ€™t let the tail wag the dogâ€
On an earlier show discussing substance abuse, the discussion focused on how teenagers will often throw parties and tell their parents that they shouldnâ€™t be there, that they will be embarrassed by their presence. The show emphasized that parents shouldnâ€™t listen to their children but instead take control and closely supervise them. But how does that fit in with current thinking about avoiding over-parenting?
â€œWhen a teenage tells you that you are being a hovering parent, the red flag should go up that perhaps you should be more involved.â€, Dr. Humphries answers. The parents decide who is going to be in their home and what is going to take place there. Itâ€™s important that the parent not become the friend but remain the parent. You canâ€™t be both.
Listen to a recording of the entire show on helicopter parents