Patrick Eng
An Aspiring Rooster Teeth Employee

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Week 21 - What I Needed to Know About Helicopter Parents

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While the term "helicopter parenting" has been in existence for almost 50 years, it didn't gain popularity until the last 10 or so years. The term was originally coined by Dr. Haim Ginott in his book Between Parent & Teenager as he addressed common issues found between parent-teenager relationships.

Ginnot encourages parents to empower their children, mostly through allowing children to make decisions for themselves and reduce dependence.

The term helicopter parent is basically the exact opposite, where the parent(s) is hyperfocused on their child, make all the decisions for them, take full responsibility for their successes and failures, and are just generally over controlling, overprotective, and require perfection.

Specific Examples of Helicopter Parenting

HP can take a variety of forms, but here are some basics that should immediately raise some red flags:

  • Calling teachers about bad grades

  • Controlling every aspect of the child's schedule

  • Directing all the child's behavior

  • Choosing the child's friends

  • Giving too much help on their child's homework or projects

If any of these apply to you as a parent, you may suffer from a parenting method called helicopter parenting. While doing one or some of these doesn't necessarily ruin your child's entire life and ruin them from any future success, you'll want to be careful to moderate how much you control them.

I know it can be hard (I actually don't since I'm not a parent), but letting your child make decisions for themselves and live an independent life, within reason, will help your relationship and result in a more successful human being later in life. But again, what do I know.

The Age Old Question - Why?

What could possibly drive parents, first-time or otherwise, to have such an overbearing attitude towards their child's life? Is it a cultural thing, a personality type, or just fear from their own experiences? Like everything in life, there's no clear answer.

Parents could get their helicopter license for a variety of reasons, but a majority of them seem to have these four "triggers" in common.

1. Disastrous Consequences

Fun fact - when your kid doesn't get an A on their math test, their future is not actually in danger. Cut them a little slack, try to find out what went wrong, and see if you can find a way to help them enjoy the subject, and not fear what will happen if they don't get an A.

Plus, when you realize the gravity, or lack thereof, in many situations, you also give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and understand what works for them. While it may seem like you, as a parent, can fix everything if you just step in and tell them each and everything to do, it will be better for you and your child to take a step back and learn how to live life.

2. Anxiety

People worry all the time. This is nothing new. But as we understand the greater connection between country economies, the ever-shifting job market, and the toxic political climates. This anxiety bares its fangs when the parents try to control each aspect of the child's life so they are protected from all these hostile elements.

3. Overcompensation

When parents weren't loved enough as a child, they might try to go to other extreme and make sure that never happens to their kid. How many times have you said "I'll never do that when I'm a parent" after your parent did something you hated? I know I've said that a good amount of times.

The problem arises when you excessively monitor and tend to your child. Doing that prevents them from learning essential life skills needed to care for themselves.

4. Peer Pressure

Peer pressure and guilt, what powerful motivators they are.

Odds are, if you're a parent, you're friends are also parents. Or, if you're just in your mid to late 20's chances are good too. Either way, one thing us humans are great at is comparing. When you see other parents being helicopters, your initial reaction might be "why am I not doing that" or "maybe that way is better" or something along those lines.

You might experience that temptation to adjust your parenting strategy according to what you see your peers doing. Try to resist, and raise your kid the way you want to and in a way that works for them.

Side Effects of Helicopter Parenting

Let's be clear here. I'm not saying that parents should stop playing an active role in their child's life. An engaged parent is crucial to any young person's development, and without it, a slew of issues follow.

The question is where to draw the line between being engaged and letting the child experience life in its rawest form. When things get hard or risky, parents might feel the need to lock it down and think more about protecting their kids now. They seem to block out the potential side effects their actions will have on their kids when they grow up though.

So, what are parents inadvertently doing to their children when they hover over their life?

Let me know if this sounds familiar - when you're parents tell you not to do something, and that causes you to only want to do it even more. That's the thing about helicopter parenting - it usually does the opposite of what you really want.

For example, when parents step in to do everything for their child, the child might think that they just can't be trusted to do anything, leading to a general lack of self-confidence/esteem.

Or, if all the child's problems are always cared for by the parent, they'll never learn how to develop decent coping skills that they'll need later in life. The child will hit some struggle later in life and will be woefully unprepared to handle it.

In cases where that child might not hit a struggle though, they could easily feel some sense of entitlement when all their problems keep getting taken care of and their wants/needs are constantly provided for.

The worst part, in my extremely valuable and sought after opinion, is just the lack of basic life skills that come from this type of parenting. Helicopter children don't have to learn about cleaning, cooking, washing, financing, or even more basic things like tying shoes, packing a lunch, or folding clothes. When every need is taken care of by the parent, they're essentially being set up to flop later in life when they have to learn all the basics at an age where they should have learned it a decade (or more) ago.

How Not to Be a Helicopter Parent

The difficult part about being a parent, at least from what I've read, is that you're raising two people at once. On one hand, you're raising the person they are at that moment, trying to teach them the basics of life and how to be a normal person. The second is the person they will be, like how to treat their future family, how to be a good parent, and what kind of adult they will eventually become.

Let's just start with a basic concept though, and hopefully, the rest will follow.

Let your children struggle, allow them to be disappointed, and help them work through failure.

Push them to do tasks that they are able to do, and while do various things for them is acceptable for a while, the goal is to make them independent adults, capable of making smart decisions and pursuing a worthwhile life.

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The American Psychology Association (APA) spent 8 years following children aged 2, 5, and 10 and their parents to see what happens when parents become a little too controlling. In their study, they found that parents who prevented their children from making mistakes, and thus never learning from them, actually makes them unprepared for the outside world (shocking, I know).

These children were assessed at these various ages and in a variety of settings, like clinical labs and teacher reports. And if you read through the study, you'll see that the term regulation is used a lot throughout, and is the main focus of this study. So I'll use it too.

In this study, scientists found that the younger the child was helicoptered, the more likely they were to fail at regulating their emotions and actions. And when you can't regulate your emotions or actions (it's not as robotic as it sounds), you're setting yourself up for social failures later in life.

But none of this should be new to you since the term "helicopter parent" has been around for almost 50 years thanks to child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott. It just wasn't used too much until the parents started calling colleges asking the president or various professors to help their children.

We're not alone though. China has their own version called Little Emperor Syndrome, which stems from the one-child policy that was implemented in 1979. While these emperors are challenged academically, they still have a similar helicopter problem where essential life skills are done for them.

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It's natural for parents to want to protect their children, it's a basic animal instinct. But when that desire to protect turns into worrying about their safety, and when that worrying turns into fear of the child's future - will they be successful, will they have a family, will they still love me - the helicopter flies in and makes everything worse.

Parents become hyper-vigilant, aware of everything their child is doing, seeing, eating, and feeling. Honestly, it's basically a superpower, except it's used for evil (might be a little extreme, but you get the idea).

These superpowers allow parents to assess their child's situation, bringing confidence, joy, praise, or assurance into the environment to counteract any of the opposites that might be present as well.

An unfortunate side effect of these powers though, at least for the parent, is that it encourages them to focus on the negatives for all their kids, since those parents will normally be reacting to the negativity they believe or see their child experiencing.

The thing about parenting though, is that the harder you try to do it well, the worse you actually do (don't you just love statements that have no backing but sound definitive). Here's a core pillar of parenting that will blow your mind: "when you expect something, you will find it. And when you try to fix what you worry about, you inadvertently create it."

Honestly, I kind of just want to stop it here. But we haven't even gotten to the 6 things not to do yet, so we must keep on.

Before we into the meat of the post though, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the worried-driven cycle. This cycle is how anxiety moves through relationships, and more specifically, how the helicopter parent's fear eventually becomes a reality because they tried to prevent it. You'll always find evidence to confirm your worries, so stop looking for it. Otherwise, you'll just keep getting in your kid's way.

The 6 Steps To Not Take

Without further ado, let's dive into the 6 steps you need to avoid if you don't want to be a helicopter parent. Unless of course, you actually want to ruin your child's life, then by all means, follow these 6 steps and you'll succeed:

1. Hovering

Do not follow your child around doing things for them that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves (i.e., tieing shoes, dressing themselves, getting food, answering questions, etc.). Jumping in solving all your kid's problems is preventing them from actually doing anything for themselves, which is a great way to not prepare them for life.

2. Constantly Worrying Over Them

Stop thinking about all the negative things that could happen to your kid, both in the present and the future (if you know me, I hope you are laughing a little bit with how ironic this sounds). You could kill yourself with questions and still never make any progress, so again, stop looking for evidence to confirm your fears.

3. Making Them the Center of the Universe

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Besides what I've already mentioned about not doing everything for your kid, you also want to make sure that your kid's achievements don't dictate your self-worth. It's really cool that your son just got a participation trophy in soccer, but maybe try to see it for what it is.

4. Labeling

Ah, the bane of the Millennial - labels.

In this situation, labeling your child simply refers to calling them "the athletic one" or "the pretty one", or even "the one that will turn out just like dad". Not only does this limit the child's perception of themselves, i.e., the pretty one might never see herself as athletic, but also solidifies a certain outcome for your child in your own mind as a parent. Children are like peacocks, you gotta let them fly.

5. Taking Personal Offense over Differing Opinions

Children are nurtured by an enormous number of factors, many of which you as a parent probably don't think are healthy. So what happens when your daughter comes home and says that chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla? Well, after taking a few deep breaths and ignoring how absolutely wrong they are, you would ask why.

When your child comes to you with a different opinion, belief, or path in life, ask to learn more about it and talk to them, since arguing with them or attacking them (verbally) will only push them away more.

6. Using Your Child as an Escape for Your Own Problems

It can be easy for children to take up every waking hour of your life, at least that what it seems like. Sometime, you'll even forget that you had a different life to begin with, as you spend all your time now watching over your kid. But what if there was another way? What if, you actually spent time living your life too, and not just your kid's life? Pretty radical, I know.

Remember, parents have lives too. Hopefully, those lives don't just revolve around kids.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

The term "helicopter parent" has been around for almost 50 years since child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott introduced it in his book, Between Parent & Teenager.

Dr. Ginott's mentality was to let children do things for themselves and learn from their mistakes, making sure that parents are there for the child when needed, but only for things that the child can't do themselves.

So why do we even have helicopter parents?

To put it extremely simply, it's because of anxiety and fear. The fear that their children won't achieve anything in life or will struggle later. So naturally, parents will try to make them as successful as possible as kids, hoping it will continue later.

But oh how the turntables have table turned.

By doing everything for your child now, you are setting them up for failure later. Why? Because they will have developed no life skills, no idea how to cope or deal with problems, or really know what it means to work for what you want.

Instead, stop worrying about every little thing that could go wrong as you raise your child. Not only does that make it more stressful for you, it also puts on the path of helicoptering. Look at what your child is doing, help them when they NEED it, and pick them up when they fail, all the while learning from their mistakes. Children need to learn from their own actions and consequences, and when helicopter parents take away any repercussion, the adult life will be rough when your kid grows up.

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Patrick Eng