Helicopter Parenting, Guilty As Charged

Helicopter Parenting, Guilty As Charged

I may just be a tad guilty of having been an over-protective parent. I never realised that focusing on your child has an official term – but it does, and it’s called Helicopter Parenting.


Hovering Over The Kids

Helicopter Parenting – so named to describe parents that hover over their kids.  This term was first coined in 1969 and entered the dictionary in 2011. In essence, if you over-parent, over-control and/or try to over-protect your child, then you are a helicopter parent. I’m guessing that the hundreds of times I’ve delivered ‘left at home’ homework into school constitutes over-parenting!

The Helicopter Might Be Part Of Your Parenting Style

As with everything in life, there are parenting style extremes. Full-on helicopter parenting is typically not executed by most parents. Instead, aspects of helicopter parenting can sneak unawares into our everyday routines.  It’s a good idea to be aware of the signs so we can quickly course correct. None of us gets this parenting business 100% spot on, and that’s ok. No need to beat ourselves up but rather to be aware of the issue and how we can rein ourselves in if we start displaying some of the characteristics of over-parenting.

Taking that forgotten reading book into school, making your 12-year-old’s bed, not allowing your kids to climb trees, sorting out their playground squabbles and doing their homework are all signs of being over-protective and hovering a little too much. Controlling your child’s friendship groups, their downtime and their environment are also classic signs. Child psychologists advocate letting our children fall (physically and metaphorically), fail and experience some of life’s difficulties, so they become strong, confident and well-adjusted teenagers and adults.

The Triggers

We often show signs of hovering or helicopter parenting because we, ourselves, have some issues we may need to deal with. Some of the trigger points that can cause us to over-protect our little ones are:

  • Peer pressure – keeping up/emulating what other parents do or appear to do (and often assuming that they are correct!)
  • Anxiety – feeling troubled as a parent can be transferred to our children, and can lead to over-protecting them to soothe ourselves
  • Fear – linked to anxiety. If we project our concerns (which can be exaggerated and distorted) onto our child, then we prevent them from falling and failing
  • Over-compensation – if our child has experienced upset/trauma/ill-health then we can overcompensate by hovering over our child and stifling them rather than simply looking after them

I Was Over Compensating

When I look at the above list, I know for a fact that I over-protected my kids because I was over-compensating. Twelve years ago, I became a single mum to a 4 and 6-year-old.  My immediate reaction was to wrap them up in cotton wool, which I duly did. I wanted them to feel safe and happy, and I decided that moving to a new country, changing schools and losing a full-time parent at home was all too much. So, I over-compensated, and I hovered like one of those helicopters. I did absolutely everything I could for them with the honest belief that I was being a brilliant parent. As time passed and life became more manageable, I did calm down and reverted to my previous style of parenting.  A style that is not bound up in anxiety, fear and the need to make everything perfect.

The Consequences

Life is not perfect, and kids need to experience that. The moral of the story – even if we do get it wrong, we can change course, and all will usually be well. However, if we don’t recognise that we are hovering too much and continually over-protect or over-control (even if our intentions are good and stem from love and the natural nurturing instinct), the consequences of over-stifling our children can be:

  • Decreased self-esteem and confidence
  • Low-level life skills
  • Higher anxiety which can lead to mental health issues
  • Inability to cope with life’s disappointments and rejections
  • Increased level of self-entitlement

No One Said Its Easy To Let Go

These adverse outcomes often manifest in the teenage years.  Typically when life for our children is already chaotic due to roller-coaster hormones, school and exam pressures.  A period when the difficult journey of transitioning from a child into an adult also occurs. If our over-parenting is derived from anxiety or fear, then it might be worth seeking help for ourselves so that life becomes more positive and assured.

It’s not easy to let go.  But it is easier than living with a 17-year-old who lacks confidenceand feels that the world owes him a living.

The next time your kid forgets her homework, let her take the rap. The short-term pain will be worth it in the end.  At the very least, it will save you having to drive back to school a hundred times or more, because it’s unlikely that she will forget it again!

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