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Helicopter Parenting: Pros, Cons & How to Boost Independence

by Vannessa Rhoades 10 May 2023
Helicopter Parenting: Pros, Cons & How to Boost Independence


“Helicopter parenting” is a phrase often directed at parents whose hands-on, heavily involved approach to parenting is sometimes seen as a liability for their children. First used in a 1969 book called Between Parent & Teenager, the kid in the book describes his mother constantly hovering over him like a helicopter. College professors and administrators began using the phrase to refer to parents who closely monitor their college-age children. Eventually, the phrase extended to apply to all overprotective parents.

What Is Helicopter Parenting?

This parenting style is characterized by an extremely protective attitude toward one’s children. Helicopter parents are deeply enmeshed in their children’s school and extracurricular activities, often micromanaging every aspect of their lives. These parents tend to overly worry about their kids and may frequently intercede on their child’s behalf to eliminate any struggles or obstacles.

What Causes Helicopter Parenting?

The urge to protect your kids is instinctive. It’s also natural to want them to flourish and develop into healthy, responsible adults. In some cases, however, this drive to protect and encourage is motivated by additional factors.

  • Wanting to provide a better childhood than you had. For parents who had a difficult time growing up themselves or had a parent who wasn’t around or wasn’t supportive, the desire to “course-correct” is strong.
  • Social pressure. Some parents view their child’s success as a reflection of their own parenting abilities. As a result, their high expectations may (intentionally or not) place too much pressure on their children, leading their kids to feel stressed and resentful. 
  • A genuine desire to help. While it may feel good to be needed, for some parents, it can make letting go a lot harder. Other parents may worry excessively about their children being hurt, either physically or emotionally. As such, they tend to “hover, ” believing it’s better to never allow their kids to experience disappointment or failure of any kind. 

Though being a protective, involved parent isn’t a bad thing, overparenting in this manner can have detrimental long-term consequences. Let’s take a closer look at a few helicopter parenting examples and how experts suggest fostering independence while still keeping children safe.

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Examples of Helicopter Parenting

The term helicopter parenting is really subjective and not an official psychological diagnosis. What one person sees as “helicopter” behavior, another person may just view as loving parenting. Helicopter parenting may manifest itself by putting too much pressure on the child or as overly shielding the child from certain tasks or experiences. It doesn’t look the same in every household. Examples may include parents doing any of the following:

  • Trying to regulate a child’s friendships by determining who their kid ought to befriend
  • Completing a child’s work for them
  • Exerting control over a child’s extracurricular activities
  • Overscheduling a child’s activities or pushing a child to engage in a substantial amount of extra schoolwork, drill sports, or practice an instrument for hours on end
  • Exercising control over an adult son or daughter’s life, perhaps by composing their grad school papers or contacting potential employers.

Advantages of Helicopter Parenting

While it’s a term often used in a scathing or demeaning way, there are some upsides to helicopter parenting. Kids raised with this parenting approach are often punctual, prepared, and caught up on their schoolwork. They also tend to have a lot of guidance and support in their lives. Helicopter parents also tend to be very in tune with whom their child is spending time and where they may be struggling. They’re often eager to volunteer at school and will work tirelessly to ensure that their children have the resources they need to be healthy, safe, and successful.

Disadvantages of Helicopter Parenting

Still, there are a number of drawbacks to this style of parenting. Some kids may begin to feel smothered or indifferent. They may also have trouble with self-sufficiency. Here are a few other potentially detrimental helicopter parenting effects.

  • Hinders children’s ability to learn problem-solving techniques. If parents are constantly jumping in to rescue a child from any obstacles they may face, it inhibits a child’s ability to learn how to figure out challenges on their own.
  • Creates over-reliance on parents. A parent’s job is to teach their child responsibility and accountability. It’s hard for a child to learn this if their helicopter parent is constantly doing everything for them.
  • Prevents kids from learning to stand up for themselves. Children won’t always have a parent around to help them manage the obstacles they face. Kids must learn how to speak up, ask questions, request help, and get clarification when they need it. If a parent is always doing this on their behalf, they don’t have the opportunity to learn how to advocate for themselves.
  • Lowers self-esteem. The constant monitoring and interference leave some kids feeling like they can’t do anything right, from making decisions to dealing with problems or even interacting with friends.
  • Sidesteps natural consequences. Micromanaging a child’s activities in order to prevent them from experiencing any negative consequences isn’t realistic. It also prevents kids from learning from their mistakes.

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How to Encourage Independence

If you feel you may engage in a little helicopter parenting, you may want to take a step back and evaluate. Are you giving your child adequate room to spread their wings, try new experiences, and learn from their mistakes? Releasing that control can be incredibly stressful for a helicopter parent. Bear in mind, though, that you don’t have to let go of everything all at once. Gradually give your child the space, time, and support they need as they learn how to be more autonomous. Give them a little more independence one step at a time. Talk to them about how it’s going or how it went, help them brainstorm solutions, or evaluate where things went wrong. Here are a few ways you can encourage more independence in your children.

  • Allow them to experience setbacks. No one likes failure, but it’s part of the learning and growing process. Experiencing disappointment and learning to manage the difficult emotions that accompany it helps kids learn that those hard feelings will pass and that they can manage them. It also helps kids build self-confidence so that they can handle other hard situations down the road.
  • Foster an open, honest dialogue. Make it okay for your children to speak freely with you. Ask them to share their feeling and thoughts, and thank them when they do. Encourage them with prompts, like “I like [blank] because [blank]” and “I feel [blank] because [blank].”
  • Assign household chores. Give your child duties around the house starting at a young age. Bringing their clothes to the laundry room, making their bed each morning, or doing other regular chores helps foster a sense of responsibility and independence.
  • Encourage them to set their own alarms, reminders, and calendars. Even very young kids can use a calendar to write down friends’ birthdays or upcoming playdates. Have kids set their own alarms to wake up as well. This gives kids the opportunity to start learning how to manage their schedules on their own.

The Takeaway

While being an involved parent and responsive to your child is definitely a good thing, exercising too much control can be detrimental. Helicopter parenting may discourage children from learning necessary life skills, like how to manage conflict with others, handle stress or disappointment, make decisions, and manage their time. Remember, the ultimate goal is to encourage independence in your kids while still offering all the love and guidance they need. If you are struggling, consider talking with a mental health professional. They can help you make adjustments so that you can be the best version of yourself for your children. 

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