Hidden Dangers of Helicopter Parenting

by | Jul 16, 2010 | Self-Reliance and Agency, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Why we must lower our flaps and parent for self-reliance

Of course we love our kids. Of course we don’t want our kids to fail. And of course we always want them to be successful. But always doing, picking up, jumping in, solving, rescuing, or mending fences for our kids sure won’t help them learn to bounce back and survive on their own.

Look down the road at the big picture. If you keep on with any hovering behavior now,  how will your kids turn out later? Every once in a while, we need to fast forward your parenting and think ahead. It just may help that you alter you current response with your kids. And here’s a big reason why:

Researchers are seeing this phenomenon of “parental hovering” (aka micro-managing, overparenting or helicoptering) as a dangerous trend when it comes to how our kids turn out. The long and the short is: If we keep the hovering we’ll rob our kids of an essential trait for L.I.F.E. called self-reliance!

Keep in mind it’s never one event that influences our children–the one lecture, the one family vacation, even the one mommy meltdown–but the consistent way we respond to our kids day after day after day.

So if we ’re always rescuing, stepping in, helping out, advising, suggesting or doing or redoing, think how those responses impact your child.

Here’s the stat that should start the alarms going off that our current Blackhawk Mode approach is backfiring:

Did you know that the time in our lives when we are most likely to be depressed, suicidal and drop-out is our freshman year, end of first semester of college? College counselors are seeing an epidemic of depressed students who cannot cope with life. Richard Kadison, Chief of the Mental Health Service Harvard University Health Services states in his must-read book: College of the Overwhlemed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What To Do About It:

“If your son or daughter is in college, the chances are almost one in two that he will become depressed to the point of being unable to function; one in two that he or she will have regular episodes of binge drinking (with the resulting significant risk of dangerous consequences such as sexual assault and car accidnets); and one in ten that he or she will seriously consider suicide. In face, since 1988, the likelihood of a college student’s suffering depression has doubled, suicidal ideation has tripled, and sexual assaults have quadrupled.”

So what’s up? Let’s revisit the helicopter parenting approach. If we’re always in Black Hawk Mode, hovering, rescuing, picking up the pieces for our kids, we’re actually setting them up for not only the inability to handle life but also depression, anxiety, and dropping out (and wanting to come back to live with us…which they are doing by the droves).

Let’s lower our flaps. Let’s help our kids handle life. Let’s start parenting our kids so they can cope, pick themselves up and start all over again after a set-back, and let’s help them do so without us. Here are a few parenting practices from my latest book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions that you may want to adopt in your day-to-day family life to help your kids become more resourceful and self-reliant.

6 Tips to Stop Helicoptering and Start Raising Self-Reliant Kids

1. Identify what your child can do alone and then back off. What tasks might your child be capable of doing instead of relying on you? Maybe it’s time for him to learn to make his own lunch, do laundry, make his bed, call to make his dentist’s appointments, Of course, this will depend on your child’s age, maturation, and current capabilities. The goal here isn’t to overwhelm him by piling on new your expectations, but gradually introduce one new task at a time.

2. Stop rescuing. Have you found yourself rescuing your kids a lot lately? “My son is so tired, I’ll do his homework tonight.” “My daughter is too busy, I’ll do her chores this time.” It’s an easy habit to get into, but if you want to raise a resilient kid, these are major mother “no-nos.” Start by setting this rule: “We have a new policy: No more excuses. You need to take responsibility.”

3. Boost organizational skills so your child won’t use you as his palm pilot. Is your child misplacing library books? Can’t find his sports gear? Losing teacher notes? Chances are your child’s lack of organization is a big reason why you end up rescuing her. So when there’s another trauma, ask instead: “What can you do to solve it?” For instance, if your child forgets to return his library book every Wednesday, he might hang a calendar to his due date as well as music lessons, field trips, sharing days, tests. Even little ones can draw “picture” reminders. Learning organizing is a skill your child will need for managing his own life so he relies less and less on you as time goes by.

4. Teach brainstorming so your child can solve problems without you. The next time your child has a problem, don’t be so quick to offer a solution. Instead, teach him how to brainstorm options. First, say to your child: “Tell me what’s bothering you.” (You might need to help him find the words: “I can’t think of anything to bring for sharing.”) Express your faith that he can work things out: “I know you’ll come up with a solution for your sharing.” Then encourage him to brainstorm ideas. “Don’t worry how silly your idea sounds. Just say it, because it may help your think of things to share.” You might even call it “The Solution Game;” just remind your child to use it whenever he encounters a problem. With enough practice, your child will be able to use brainstorming to solve many troubling issues that creep up during the day without your help.

5. Teach negotiation skills. Do your children constantly expect you to be the negotiator and solve their battles? Wrong move if you want your kids to be able to solve their own battles. Your new tactic: Teach your kids how to negotiate so when the next war breaks out you can tell your darling cherubs to work it out on their own. Here’s how. First, explain the new skill: “You need to learn to negotiate. That’s when you agree to work out a deal so you’re both are happy.”  Next, teach your kids a few old but good ‘deal breakers’ such as “rock, paper, scissors”, drawing straws, flipping a coin, or the rule: “Who went first last time, goes last this time.” Oven timers are also great for reducing squabbles. Just show your kids how to set it, and it can be a great sanity saver. “I’m setting the timer for five minutes, but when it goes off it’s my turn to play.” And finally: Don’t forget to set clear ‘negotiation behavior’: “You must take turns listening to each other without interrupting, and no put-downs. Only calm voices are allowed.” Then start practicing using the skill as a family. Not only will it help your child learn a skill I guarantee he’ll need in every arena of life, but you may also discover greater peace on the home front.

6. Talk about their future regularly. Encourage your kids to think beyond the here and now: going away to camp, changing schools, college, living in an apartment, career choices.  Discussing your children’s lives in the future can be part of your dinner table conversations. Sure they can change their minds (and majors), but the goal is to help your child think towards the future and realize someday he really won’t be living with you.

Remember our one goal in parenting is to help our kids to survive and thrive without us. Make sure your day-to-day parenting is aims at that goal.

Note to Reader: Dr. Phil asked me to this month to come on his show and help parents recognize if they are “over-parenting” and ways to step back so that their kids can learn to become more self-reliant. If you find yourself “guilty” about this style, take an honest look at your own behavior. Is there anything you’re doing that could use a bit of  tweaking so that your kids are more likely to thrive without you? If so, what is the first step you’ll take to make that happen? For more specifics on how to step back and parent for self-reliance, turn to the chapters on Self-Reliance in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.

This article is excerpted from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert