Helicopter parenting: It’s one of those terms that doesn’t have a strict definition, but you know it when you see it. It might be the mom of a typical six-year-old, hovering closely at the playground in case her little one falls. It could be the dad who does not let his 10-year-old out of sight when she wants to ride her bike up and down their safe suburban street with friends. Or it might be the parent of a teenager who often leaves work to bring forgotten homework, lunches and jackets to school. If you find yourself hovering around your teenager and taking responsibility for tasks that they should be handling on their own, you just might be a helicopter parent.
The main reason parents hover around their teenagers is due to love. Of course you love your teen and you don’t want him or her to get hurt. All good parents do this, to a point; you set down rules about drinking alcohol, you find out where your teen will be spending the night, and you keep an eye on his or her grades at school. However, helicopter parenting is letting anxiety get in the way of letting your teen do things that are age-appropriate. For example, telling your teen that you will pick him up if the person who is supposed to drive him home from a party drinks is good parenting. Attending the party with your teen or waiting outside in your car to make sure he does not leave with someone who is drinking is excessive caution.
It can be hard to see where the line is drawn between parenting and helicopter parenting, especially if you are in the midst of it. What seems normal to you might seem extreme to another parent, and vice versa. In general, if you are taking over situations that your teenager should be able to handle on his or her own… you might be a helicopter parent.
What’s the Issue With Helicopter Parenting?
Don’t be misled into thinking it’s a harmless preoccupation; helicoptering your teen can have long-term consequences that can stifle your teen well into adulthood. Below are a few issues that helicopter parenting can cause your teen.
1. Anxiety, Depression, Lack of Social Skills
Although you might have the best intentions at heart when you hover over your teenagers, doing so can make them more prone to anxiety, depression, and a lack of necessary social skills. Why? When you interfere with activities that your teen is able to handle on his or her own, you’re telling your teenager that you don’t think they can cope with whatever the situation is on their own. For example, if you routinely contact your teen’s teachers about their grades, you are taking away your child’s pride in advocating for him- or herself. If you make some calls in order to save your teen the trouble of applying for a job, you’re, in essence, saying, “I don’t believe you can get a job on your own.” This can lead to a teenager feeling inferior and lower his or her self-esteem.
In addition, handling these tasks means that your child doesn’t get a chance to practice asserting him- or herself. If your 16-year-old never fills out a job application, he or she might have a hard time doing it after college graduation, simply because they’ve never had the practice. When faced with an unfair college professor or boss, they might not know where to start when it comes to talking to the person or making a complaint, if you have always handled interactions with high school teachers.
2. A Lack of Healthcare Self-Advocacy
Are you still making all of your teenager’s medical appointments and going into the exam room? Many teens won’t talk to a doctor about personal health concerns if a parent is in the room. By the time your child is a teenager, he or she should be able to see a doctor privately. This doesn’t mean that you should be completely shut out; you are responsible for your teenager’s health, after all. After you consult with the doctor and share your concerns, however, go back into the waiting room for the examination and so your teen can talk about what’s on his or her mind. You can also talk to the doctor after the appointment if there are any tests, follow-ups, or additional recommendations.
If you also allow your teen to decide at what point he or she needs to take an over-the-counter painkiller for a headache or cold medicine for the flu, that will help them learn to make these choices about their health when they’re out of the house. (Of course, this applies only to generally healthy teenagers who are able to make good choices and who will not suffer dire consequences if they decide not to treat a headache or a cold. If your teen is on prescription medication or has a history of substance abuse, you will need to make sure that medications are taken as prescribed, and this might include closely supervising your teen.)
3. Issues With Handling Hard Emotions
As humans, we all must experience sadness, fear, and feelings of guilt or remorse. If you are shielding your teenager from these feelings, you’re doing him or her a disservice. It’s best for children to learn how to deal with strong, negative emotions before adulthood, so they have coping strategies in place. Protecting your teen from heartbreak by refusing to allow him or her to date, for example, is not only ineffective, but also just postponing the inevitable. Almost everyone has to deal with a breakup at some point, and learning during the later teen years gives you a chance to lovingly guide your child through the experience. Restricting media to the point that your teen doesn’t know about disturbing world events or local tragedies is also not helpful. These behaviors can hurt your teen when he or she enters adulthood and is barraged by the negativity that is often portrayed on the news.
How to Stop Helicopter Parenting
It can be difficult to not only realize that you’re sheltering your teen by helicopter parenting, but also to stop. If you’ve recognized yourself in some of these examples, a parenting support group or counseling for anxiety might help. So can a discussion with your teenager; find out whether your rules and boundaries are roughly similar to those of his or her friends. You don’t have to make parenting decisions based on what other parents are doing, of course, but knowing where you stand can help you take a hard look at whether your expectations are reasonable and age-appropriate. Finally, make yourself a rule that if a situation comes up that your teen will need to handle on his or her own in a few years, you’ll back off and let him or her attempt it now. There’s no harm in giving some advice or talking over how a situation might be handled, but don’t take over the issue or handle it for your teen. Keep in mind that the goal is to raise a well-prepared adult and make your decisions based on what will best accomplish that job.