The Aftershocks of Helicopter Parenting

PARENTS HANDICAP THEIR children when they don’t allow them to take risks and make mistakes. It’s impossible to become a confident, successful adult without gaining real world, decision-making experience along the way. Consider this recent exchange:

Lesa: “My daughter calls from college ten times a day! Why won’t she make the simplest decisions by herself?”

Me: “Perhaps she never got the opportunity to practice decision-making before leaving home.”

Lesa: “I worry she will ruin her life!”

Does this sound familiar? Might you be a helicopter parent? If you’re not sure, observe your child’s behavior. The impact of helicopter parenting becomes most obvious in college and beyond. Over-protected teens and young adults aren’t confident enough to make simple, low-risk choices by themselves because they were never pushed to solve problems without their parents’ intrusive guidance.

Related Content: How to Decorate an Empty Nest

Helicopter parents are dedicated to ensuring their offspring is protected from all manner of distress—even when deserved. It starts early on and often intensifies as children grow up. Lesa’s middle-school age son was caught cheating on a quiz and dealt a week of detention. Lesa fought to have the consequence mitigated, citing a too difficult test and the fact that her son was a first-time offender. The messages her son received were powerful: mom will always come to my rescue and I don’t have to take responsibility for my behavior.

This is helicopter parenting at its worst. As a young adult it is not likely that Lesa’s son will be able to cope healthily with college rejection, a reprimand from a boss or an upset friend, resorting instead to temper tantrums or meltdowns. Helicopter parents mean well—it pains them to see their child suffer or face challenges, even though these struggles build emotional resilience and character. Similarly, they “protect” their kids from developing life skills like cooking and doing laundry, because they don’t want to burden them.

These parents inadvertently create young adults who feel entitled to having all their needs met by someone else. Clearly, these are traits that make it hard to function successfully in the world beyond mom and dad’s protection. The result is young adults who are in fact less likely to find satisfaction in their lives than those whose parents allowed them to get a little bruised along the way. When parents are afraid to allow a child to make decisions or take risks, the child begins to believe that their parent doesn’t trust or have confidence in their abilities. This message is quickly internalized, becoming self-doubt and low self-esteem. It can result in young adults who need constant validation and who may experience greater stress and anxiety than others with greater independence.

Are you a helicoptered adult…no, really…are you? If you were raised by a helicopter parent you probably feel a strong reliance on mom or dad, along with vague anger or resentment that you are so dependent upon them. If this sounds like you, the time has come to recognize your parents’ limitations and stop blaming them for not doing enough for you. It may be scary at first, but you will feel happier and more confident once you start to make your own life decisions.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.