Helicopter parenting is an extremely involved parenting style. Helicopter moms and dads attempt to exert positive control in many areas of a child’s life. As a child grows and develops, helicopter parents have difficulty letting go and may be intrusive or controlling. Helicopter parenting is so named because of a helicopter mom or dad’s tendency to hover.
What Is Helicopter Parenting?
Helicopter parenting is a hyper-involved type of parenting, especially in an academic context. Parenting demands involvement and a certain degree of control. The difference with helicopter parenting is that helicopter parents exert more control than is developmentally appropriate. This can make it difficult for the child to learn to do things on their own.
Helicopter parenting is not a clinical diagnosis, so the meaning is subjective. What one person calls a helicopter mom or dad, another might simply view as involved parenting. Some examples of helicopter parenting might include:
- Exerting control over an adult child’s life, such as by writing their graduate school applications or calling potential employers.
- Attempting to control a child’s friendships by deciding whom a child should befriend or when a child should end a friendship.
- Exerting control over a child’s activities or hobbies.
- Forcing a child to practice an instrument, do significant extra schoolwork, or drill sports for hours.
- Doing a child’s work for them.
What Causes Helicopter Parenting?
Popular wisdom suggests that helicopter parenting is a new phenomenon, or is responsible for a host of perceived shortcomings in younger generations. Many articles claim that helicopter parenting is a distinctly Millennial parenting style, or that Millennials were the first generation to be raised by helicopter parents.
The term was originally coined in the 1990 edition of the book Parenting With Love and Logic. Yet helicopter parenting in some form has likely always existed. Some factors which may play a role in helicopter parenting include:
- Anxiety: Parents may be anxious about their children’s safety or success. In some parents, this anxiety may be because of a history of childhood trauma.
- Parenting style: A 2014 study found that authoritarian parents and those who want their children to conform are more likely to be helicopter parents.
- Stressful environments: Research published in 2014 found a link between dysfunctional family environments and helicopter parenting.
- Peer pressure: Parents may feel pressured to conform to their peers’ parenting style.
- Identity: Some parents derive a sense of identity or purpose from their children’s achievements. This can damage the parent-child relationship and may also cause helicopter parenting.
- Competitive environments: Parents whose children attend competitive schools or who live in neighborhoods that demand high achievement may attempt to help their children succeed through an intrusive, controlling parenting style.
- Social norms: Different regions, religions, and other cultural milieus have different parenting norms. Some cultures encourage a highly involved parenting style. Broader social norms about parenting can also spur shifts. For instance, fears about dangerous drivers, kidnappers, and crime mean that many parents don’t allow children to play unattended. Older generations may see this as helicopter parenting due to anxiety.
Research on Helicopter Parenting
A 2014 study found that helicopter parenting is more common when a child lives at home and has few or no siblings.
A 2014 scholarly article argues that parents face a “double bind” in which parents are criticized both for being overly involved and for being insufficiently involved. This article argues that helicopter parenting is the product of larger cultural trends rather than individual shortcomings.
Parenting is challenging work, and many helicopter parents defend their behavior by insisting they are supporting their children to become healthy, successful adults.
Helicopter Parenting and Children’s Mental Health
Helicopter parenting limits a child’s chances to explore the world on their own or learn from trial and error. Some studies suggest that helicopter parenting can make children less resilient or lower their sense of self-efficacy.
A 2011 study found a correlation between helicopter parenting and worse mental health. Children of helicopter parents were also more likely to take medication for anxiety or depression and to use pain medication for recreational purposes. Helicopter parenting may also create immense pressure to academically succeed. A 2017 study found that mental health issues are increasing among college students. A number of recent articles suggest that a competitive campus culture may be driving the college suicide rate.
The Effects of Helicopter Parenting
Many employers complain that helicopter parenting decreases young people’s ability to work intelligently or independently. College administrators routinely argue that, thanks to helicopter parents, students arrive at school unprepared to manage their own lives. Helicopter parenting may produce children with low emotional intelligence who struggle to manage their relationships. Adult children of helicopter parents may not know how to manage their own time or relationships without the constant input of a parent.
Some research points to a positive side to helicopter parenting. A 2014 study found that increased parental involvement could decrease drinking in first-year college students. Involved parenting may help children’s self-esteem, but excessive involvement can make it difficult for a child to develop an independent identity.
Help for Helicopter Parents
Parents who want to give their children more autonomy should be mindful of the factors motivating their parenting style. Managing anxiety through meditation, deep breathing, exercise, or therapy can be helpful. Parents should also practice open communication with their children rather than treating communication as a unidirectional project through which parents tell children how to think and feel.
Relationships with people who have a positive parenting style can also be helpful. Parents often emulate their friends’ parenting style. Parents whose friends are more relaxed may also feel less pressure to constantly intervene in their children’s lives.
It can be challenging to let go or relax, particularly when a parent is plagued by anxiety, concerned with fears of inadequacy, or worried about a child failing. Therapy can help parents understand their own parenting style. It can also foster better communication between parents and children. Find a therapist who specializes in parenting issues and helicopter parenting here.
- Bradley-Geist, J. C., & Olson-Buchanan, J. B. (2014). Helicopter parents: An examination of the correlates of over-parenting of college students. Education + Training, 56(4), 314-328. doi:10.1108/et-10-2012-0096
- Bristow, J. (2014). The double bind of parenting culture: Helicopter parents and cotton wool kids. In E. Lee (Ed.), Parenting culture studies. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan
- Earle, A. M., & Labrie, J. W. (2016). The upside of helicopter parenting: Engaged parenting to reduce first-year student drinking. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(3), 319-330. doi:10.1080/19496591.2016.1165108
- Lemoyne, T., & Buchanan, T. (2011). Does ‘hovering’ matter? Helicopter parenting and its effect on well-being. Sociological Spectrum, 31(4), 399-418. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02732173.2011.574038
- Odenweller, K. G., Booth-Butterfield, M., & Weber, K. (2014). Investigating helicopter parenting, family environments, and relational outcomes for Millennials. Communication Studies, 65(4), 407-425. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10510974.2013.811434
- Scelfo, J. (2015, July 27). Suicide on campus and the pressure of perfection. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/education/edlife/stress-social-media-and-suicide-on-campus.html