Helicopter Parenting: Are you overprotecting or constantly rescuing your child?

Groundwork Counseling, Counselor

Theravive Counseling

Counseling Practice for Children, Women, Couples, and Families

HELICOPTER PARENTING: Are you overprotecting or constantly rescuing your child?

Certainly, all parents want to see their children grow up to be well-adjusted, responsible adults, but some parents believe the best way to accomplish this is through pain avoidance. Parents need to understand that children don’t need to be rescued from growing up.

Unfortunately, there is always going to be a certain amount of pain associated with maturing and parents, who rob children of distressing but necessary growing experiences, will actually hinder the onset of maturity. Life is full of painful learning experiences that shape and mold children, teens, and young adults, such as those that occur with appropriate socialization. For example, the pain of loss affects all of us and is necessary for strengthening individuals emotionally and psychologically. The sting of being overlooked for selection on teams at school or for academic progress will generally lead to increased effort, and the honing of skills will produce a stronger work ethic in adulthood. The ache of unrequited love or rejection can lead to self-reflection and personal insight, which is a systematic attempt to gain awareness of one’s personality, emotions and actions and the reasons behind personal behaviors. Self-reflection and personal insight always lead to self-improvement by virtue of the perceived rewards that come with change. These include acceptance, recognition, approval, affection, and reaching specific goals.

All of these aforementioned and common difficulties present an opportunity for children and young people to learn and grow. They are part of individual existence and part of what makes people strong, self-assured, and compassionate towards others who may be experiencing similar troubles.  Parents, who are out of balance with their emotional and functional roles, often feel that in order to be a good parent they must insulate children from feeling pain. This is most likely because they feel that experiencing pain will somehow harm their children when the very opposite is true. Normal challenges in life generally make people stronger, wiser, and calmer because they become used to weathering storms rather than fighting so hard against them. Through challenges, individuals learn how to manage emotions, responses, identify and label circumstances, leading to a better chance for positive processing. However, when parents rescue their children through the critical developmental stages, they stall the learning processes that lead to maturity and can actually cause their children to be delayed developmentally.

Affected adults may resort to angry, child-like behaviors when addressing challenging situations rather than standing up to challenges and responding appropriately. As a result, negative responses to painful experiences are more likely in teen and adult years because the skills that should have been learned through emotionally painful experiences in childhood are missing.
Rescuing can also lead to an entitlement mentality on the part of both parents and children. This happens when a child and/or parent believes they have a right to have certain things that the receiver is generally required to earn. These can include a right to have good grades, the right to play a particular position on a sports team, or the right to a high paying job or preferred relationship. It can also lead to thinking that one has the right to a long and happy life free of pain, hardships, anxiety, or specific responsibilities. If a child never has the opportunity to experience sorrow while young and learn how to process negative emotions, they won’t know what to do with these emotions in adulthood. This leads to extreme unhappiness born of unmet expectations and an overall feeling that life is unfair, difficult, and without joy.

In addition to these reasons for offering entitlement or rescuing tactics to children, parents may also fear that their child might be unsuccessful in life. This leads to parents doing whatever it takes to make sure their child never fails. As we mentioned, some parents do this because they are afraid their child’s feelings will be hurt. However, some parents may be secretly afraid that if their child fails, or doesn’t do as well or better than the neighbor’s children, the parent might lose social status and/or suffer embarrassment. Rescuing is almost always more about the parent than it is about the child because seeing their child even just a little bit unhappy makes the parents extremely uncomfortable. Most parents actually believe that they are being good parents when they engage in rescuing and entitlement thinking. However, these activities have some destructive side effects such as blaming others when your child is clearly to blame; lying about the level of responsibility the child has at school; and offering unwarranted praise.

When well-meaning parents fail to allow their children to learn some tremendously important life lessons, they typically do not realize that by meeting their child’s every need they are robbing their children of key challenges and psychological tools that actually build self-esteem.  Our present age has promoted over-protectiveness in some parents that makes them uncomfortable when their children do not get what they want, or when they have to go without some perceived need. Parents can also become anxious or worried when children do not succeed. When children are unhappy, many parents tend to take it personally and feel they need to pacify their children in an effort to maintain a harmonious home life. Rather than coaching, identifying feelings, and teaching the child how to manage his or her pain and emotions, some parents feel the faster they fix it, or take away the unpleasantness, the better off everyone will be. Over-functioning and over-protective parents, who try to control the lives of their children with a mission to promote happiness, do this because it makes them feel valued. This is because they believe if their child succeeds; they succeed. If their child fails; they fail.  Because of this, boundaries between parents and children break down, sometimes leading to protective hovering. This excessive hovering over young children can continue on into young adulthood when teens will eventually learn to expect and even enjoy parental rescuing because it removes them from active participation and responsibility for their own lives. Hovering protectively over children is known as helicopter parenting.
Parents use this often unidentified technique as a means to help their children cope, succeed, or avoid pain, but helicopter parenting, also known as hovering, actually stems from a control issue on the part of the parent. This can lead to frustration for both children and parents, and can result in fear-based thinking, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence in children as they grow older. Children can be left thinking; If mom and dad don’t think I can do it, maybe I can’t.
If you find yourself constantly checking up on your children by cell phone, doing their homework, answering questions that your child has been asked by another adult or child, preventing them from simple tasks because you are afraid they will get hurt, routinely making decisions for your child without eliciting their opinion, constantly cleaning up around them, and generally not allowing them any sort of privacy including time spent alone in their own room, you're probably a helicopterparent.

Preventing a child from experiencing disappointments will never make the child stronger.  If you’ve stayed up all night building exploding volcanoes so your child can win the science fair project or if you spend nearly every afternoon driving your child to her various activities and have hired exceptional tutors and coaches to help her develop her many talents, you may be a helicopter parent who sees her child as a project. You may have lost sight of the important job of guiding her towards independence and adulthood. Your child may never grow up if you don't require it of her. 
Sometimes adults parent their children the way they wish they had been parented. In the long run, this mind-set can be detrimental because parents will tend to over-compromise, over-give, and over-pamper children. When parents use the lack they may have experienced in childhood as a platform on which to launch a campaign to make it right for their own children, things can become skewed. This is because they are remembering how certain activities made them feel as a child instead of the actual activity that caused the strong emotion. Thus, the emotion might not be trustworthy because emotions in children can be startlingly exaggerated. Many times children view their parents (especially those who were disciplinarians) as detached, overly rigid, uncaring, and self-involved even though many unseen sacrifices may have been made in their behalf.Helicopter parenting tends to produce children who are somewhat neurotic, less independent and less capable than their peers. They often function poorly as young adults.  Helicopter parenting can also remove self-reliance in children making them more dependent on parents in adulthood than they would be otherwise.  Statistics show that record numbers of Millennial Generation children (1980 to 2000) return home after college until they can get their careers in order. Some even stay on after marriage. It’s important to remember that children who have learned to be self-sufficient will likely grow into independent, happy adults.

When parents believe that the main focus of parenting is to make their children happy, children seldom learn that no one lives in a constant state of happiness.  Parents become fixated on smoothing out those bumps instead of helping children become resilient enough to tolerate the bumps.  There is an old adage that parents might keep in mind: Prepare not the path for the child, but prepare the child for the path.



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