How ‘Helicopter Parenting’ May Be Helping Your Kids

Focus on hands of mother in aqua sweater and child in pink sweater with blonde hair painting on large paper on floorThere have been countless articles—including some of my own—about the hazards of so-called “helicopter parenting,” the current trend of over-watchful, over-involved child rearing (also known as cosseting). By now, many people are familiar with stories of adult children who can’t leave home because they lack life skills, anxious teens whose schedules rival those of corporate CEOs, and parents who expect their toddlers to learn Mandarin and excel in five sports.

But in these times, when many of us feel alienated from our government, our neighbors, and sometimes our families, it’s worthwhile to rethink the benefits of kids being more connected to their parents. After all, parents started parenting this way for a reason. We were reacting against the free-form, unbounded childhoods we experienced, in which many of us faced daily dangers and years of floundering without oversight or steady guidance. We were the kids who came home to empty houses and wandered the neighborhood all afternoon, getting ourselves into physically and emotionally treacherous experiences. Because our parents were afraid to broach the subjects of sex, drugs, and violence, we got the information from our friends, who got all sorts of details wrong. As a result, many grew up feeling unseen, unsupported, and confused.

While helicoptering has its flaws—most notably how it often fails to teach kids how to think on their own and make bold decisions in the face of uncertainty—it also has many advantages, some of which have gone unheralded. Here are some of the reasons parents may choose to be very involved in their kids’ lives, and some of the benefits to both children and society.

1. These kids feel supported.

Children, from the millennial generation to the current one, typically know that their parents have their backs. They grow up with a sense of security, knowing a framework is around them. This might give them more freedom to fail and to experiment, because someone is there to provide a net. Yes, young adults these days move in with their parents more often and rely on their families for financial support more than ever before. But this also allows them time to grow without as much pressure and danger as previous generations experienced.

Research has shown recently how the brain does not fully mature until our mid- to late-20s. Knowing this, why aren’t we more accepting of the idea that a 21-year-old college graduate might still need more time to feel fully launched? The average age to get married and have children has increased over the past few decades, and many people accept the idea that it might help to be more mature before leaping into these commitments. Likewise, young adults are taking longer to enter the workforce or buy a home; although economic factors contribute to that reality, couldn’t it be argued that it’s not necessarily the worst thing to delay these moves until they’re adequately prepared?

2. These kids feel seen and known.

Alice Miller writes in The Drama of the Gifted Child how parents who are preoccupied with meeting their own needs first can create children who feel unseen. Today’s parenting, however, tends to be highly focused on the child instead of the parents’ needs. While a degree of balance would be ideal, the value of this imbalance is that children these days know they are fully understood by their families. These kids get therapy, school testing, vocational evaluations, extracurricular trainings, and more. And while they may be overscheduled and over-observed, they are also privy to a large amount of information about their temperaments, skills, and interests.

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The great thing about that is this generation of kids may not have as much of a struggle, or take as long, as previous generations did to know themselves. They may be able to make better partnerships and be better parents because they are not, as Miller writes, struggling to heal old wounds and blindly fighting the shadows of the past.

3. These kids have a sense of community and connectedness.

In the essay that spurred my thinking on this topic, Jennifer Trainor writes, “What if we are moving away from individualism and autonomy (with its requirements that we push away from our parents, rebel against the establishment and its institutions, like school) and entering a much more connected, inter-dependence?”

There are real benefits to doing something you’re bad at. It increases resilience, teaches how to hold onto self-esteem, and reduces perfectionism.

Trainor is asking this: Are we looking for the kind of communalism that marked American life in the beginning of the last century, when families lived with or nearby each other, neighbors helped one another, and people intrinsically trusted the government to be benevolent and generous? And does that desire to be close to others both encourage today’s parents to dote on their children and allow the children to stay close and reliant on their parents? A century ago, there was nothing wrong with, say, expecting your parents to help raise your children or provide you with a job. This gave people a sense of kinship and lineage. It sounds much more pleasant than the current overarching sense of alienation and existential loneliness.

4. These kids benefit from doing stuff they’re not good at.

Yes, our kids tend to have too many activities, leaving them without enough unstructured play time. But it also pushes them to persevere at pursuits they might not have thought of on their own, even though they may not excel at them. Thirty years ago, kids tended to gravitate toward one pastime—usually something they had an affinity for—and stuck with it. We rarely tried our hands at many different sports or arts, and as as result we were less well-rounded.

There are real benefits to doing something you’re bad at. It increases resilience, teaches how to hold onto self-esteem, and reduces perfectionism. To be the slowest runner on the soccer field week after week demands a huge amount of persistence, which years later can give kids a major leg up in the business world.

5. These kids have tried a little of everything and thus are better equipped to make good career choices.

Speaking of the business world, trying their hand at so many recreational activities may also help this generation of children to pick job fields. Compared to teens of the past, they may have a higher awareness of themselves at a young age. The parents who have driven them to music lessons, football games, and chess club meetings have instilled in these kids the knowledge that they are good at organization, perhaps, or lousy at spatial relations. These pieces of information give them a sense of what they have to offer to employers and which fields might be best avoided.

6. These kids will take care of us (and pass on the same family values).

Finally, there’s an upside to parents as well as to kids. In addition to having children who like us and want to stay in touch, we may also be creating a community with an overall sense of family connectedness. As they grow, children who were parented closely often want to remain close. Perhaps this will diminish the fears we have about an aging society, where seniors become lonely and neglected. Perhaps, just perhaps, helicoptered children may someday hover over their parents and return the favor.

There’s a lot of fear in society about the ways technology creates distance and isolation. We look at the younger generations with their heads buried in their phones and wonder if they will know how to make conversation or form connections. But we forget that, even on those phones, they are in constant communication—not only with their friends, but with us. Through this lens, helicopter parenting might be considered an antidote to the loneliness of the digital age, a way to create snug, loving bonds with our children.

References:

  1. Miller, A. (1997). The Drama of the Gifted Child. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  2. Trainor, J. (2016, March 7). Does Helicopter Parenting Harm Kids’ Ability to Think for Themselves? Retrieved from https://medium.com/@jstrainor/lythcott-haims-book-led-me-to-terry-castle-s-2012-essay-about-helicopter-parenting-an-essay-that-5732281d6ce1#.sferakci8

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Vicki Botnick, MA, MS, LMFT, therapist in Tarzana, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 12 comments
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  • Amy

    Amy

    December 7th, 2016 at 7:37 AM

    Finally! The truth comes out and there is someone out there who actually gets what it is we are trying to do for our children,
    I am not trying to make it so that they don’t know how to live life on their own. I just want them to always know that they are loved and encouraged at all times.
    This is what I am put here to do as their parent, and if that means hovering, then I’m doing it.

  • cade

    cade

    December 7th, 2016 at 9:39 AM

    The children come to know that they are cared for and they are disciplined, and I think that overall this is a big thing that is missing in many American homes today.

  • Allen

    Allen

    December 7th, 2016 at 2:57 PM

    To some extent I agree with all of this. It shows them you care, that you have their back. At the same time though I have a fear that it is lessening their own responsibility and this is not something that is going to benefit any of us. I think that it can be done where you show them that you care while at the same time giving them their own things in life that they have to be in charge of and responsible for.

  • Beth

    Beth

    December 8th, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    I don’t think that just because you helicopter that has to mean that your children can’t think for themselves. I think that of course it shows them love but that does not have to mean that they can’t think for themselves.
    I know that there are those parents who will tend to take things to the extreme but it does not have to be that way.

  • christy d

    christy d

    December 8th, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    Personally I am of the opinion that there will never be two parents who do the things the same way and that you really need to figure out a plan for what kind of style works best for you and your children. I think that we could all take a step back and stop worrying so much about what this family is doing or that family and just look at the ways and things that we could do to keep our own families steady and strong.
    That is all it takes. See what works best for you and stop worrying so much about the rest.

  • Marcia

    Marcia

    December 9th, 2016 at 11:09 AM

    I will admit that I did it and all my kids have graduated with honors, gotten into their schools of choice AND still know how to do their own laundry. Quite the accomplishment

  • benjamin

    benjamin

    December 11th, 2016 at 10:15 AM

    I would much rather have my kids think that maybe I care a little too much instead of thinking that I don’t care about them any at all. I don’t want them going through life wondering if I was really all that invested in the things that they did and that they care about. I need them to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt I am here for them and I always will be.

    I think that there are kids who really don’t know from day to day if or how much their parents care about them. I don’t ever want my kids to have any inkling of a thought like that.

  • Mac

    Mac

    December 14th, 2016 at 2:23 PM

    I would be very curious to know that rates of kids who move back home after college, who can from these over protective kind of families and those who had more stand back and let them succeed or fail types of parents.

    My bet is that the helicopter parents end up with far more boomerang kids than other parenting types do.

  • ADELAIDE

    ADELAIDE

    December 15th, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    There will always be those who believe one way and then those who believe another. I say just do what feels right to you as a parent and that you know in your gut is the right thing for your child. And know that what might be the right thing for one child might not be right for the next one to come along and that is ok too.

  • parentsupporthub.com

    parentsupporthub.com

    March 28th, 2017 at 7:41 AM

    Great article!

    Although helicopter parenting has its advantages it also has its flaws. The author of this text pointed out the biggest one:
    “While helicoptering has its flaws—most notably how it often fails to teach kids how to think on their own and make bold decisions in the face of uncertainty”

  • Bailey

    Bailey

    September 13th, 2017 at 2:27 PM

    y’all are soooooooo wrong in soooooooo many ways. Most parents are helicopter parents because they want to live through their kids. Literally just back up??? Like your child will be okay. I lived without a helicopter parent and here I am in college making good grades because I know how to do things for myself and not have my mommy or daddy do it for me. Why would I want my parents in my business all the time? Why would I want my mom or dad to know literally everything about my life? I get that parents want to know what their kid is doing but if you are THAT strict parent that has to know where their kid is at all times, makes decisions for their kid, and is proud of being a helicopter parent, then wyd….. like you have a life too homie. Go out and get some boxed wine, get some tissues, and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy because literally some of you parents need a life that isn’t their own childs.

  • Juan P.

    Juan P.

    April 10th, 2018 at 2:38 PM

    I love grays anatomy and I agree

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