Gone are the days of kids roaming the neighborhood until dark, riding bikes for miles, exploring the woods, and chasing dreams. These days, there is little that kids can do without mom or dad hovering over their shoulder, watching their every move. A phrase first used in Dr. Haim Ginott's book “Parents and Teenagers” published back in 1969, helicopter parenting is now in the dictionary. A form of “over-parenting,” helicopter parenting is now recognized as potentially harmful and detrimental to a child's healthy social and emotional development.
Not sure if you're a helicopter parent? Here are signs you are and what you can do to scale back your attention.
You may just be trying to show love, protect your kids from potential harm, and be involved in their lives, but helicopter parenting takes that attention to the extreme. You're over-involved, over-protective, and want to control your kids' world and solve their problems for them. When they fail, it's your fault; when they succeed, you take credit.
The kids can't leave the yard, you're always by their side, and they're signed up to participate in all the activities you enjoy. Trouble with a school project? You'll take over. Too scared to make a phone call? Mom will do it. Can't put a puzzle together? Dad will step in. Feeling a little blue? You'll shower them with attention and treats. Don't want to eat veggies? Mom gives in to avoid a tantrum.
Helicopter parenting is a manifestation of a parent's own anxiety and fears. Maybe you were neglected or ignored as a child and try to overcompensate. Perhaps you compare yourself to others and want to appear you have it all together. The daily news and social media are full of scary scenarios—bullied children committing suicide, kidnappings, disease, and violence. You'll do anything to protect your kids from any such harm, disappointment, or discomfort. You've seen kids turn out to be drug addicts and social outcasts and you want to make sure your children don't go down the same path. This hyper-vigilance is evident by constant hovering.
Unfortunately, efforts to protect your kids can backfire. Your insecurities and anxieties transfer to your kids. In other words, what you're trying to avoid ends up happening anyway. Kids become insecure without mom nearby and they're fragile, anxious, and ill equipped to deal with the challenges of real-life. They end up lacking self-confidence and coping skills. Since their parents always stepped in to fix academic, social, or athletic problems, children grow up to develop a sense of entitlement.
So how can you love your children in a way that enables them to grow up to be healthy, confident adults? Think of your own life. Very likely it's been the challenges and tough things that have made you stronger, smarter, and a better person. The same goes for your children. It's wise for you as the parent to let your child struggle, fail, solve problems, and deal with disappointment, while you're there to support them through it.
Second, it's best for you to let your kids do mental and physical tasks they're old enough to do. A 5-year-old can tie her own shoes and get dressed by herself. A 10-year-old can load and unload the dishwasher. A teenager can plan and complete his own school project.
Learn to let go of anxiety. It's not healthy for you and definitely not beneficial for your kids. Love your kids and give them positive attention, but make sure they know who's in charge. They're not the ones who should be running the show, and believe it or not, they don’t have to succeed at everything they try the first, second, or even third time.