Helicopter parenting isn’t a new concept and many of us are guilty of hovering over our children to some extent. But according to one academic those of us who ‘over-parent’ our kids could actually be creating kids who grow up with very little emotional resilience.
The Healthy Mummy contacted Dr Rebecca English, a lecturer in education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), to discuss the pros and cons of helicopter parenting.
She says she’s ‘loathed’ to admit it but there IS an increase in helicopter parenting in society and she has a warning for parents.
“Over-parenting stops our children from learning from mistakes now that may help them to not make those mistakes when the stakes are higher in a future we can’t predict, can’t know and a lot of which we can’t experience,” she says.
Are You A Helicopter Parent?
Dr English, who is a mother of three, says helicopter parents give off one of those alarms like a reversing truck.
“There are a lot of signs you might be a helicopter parent, if you think, ‘wow, am I being a helicopter parent?’ there’s a fair to middling chance you are,” she says.
“Helicopter parents, as the name implies, hover over their children, they don’t really have the capacity to trust their children.”
“You know you’re a helicopter parent if you over-parent your children. For example you can’t leave that towel on the ground for them to discover what happens when you don’t put the towel away. (It’ll be wet when they go to use it next time).”
Another sign is you can’t leave your child to struggle for a bit at the park or help them develop a plan before hoisting them up onto the top of the climbing frame.
You could also be a helicopter parent if you can’t let them have mistakes in their maths homework!
“Helicopter parents have trouble letting go, trusting their children to figure out things on their own,” she says.
“They also struggle with the adaptation from parents of a child (in the age sense of the word) to parents of an adult.”
The Pros Of Helicopter Parenting
According to Dr English there is a lot of research suggesting that parental involvement is excellent for a child’s social and emotional development.
It develops confidence, character and a trust between parent and child. However, this involvement needs to be age appropriate.
“There are advantages, it’s likely that on occasion you’ll save your child from themselves,” she says.
“I suppose your child will escape the ignominy of not being able to climb the frame, or having incorrect answers on their maths homework or not have to dry themselves with a wet towel.”
Dr English says another benefit of being a parent who hovers above their child is that they’ll prevent them from having to make too many mistakes and hurting themselves.
However, there appears to be more long-term disadvantages to never leaving your child be.
Cons Of Helicopter Parenting
The first being the huge personal cost to you, it’s exhausting parenting this way, and the second is the cost to your relationship with your child.
Dr English says she had parents who over-parented her and believes it can ruin a relationship between a child and their parents.
“You often have trouble seeing your child as a fully formed adult, even when they are, as I am now, about to turn 40,” she says.
Growing up in the 1980s she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, her mother would literally lock her in my room so she had to do her homework.
“And if she didn’t think I’d been given enough, she had store bought workbooks on hand for me to do more and make up the arbitrary time she felt I needed to devote to homework in the early years of primary school,” Dr English says.
“I wasn’t allowed a boyfriend when I was at high school although I did meet my now husband when I was 13 and we were both at school. We just had to be sneaky.
“And, I think that is the key, you do encourage sneakiness.”
Lack Of Emotional Resilience
Dr English says there’s also a stack of evidence that over-parenting has negative consequences for children.
Studies suggest helicopter parents prevent their children from developing emotional resilience.
Because they are not allowed to try and climb that frame at the park, and maybe fail, children might be negatively impacted when they have to strike out on their own and try new things.
“They may also lack independence as they grow up and rely on their parents in an inappropriate way,” she says.
“Is that a disadvantage? It may be, or it may not depending on how you see it.”
Can Affect Future Relationship
Dr English says children who grow up with helicopter parents might also come to resent them and act out when they’re older.
As part of her research, Dr English interviewed adults who say they were children of helicopter parents. She asked them for the most embarrassing things they had experienced.
“Funny ones included the mother who slept in the broom cupboard near her daughter’s dorm room at college until she was kicked out (the mother),” she says.
“The man whose father followed him to jury duty and had a fit when he was refused entry because he didn’t feel his son could do the job properly.
“While they’re cringe-worthy and quite funny, you can see the sadness in the posts and how it has damaged the relationship between parent and child.”
Children Aren’t Our Property
Dr English admits that most parents are doing the best they can with the information and resources they have in front of them.
However, she says many of us forget that our children are not just children, they are adults in training.
“We aren’t raising a child, we are raising someone who will, with any luck and often in spite of our parenting, be a fully fledged, competent, confident adult,” she says.
“Whatever we do, we have to think of that person’s needs first.”
She says parents should keep in mind that we have to be good to our children as they aren’t our property.
“And they belong not to our time but to a time we don’t, and frankly due to our ages, can’t know,” she says.
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