Article at a Glance

  • Helicopter parenting is when a parent is overly intrusive and controlling in the lives of their maturing children.
  • Being involved with your child’s life is a very good thing, but being over involved can make it harder for young adults to transition to adulthood.
  • Experts advise that allowing young adults to make their own decisions and resolve their own conflicts helps them develop important life skills.

The media has been talking about “helicopter parenting” for a long time, but until recently there hasn’t been a lot of research on it. In the past year, studies published in the Journal of Adolescence, Journal of Marriage and Family, and Social Spectrum have sought to define exactly what helicopter parenting is. Is it an actual form of parenting or just media hype? What are its effects?

What is Helicopter Parenting?
Helicopter parenting is when a parent is inappropriately intrusive and controlling in the lives of their children, most specifically children who are emerging into adulthood. Although parents are driven by a loving concern for their children’s success, their hyper-presence limits their children’s autonomy. The term comes from these parents’ tendency to hover over their children.

Is it an Actual Form of Parenting?
The study published in the Journal of Adolescence asked 438 students between the ages of 18 to 25 questions to help determine how involved at least one of their parents was in their lives. The questions helped determine to what degree parents intervened in making important decisions, settling disputes, placing limits on their social life, and solving problems with employers, professors, or others. According to the study, helicopter parenting emerged as a form of parental control different from other forms of parenting.

What Are Its Effects?
Studies have found that helicopter parenting doesn’t cause severe behavior problems, but that it can make it harder for young adults to transition to adulthood. They found that children of helicopter parents:

  •  Were less engaged in school.
  •  Didn’t have a well-developed sense of identity.
  •  Sometimes suffered from poor psychological well-being (reporting increased usage of medication for anxiety and depression and recreational use of pain pills).

Helicopter parenting seems to have an effect on parents too. Parents who felt that their adult children still needed too much support reported being less satisfied with their lives.

How Do You Find Balance?
Each study was careful to explain that being engaged in your child’s life is a very, very good thing. Parental involvement, even during young adulthood, has been shown to be very important to your child’s development. The problem is when parental involvement becomes parental control. Parents can help their children become independent by being there to guide and encourage, but not step in and take over.

The Journal of Adolescence study reports, “It would seem that emerging adults should be personally invested in their own growth and development by solving their own problems with roommates, making their own decisions about employment, and seeking their own help from professors. By not doing so, emerging adults may be robbing themselves of the experiences and practice necessary to develop skills that are essential for success in marriage, careers, and adult social interactions.”

As children grow up and become more capable, it is important to allow them more and more independence in age appropriate ways. By learning from their mistakes and gaining confidence in their abilities while young, children will be prepared to make better choices once the stakes are higher. For example, the consequences of not turning your homework in on time in high school aren’t nearly as serious as not completing assignments at work.

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