Overview Of The Issue Of 'Helicopter Parents'
A current issue in the placement setting is the emerging prevalence of over-parenting, also known as ‘helicopter parenting’. The following essay will define and describe helicopter-parenting, the ramifications that this parenting style has on childrens’ development and what schools and the profession of psychology can do to address this issue.
The term ‘helicopter parenting’ refers to a parenting style whereby parents ‘hover’ over their children, constantly overseeing every aspect of their life. It refers to the provision of developmentally inappropriate levels of support to children who could manage tasks on their own (Munich & Munich, 2009). The metaphor was first mentioned in child psychotherapist Dr. Haim Ginnott’s (1969) book Parents & Teenagers, by teenagers who claimed that their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. Cline and Fay (1990) first coined the term ‘helicopter parenting’ in their book Parenting with Love and Logic in response to the overwhelming number of parents of prospective students involving themselves in the college admission process in the early 1990’s.
Through her research, clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind (1971) developed a parenting style framework, in which parents fell along a continuum of ‘responsiveness’ and ‘demandingness’. Based upon where these parents were high/low on this continuum they could be categorised as having one of four parenting styles:
- Authoritative – Parents give children reasonable freedom and love but also have defined expectations and rules.
- Authoritarian – A demanding style of parenting where rules are non-negotiable and parents can appear to be inflexible, rigid and cold.
- Permissive – A non-directive style of parenting where children are given total freedom but little discipline.
- Rejecting-neglecting – Parents provide little discipline and little nurturing or love.
- Authoritarian Authoritative
- Un-responsive Responsive
- Neglectful-rejecting Permissive
Helicopter parenting does not perfectly fit into one of Baumrind’s (1971) categories, but may possess characteristics along each spectrum. For example, a helicopter parent may be permissive (ensures that the child gets what he/she wants) but could also be authoritarian (ensures that the child gets what the parent wants) (Strauss, 2019). Either way, the child has limited opportunities to fend for itself.
What Constitutes Helicopter Parenting?
Luebbe et al., (2016) conducted a large study with 377 university students in order to systemically define the elements of helicopter parenting. The study found that helicopter parenting comprises of three components:
Information seeking behaviours involve knowing their child’s daily schedule and whereabouts at all times, assisting them in making decisions and being informed and updated about school grades.
Direct intervention refers to intervening in their child’s relationships including solving disputes with friends, partners, and even bosses.
Autonomy limiting is when a student believes that their parent is preventing them from making their own mistakes, structures their life for them and fails to support their independent choices.
What does Helicopter Parenting Look Like?
A survey of 128 Australian school counsellors and psychologists revealed what they considered to be common examples of over parenting that they had witnessed in their profession (Locke, Campbell & Kavanagh, 2012). Some examples include:
- Constant badgering of the school. A campaign to the school to make sure their child is in a specific class the following year.
- A mother who won’t let her 17-year-old son catch the train to school.
- Parents don’t want their children to experience the consequence of their actions. The parents blame everyone else. The parents fight for the child to have what they want rather than tough it out and face the consequences.
- Confronting teachers about their child’s assignment or homework — making excuses, demanding concessions, even though clearly the student has not had any serious health or family situation preventing the work being completed.
- Taking the child’s perception as the truth, regardless of the facts. Parents are quick to believe their child over the adult and deny the possibility that their child was at fault or would even do something of that nature.
Why do Parents Helicopter Parent?
It is important to understand that helicopter parenting generally comes with good intentions and is a loving but misguided attempt to improve a child’s current and future personal and academic success (Locke et al., 2012). Some research indicates that economic pressures are to blame for parents over-involvement in their children’s lives, arguing that financial insecurity and competitive job hunting drive parents to be over-involved (Doepke & Zilibotti, 2019). Indeed, research has found a positive correlation between over-parenting and parental anxiety, suggesting that it is parents own anxiety that drives them to provide the best for the children (Strang, 2014).
The Ramifications of Helicopter Parenting
Research has found helicopter parenting to be associated with maladaptive outcomes on child development. A study conducted by Perry, Dollar, Calkins, Keane & Shanahan (2018) examined the parenting and behaviour of 422 children and their parents at ages two, five and ten. The study found that helicopter parenting at the age of two was associated with bad behaviour and poor emotional regulation by the time the child turned five. On the contrary, the children who had better emotional regulation skills at five were said to have better social skills and had an easier time adjusting to the demands of pre-adolescent school environments. Overall, the research concluded that helicopter parenting hinders children from being able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, particularly navigating the complex school environment.
A social and emotional wellbeing survey of more than 60,000 Australian students found that they have increased stress, worries and less confidence compared to 15 years ago (Bernard & Stephanou, 2018). Educational Psychologist Michael Bernard from the University of Melbourne reports that helicopter parents can exacerbate this issue, and that an increasing number of young people lack resilience to cope with the day-to-day pressures of life (Urban, 2018). Professor Bernard reports that students are unable to cope with pressure, such as NAPLAN tests, because parents tend to helicopter (Urban, 2018). He also reports that over-involved parents try to do everything for their children and take on too much responsibility on their behalf, and as a result children lack confidence.
Helicopter parenting has also been found to be associated with low self‐efficacy, alienation from peers, and a lack of trust among peers (Van Ingen et al., 2015). Other research has found that helicopter parenting leads to higher levels of narcissism and more ineffective coping skills (including internalising and distancing), which lead to higher levels of anxiety and stress in young adult children (Segrin, Woszidlo, Givertz & Montgomery, 2013).
What can Schools do about Helicopter Parenting?
Schools are dealing with more helicopter parents than ever before, and the implications it is having on students’ social and emotional wellbeing is not good (Majdandžić et al, 2018). Schools have found themselves in the position where they have to set boundaries and limits for over-involved parents. For example, one elementary school in the United States had to ban parents from visiting their children at lunchtime as they wanted to check how they were faring throughout the day and even help them open their milk cartons (Melia, 2018). Another school in NSW had parents sign a document agreeing to limit their contact with teachers, following a staggering rise of unwanted and extreme contact from parents (Smith, 2019).
It is clear that schools need to inform, educate and support parents in dealing with this issue. Indeed, most parents just want the best for their children, but they are often misguided on what that is and how to achieve it. Therefore, it would be worthwhile for school personnel including leadership, teachers and wellbeing to provide information sessions to parents to address this issue. Some important topics to cover should include:
Understand the Parent’s Motivation Behind their Behaviour
Allow parents to express their concerns and discuss what is driving their behaviour. It is likely that the parent truly believes that they are helping their child and have genuine fears or anxieties regarding their child’s behaviour and/or development.
Discuss Developmentally Appropriate Behaviour
Provide parents with information about what is expected of their child academically, behaviourally and socially. Parents may be overly concerned about friendship conflicts, ‘telling tales’, not eating all of their lunch etc. but these may all be normal and developmentally appropriate issues (Evely & Ganim, 2011).
The Effects of Helicopter Parenting
Provide evidence and research on the effects of helicopter parenting. Sensitively highlight that over-parenting can lead to poor emotional and mental health outcomes for children. Ensure that this is done in a non-accusatory manner, as it is likely that many parents will not know that their behaviour is actually hurting their child.
Teachers must be clear about their availability and when/how they prefer to be contacted by parents. Have teachers set clear boundaries on what is and is not appropriate parental behaviour (i.e. it is ok for parents to be involved in classroom activities but not ok for parents to confront other students about friendship issues etc.).
How to foster independence in children
Teach parents different strategies to help their child become more independent. For example, the 4, 3, 2, 1 Go method can be used to help teach a child a new skill (Lythcott-Haims, 2015).
- Step 1- You do it for them
- Step 2 – You do it with them
- Step 3 – You watch them do it
- Step 4 – They can do it independently
It is important for schools to avoid becoming defensive when delivering these information sessions. Parents need to feel as if they are part of a team working with the school. These information sessions should be delivered in a sensitive manner and serve as an opportunity for parents to express their concerns and become informed and educated on the issue.
In summary, helicopter parenting is becoming more prevalent in today’s society and the effects of this parenting style are negatively impacting young Australian students. It is important for psychologists and school personnel to work collaboratively with parents to address this issue and support them in navigating the complex world of parenting in today’s climate.
- Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental psychology, 4(1, pt.2), 1-103.
- Bernard, M. E., & Stephanou, A. (2018). Ecological Levels of Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Young People. Child Indicators Research, 11(2), 661-679.
- Cline, F., & Fay, J. (1990). Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press.
- Doepke, M. & Zilibotti, F. (2019). Love, money, and parenting: How economics explains the way we raise our kids. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
- Evely, M., & Ganim, Z. (2011). Helicopter parents. Psych4Schools. Retrieved from https://www.psych4schools.com.au/free-resources/helicopter-parents/
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- Luebbe, A. M., Mancini, K. J., Kiel, E. J., Spangler, B. R., Semlak, J. L., & Fussner, L. M. (2016). Dimensionality of Helicopter Parenting and Relations to Emotional, Decision-Making, and Academic Functioning in Emerging Adults. Assessment, 1-17
- Lythcott-Haims, J. (2015). How to raise an adult: Break free of the overparenting trap and prepare your kid for success. Henry Holt and Company.
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- Melia, M. (2018). ‘A punch in the gut’: So many ‘helicopter’ parents were hovering in school cafeterias one town banned lunch visits. National Post. Retrieved from https://nationalpost.com/life/should-parents-be-banned-from-visiting-school-lunchrooms
- Munich, R. L., & Munich, M. A. (2009). Overparenting and the narcissistic pursuit of attachment. Psychiatric Annals, 39(4), 227-235.
- Perry, N. B., Dollar, J. M., Calkins, S. D., Keane, S. P., & Shanahan, L. (2018). Childhood self-regulation as a mechanism through which early overcontrolling parenting is associated with adjustment in preadolescence. Developmental psychology, 54(8), 1542.
- Segrin, C., Woszidlo, A., Givertz, M., & Montgomery, N. (2013). Parent and child traits associated with overparenting. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(6), 569-595.
- Smith, C. (2019). Helicopter parents stalking and bullying teachers. news.com.au. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/school-life/helicopter-parents-stalking-and-bullying-teachers/news-story/e588c91fd4e46a051998a96329d833c2?from=rss-basic
- Strang, K. R. (2014). The Relationship Between Overparenting, Parenting Style, and Anxiety in Parents of School-aged Children. (Dissertation). The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/2529fd4da6781799e9cb87a918fe3167/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y
- Strauss, E. (2019). How to know whether you’re a ‘helicopter parent’ and why it matters. CNN health. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/22/health/helicopter-parenting-strauss/index.html
- Urban, R. (2018). Students’ stress levels up and confidence down. The Australian. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/education/students-stress-levels-up-and-confidence-down/news-story/7490651538721ba426314685f56ec3c1
- Van Ingen, D. J., Freiheit, S. R., Steinfeldt, J. A., Moore, L. L., Wimer, D. J., Knutt, A. D., … & Roberts, A. (2015). Helicopter parenting: The effect of an overbearing caregiving style on peer attachment and self‐efficacy. Journal of College Counseling, 18(1), 7-20.
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