Kids resent parents who hover over their every move.

The Dangers of Helicopter Parenting

by Amy M. Armstrong

Helicopter parents are those who simply cannot let go of their children as they begin to grow up. In a misguided effort to "protect" their child, helicopter parents hover over their child's every move and decision. They are obsessed with their child's schooling, safety, extracurricular activities, social life and achievements -- often to the detriment of their own lives and often causing resentment from the same children they sought to protect.

How It Was Termed

The term "helicopter parent" was first coined in 1990 by Jim Fay and Foster Cline, M.D. -- the Colorado Springs duo promoting the "Love and Logic" method for raising children. The description of a parent as a helicopter first appeared in the 1969 book, "Between Parent and Teenager" by Dr. Haim G. Ginnott, a teacher and noted psychologist who developed a series of conversational techniques still in use in today's clinical setting. In the book, an unidentified teen complained about his mother's overprotective behavior, saying, "Mother hovers over me like a helicopter." The term became a media buzzword in the early 2000s as the overprotective behaviors of baby boomer parents found their way to college campuses along with their children and administrators began vehemently complaining about interference from mom and dad.

Effects on Adult Children

The adult children of parents who remain too involved or too controlling often lack confidence in their own ability to manage daily life -- its stressors, scheduling, decision-making and weighing of consequences. This is just one of many disturbing findings published in the February 2013 "Journal of Child and Family Studies," discussing a recent study of college students who reported their parents were too controlling. The study, conducted by Holly Schiffrin, Ph.D., and her research team at the University of Mary Washington, included interviews with 297 undergraduate students studying at various mid-Atlantic public liberal arts colleges ages 18 to 23. Many of the students reported feeling incompetent to make decisions -- let alone the correct decisions -- because their parents continually interfered in the process.

Links to Depression

The Schiffrin study also demonstrated a strong link between feelings of incompetence and depression in adult children. Because they felt less capable in handling daily life, these students also reported feeling depressed regarding this perceived inability. They were more likely to be taking prescription antidepressant medication when compared to other students at the same colleges in the same age category who did not report their parents were too controlling.

Allow Exploration

At the toddler stage, parents who hover too much can potentially limit their youngster's need and ability to do what comes naturally at that age: explore the world around them. A child needs space to explore, as noted by Maureen L. McElroy, M.A., a certified parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program and author of the Washington Parent website. Let toddlers run in an open field with you trailing a bit behind them instead of right alongside, she suggests. Don't pick which toys they will play with, but instead provide a variety of safe choices from which they can select.

Encourage Responsibility

If you as the parent or caregiver are constantly finding your child's shoes, he or she is not going to learn to put them where they can find them. If you are on-call during the school day to bring that forgotten homework assignment to class, your child isn't learning how to take responsibility for their own work. Rescuing kids from these and other similar natural consequences is another danger of helicopter parenting, according to Michele Borba, a child expert and educational consultant who has appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show.

About the Author

Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images