Helicopter parents: Don’t jam your child’s brain

‘Over parenting’ fueled by constant stress on a child to be an achiever and develop competitive aptitude

Dubai: It could evoke images of hyper-kinetic energy patterns and purpose and these could well be the truth too but helicopter parenting has made a big space for itself in the parenting dictionary as a bad practice.

Do you want to know why? Because when parents begin to hover over their children’s every aspect of learning and growth, they could be jamming the levers of their child’s acceleration towards excellence, say experts.

The term “helicopter parent” was first used in 1969 by Dr Haim Ginott in his book “Between Parents and Teenagers”.

It was later added to the dictionary in 2011.

 Some parents often become over-anxious and worry too much about how they can protect the child from all possible failures and dangers, or how they can become perfect parents.

Dr Ann Dunnewold, a licensed American psychologist called this type of parenting “over parenting” and in today’s frenetically paced lifestyles, with the constant stress a child to be an achiever and develop competition aptitude, parental anxiety manifests as need to push for perfectionism in their child and the need to over compensate for their own unmet needs or concede to peer pressure in matters related to children.

The result is that parents err on the side of overcaution.

‘I have the potential to manage on my own’

Dr Deepa Sankar, Clinical Psychologist at NMC Specialty Hospital, says helicopter parenting prevents the child from developing the belief that, “I have the potential to manage on my own”.

According to Dr Sankar, parenting practices around the world share three major goals: ensuring children’s health and safety, preparing children for life as productive adults and transmitting cultural values. 

“A high-quality parent-child relationship is critical for healthy development,” she said.

“Parental involvement is related to many positive child outcomes, but if not developmentally appropriate, it can be associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.”

Parents often become over anxious and worry too much about how they can protect the child from all possible failure and dangers or how they can become perfect parents, but then they end up over controlling, over involving and over protecting their children, says Dr Sankar.

Study on kids of helicopter parents

Referring to an eight-year study in the US by Nicole B. Perry on two year to 10 year-old children on the effects of over controlling parents on adjustment in preadolescence, Dr Sankar said the study found that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment.

“This type of parenting can compromise children’s autonomy and personal growth leading to underdeveloped coping and life skills, increased anxiety, low self-confidence and low self-esteem,” said Dr Sankar.

Children of over controlling parents tend to rely on others for guidance, and  lack of belief in their ability to manage themselves in challenging situations, she added.

“It also hampers the child’s ability to learn appropriate strategies to manage emotional or socially challenging situations in an independent way.”

Another study done on 297 college students found that helicopter-parented students experienced lower levels of self-efficacy and poorer college adjustment.

They also experienced more anxiety and depression while in college than students who didn’t grow up under a helicopter parenting style.

Over parenting vs Quality Parenting

The hovering parents’ attitude strikes at the root of a child’s mental and cognitive development. When they intervene before the child attempts even can attempt to regulate his or her emotion or behaviour means that the child is not getting an opportunity to deal with the situation on their own.

In contrast, quality parenting provides guidance but not precise instructions on how to solve an academic or personal problem.

For example, there is a problem and the child needs to tackle it. Helicopter parets will come up with solutions right away.

Quality parenting, on the other hand, will prod the child with questions that will elicit various possible solutions from the child, not from the parents.

This approach also helps in the child see the pros and cons of different solutions. “This makes the child self-reliant and confident,” says Dr Sankar.

“This equips the child to make decisions on their own, gives them space to manage difficult situations and emotions independently and guides them when the task becomes too difficult to manage on their own,” she explained.

Dr Sankar stressed that parental responses have to be developmentally appropriate.

“Each developmental stage needs different levels of involvement from the parent. Parental reactions that are appropriate at toddlerhood become inappropriate in pre-adolescence,” she added. “As the child grows they no longer need the same kind of parental involvement they used to get before.”

Also, as children transition to adolescence, parents should be aware of this transition and be mindful about handling children differently.  “Not providing a solution to your child does not mean that you are neglecting your child.  On the other hand, if your child has not developed frustration tolerance, they may perceive life as stressful when they need to accept limitations that are normal for adult life,” she explained.

 Frustration tolerance is the ability of a child to wait for the things that are attainable and also realise that some things will not be attainable at that moment and that they must wait.

What is frustration tolerance?

It’s the ability of a child to wait for the things that are attainable and also realise that some things will not be attainable at that moment and that they must wait for them.

Frustration tolerance builds resilience and helps a child deal with life in a more resposible way as an adult. Call it their boot camp for a better future.

At the same time, Dr Sankar says that parents need to be aware of their vulnerabilities which may come in the way while bringing up self-confident children.

“They need to allow children to sometimes struggle and fail as well as face some amount of frustration. However, when they need help, support them.”


What parents say:

Pranay Sharma, Indian, father of two:

Pranay Sharma with his wife and children.

Don’t hover around your kids

“There are times when my wife and I have to guide my child and take control over his decisions, but this is because he is only four years old. Our other child is only five months old.

Generally speaking, our belief is that whenever our children take decisions as they grow up, even if the decisions are wrong, it’s an opportunity for them to learn from the experience. However, there are some areas we won’t take a chance with, for example, when they have to take a decision in a dangerous situation.  Then, we have to step in and protect them.

“We will prefer to guide them rather than tell them what to do as it will build their self-confidence and help them develop coping skills. I believe in this style of parenting because my parents followed the same.

“They gave me the freedom to take my decisions, even if they knew some of them were wrong. My cousin, on the other hand, had an  over-protective upbringing and they were in full control of even his choice of education.

“When he grew up, he found it difficult to take tough decisions.”

Rayan Carayap, Filipino, father of 3, ages between 3-10 years:

Rayan Carayap

‘I want them to be independent’

“I’ve never been very overprotective or overinvolved with my children because I want them to grow up feeling independent and able to do things on their own. I make sure to give them the options.

“Helicopter parenting is not the right style of parenting because it doesn’t give children the freedom to explore the world or their abilities. Giving direction when they ask for it is different than instructing them on what to do all the time.

“I discuss the pros and cons of a certain issue and then allow them to look for their own solution. If it turns out to be wrong, they can learn from their mistakes.”


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