Is helicopter parenting harmful to children?

Childhood and young adulthood nowadays, is often characterised by parents being fraught with danger.

Young adults are no longer allowed to spend time with friends unsupervised, or hang around in groups without supervision and children’s spare time is often eaten up by homework or organised activity.

These kind of parents are commonly known as “helicopter parents”, a term which means a style of parents who are overly attentive to their children.

The term was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter; the term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011.

Although mostly used for parents with young adults, helicopter parenting applies at any age- parents of high school or college-aged students who do tasks their child is capable of doing alone or parents of a toddler always directing their behavior allowing them zero time alone to explore and learn on their own.

According to researchers and psychologists, this kind of parenting is steadily taking the independence of young adults, a great leap backwards.

Not only do children have an issue with where they can play, who they can talk to and what they should and shouldn’t be doing, but the internet, for young adults has opened up a whole new set of problems that parents must try and police.

So why do so many seemingly sane people get over-involved with their kids?

According to Jackeline Iringaniza, a counsellor, helicopter parenting develops for a number of reasons, including the fear of dire consequences and peer pressure from other parents.

Poor grades can appear devastating for a parent, especially if they think that it can be avoided if the parents got involved.

Parents tend to try to prevent the “consequences” such as depression, not excelling in life and it just feels like the right thing to do for them and sometimes the child,” she says.

She adds that guilt is a large contributor because when some parents see other helicopter parents it sometimes triggers a similar response and they tend to feel that if they don’t immerse themselves into their children’s lives then it makes them feel like they are bad parents.

She also adds that unlike helicopter parents, authoritative parents persuade their children to do what’s good for them and encourage independence, rather than insist on strict obedience to their instructions.

“This type of controlling parenting seems to be increasing as explained by more young adults living at home and so are more inclined to their parents. This has slowed their growth process,” she says.

Eduige Kayitana, a mother of two teenage girls says that it’s painful for any parent to watch their child mess up, or not achieve their goals. However, she says, the stakes for millennial parents are increasingly getting higher.

“My kids are teenagers so I have a lot to learn about parenting. I was a teenager myself at some point and I can’t help but think that if you feel the need to monitor your teen’s social life then maybe you have bigger things to worry about than what they do on social media.

If you get to a point in parenthood where you feel like 24-hour surveillance is necessary, maybe you need to figure out a better way to communicate with your child.

They could be more independent if we learned to respect our children and their decisions and constantly let them know that we wouldn’t feel the need to stalk them and embarrass them with our ridiculous need to know every single thing that goes on in their lives,” she says.

For Iringaniza, regardless, whether over-parenting comes from too much love or the need to see yourself in your children, it is not the best way to parent.

“Children readily pick up on a parent’s anxiety which can result into poor social and coping skills, and cause them to be dependent on their parents, even in adult life because they have never had the chance to make friends, sort things out for themselves, face failure and learn from it, or even find their own employment, and so they tend to be entitled to privileges.”

She insists that helicopter parenting backfires by creating a generation of stressed-out kids who can’t function alone as parents find themselves panicking or feeling guilty.

“Heightened parental involvement in the lives of their children obviously stems from love, unquestionably a good thing. However, excessive parenting for young adults can have a huge toll on them as it tends to exceed what the children developmentally want or need,” she says.

So how can a parent love and care for their children without inhibiting their ability to learn important life skills?

John Kalimba, a father of three, says that today’s parents prefer to “helicopter” other than the “free range” parenting because it works for them, given the changing lifestyle.

“Free time for children is not always productive. Thinking of our own childhoods and teenage lifestyle, parents had nothing to worry about since we used our time for creative discovery and play and not just the internet or TV,” he says.

He however believes that the best way for parents is to allow their children make mistakes and learn from them, since a parent’s excessive intervention lessens their confidence in being able to deal with it or with life’s struggles in general.

“Parents raising young adults should only help them when they ask for their help as opposed to always jumping in. Each child is different and so is every parent and although we know loving and attentive parents have resilient children, they can enjoy parenthood by giving their children the freedom that they need.

If you want to monitor your kid’s behavior without seeming intrusive, be honest about what you’re doing and why. Explain to them that your rules are for their safety and protection since it’s a parents’ job to make sure kids are using their social life is appropriate and suitable for their age,” he says.