It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s YOU… the Helicopter Parent!

We have all heard the term “helicopter parenting.” Outwardly, we declare we would never hover over our children and that we give them the power to work through their own struggles. Inwardly, we blush in embarrassment because we know we can be a hovering parent, maybe overly so. “But… but… we have good reasons! We are helping our child! We are saving them from frustration, heartache and… failure.” {Gasp!}

What if your child’s teacher did all the work for him and gave him good grades anyway? He sure would look good on paper, right? What would you think? Most, if not all, of us would be aghast. How could a teacher deprive a child of valuable learning experiences? He won’t learn if the teacher just gives him the grade without the child producing any work!

Here’s the real deal, folks… Many parents are doing just that: depriving their children of valuable learning experiences each and every day. A multitude of research has shown how crippling helicopter parenting can be to children if parents continually deprive children of learning opportunities to become fully functional, independent adults. Parents are hovering like a helicopter, ready to swoop down to the rescue instead of encouraging them to solve their own problems. Are there times when a parent should absolutely swoop down? Yes! When life and limb are at stake, absolutely you should assist to prevent a dangerous or deadly consequence. But “rescuing” to prevent discomfort or a short-term negative consequence can be very damaging.

Helicopter Parenting: What is it?

Helicopter parenting seems to be a new term and idea, but it 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. 

Many experts in the field have studied helicopter parenting, written books about it, and many definitions of helicopter parenting abound. It is referred to as to “a style of parents who are over focused on their children,” and other experts simply call it “overparenting” and “being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting.” Current literature even notes the detrimental effects of helicopter parenting with college students.

Some questions to ask yourself include the following: Are you afraid that even if your child were to follow your instructions exactly or do exactly what you did, they would not be able to duplicate what you have accomplished, like they can’t “do it as well as you do” meaning that only you as their parent can structure their situations in such a way that you prevent much of the discomfort or even pain of some life situations? When you ask yourself what should you provide for your child to be successful, do you begin to actually provide everything that you possible can? Many times this will lead to too much help. And then what typically happens is that the hovering parent takes responsibility for their experiences, successes, and failures.

Helicopter Parenting: Who does it?

There are some questions to ask yourself if you think you might have the tendency toward helicopter parenting. But first, let’s talk about hovering in a general sense: Helicopter parenting is sometimes applied to parents of high school or college students, but it is seen with children of other age groups beginning with toddlerhood. When children are very young, some parents may constantly shadow their child, directing his or her behavior, and depriving them of any alone time to make sense of their world on their own. Later, parents cross the line from some homework assistance to outright completion of entire school projects without any input or participation from their children. Finally, once children have gone off to college their parents will directly communicate with professors to argue about poor grades or arrange their class schedule.

Helicopter Parenting: Why do it?

Many parents may find themselves in a helicopter parenting pattern. But why do they hover and micromanage virtually all aspects of their children’s lives from toddlerhood to beyond the college years?

Peer pressure from other parents

The “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality can go beyond the material world. It now includes an unhealthy competitiveness to ensure their children are making better grades, perform better in extracurricular activities, accepted into better schools/colleges, and land better jobs than Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ son or daughter. Another form of pressure many parents may feel is that if they aren’t directing all aspects of their children’s lives and making sure they succeed, they feel like bad parents. The thought of allowing their child to practice making decisions on their own and experiencing natural consequences as a result is abhorrent and unacceptable.


Perhaps some parents feel as though they’ve made some parenting mistakes at some point and then swing to the other extreme by deciding, directing, and doing most everything for their child because it will make it easier for them to succeed and they won’t have to experience disappointment or some other negative emotion. Or maybe they are attempting to provide for their children what they themselves lacked from their own parents.


There are a multitude of stressors and life challenges these days that can cause anyone to hide under a rock or at least shelter their child. Every day in the news there are stories of a downturned economy and the state of the world in general. It is natural to protect our children from true danger or harm, but like a cancer our inclinations can sometimes grow to an extreme level and infringe on areas that actually deprive our children from progressing through the necessary stages into full adulthood.

Fear of dire consequences

It is one thing to rescue our children from situations that are truly dangerous or harmful, but somehow consequences like unhappiness, not excelling, struggling, or failure have become quite “dire” as well. Maybe parents are afraid of what it might do if their child made a low grade or didn’t make the team. These consequences are not life-threatening and are actually an opportunity to grow and develop toward maturity and independence. It seems that movies such as “Rudy” and others that are inspirational have fallen from memory. Movies such as these clearly illustrate values such as perseverance and motivation which shape our character and give us great satisfaction when we achieve something despite great obstacles. Stories like these inspire us and remind us of human characteristics that we value such as hard work and an unwillingness to give up despite obstacles. It is a shame that many parents would rather save their children some discomfort versus allowing a tough experience or outcome reward them internally.

Helicopter Parenting: What’s wrong with it?

There are several unfortunate (and largely unintentional) consequences of helicopter parenting. A fine line exists between being engaged and being enmeshed with our children and their lives. Being engaged means involving ourselves in their activities and supporting them. Being enmeshed means that normal boundaries are blurred and there is an imbalance of responsibility and effort in their activities and in their lives. Understanding what it means to be a helicopter parent versus one who guides and allows for learning and growth can make a significant difference in what is becoming a widespread problem crippling this up and coming generation.

Sense of entitlement

When children grow up having most things done for them or discomfort prevented, they become adults who expect to be “saved” rather than guided in their adult life.

Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem

Parents who direct most aspects of their children’s lives actually create a subconscious mindset in their children that they don’t trust them to solve their own problems and that they are incapable of doing so.

Increased anxiety

Study after study has shown that overparenting is associated with higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety in adulthood than a more balanced parenting approach that allows for more independence in general problem solving of everyday life difficulties. They grow up believing they can handle life’s pressures if mom or dad doesn’t “fix things” for them.

Under-developed coping and life skills

Children of helicopter parents who become adults don’t learn how to cope with frustration, disappointment, or failure. Many don’t master skills such as basic financial management, communication to resolve issues (e.g., calling to inquire about a mysterious transaction), and learning organization and time management.