So much is heard nowadays about Helicopter parents; those who are intent on micromanaging their children. But what are helicopter parents and does it really matter what style of parenting you adopt so long as you love your offspring and bring them up to be respectful and responsible adults.
Helicopter parenting is a colloquialism generally referring to parents that hover too much and control almost every aspect of their child’s life. Recently, media reports have concentrated on studies who have found positive correlations in 18 – 23 year olds between the intense, hands on parenting approach that is said to undermine children and lead to higher levels of depression and decreased satisfaction.
The controlling dictate of helicopter parenting has been said to increase levels of anxiety in children and result in emerging adults that are depressed according to the children interviewed who felt they had less autonomy in their lives.
But is it all bad?
Another report in Psychology Today (23 Feb 2013) reported on a study carried out by Fingerman et al (2012) found that “the children whose parents provided them with intense support experienced better outcomes. Helicoptered children actually had higher life satisfaction and more clearly defined goals. However, helicoptering parents had many self-doubts as indicated by their lower life satisfaction.”
So interestingly a disparity has arisen between the two but the question remains unanswered as to why. Critically then, this exemplifies the veracity of clearly evaluating the way we parent and the likely outcomes that our parenting style may have. Parenting is longitudinal by nature – it doesn’t stop when a child becomes 18 and it certainly doesn’t need to be seen as fixed. It should also be a process of letting go not holding on for dear life! Just because one style of parenting suits at one stage in a child’s development doesn’t mean that we are enslaved to that approach for eternity. By being objectively critical of own approaches and tweaking them on route to ensure that child-centered parenting is embraced along the way, maybe there is a way to be involved in our children’s lives (particularly as the progress through the teens and into early adulthood) without swamping and suppressing them.
Maybe the key is to have that helicopter for when it’s needed but to keep it on the ground at times when it is not. This is particularly the case for older children. As children progress through their teenage years they need to be encouraged towards independence. They need to be challenged to make their own decisions and essentially to take responsibility for their decisions. That isn’t to say they should be left on their own, but more so be encouraged to explore the options, to regulate their own behaviour and to learn the consequences of the options that they chose to take.
Naturally there are going to be times when that Helicopter is needed, but, even then, as our children move towards adulthood, we need to challenge ourselves as to why it is hovering – is it hovering with egotistic intent or world-centricity. Is it that we have dashed to the cockpit because we are scared the teenager can’t cope etc or is it that we have hovered at a distance only coming to the rescue if we are genuinely needed.
Essentially are we bringing up our children to make their own choices free from the “well I would do it this way” or “I think you should do this” or “when I was young I did”…. As children grow older they need to think about the way they want to do something based on all the information that is available to them and to evaluate the consequences of each action and most importantly sometimes they need to be allowed to make their own mistakes.
Helicopter parenting should maybe, therefore, more like the air, sea and rescue service – only going on in dire emergencies but always being on standby if genuinely needed.
The thing is that if we have bought our children up with values and standards that promote autonomy, have instilled a sense of respect and responsibility into them at a younger age, as they emerge from the adolescent years they will know themselves – they will know what they can do and not be scared to ask for help when they need it. They essentially will be free to make their own decisions firm in the knowledge that their autonomy will be embraced because specifically they will trust their own instincts and most importantly we will trust them because we know that we trust ourselves!