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The downside of helicopter parenting

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The other day, I went Internet exploring about the dos and don’ts of parenting prompted by a scene I witnessed at a seven-year-old kid’s drop-off birthday party. Not all invitees were seven, however. Two were younger and two were older—all either neighbors or relatives.

Anyway, the party took place in a school gym and was supervised by a pro who set the rules/limits before game play began. Immediately afterward, the kids happily bounded about, tossing balls, shooting baskets, and relay racing, all under the watchful eye of said pro--and the one mom who chose to stick around for her six- and nine-year-old.

No one misbehaved; no one was left out, and, as they say, fun was being had by all. Everyone except that mom, that is. With jaw set, she patrolled the sidelines, ensuring that her two always got a turn and then admonishing them to make baskets, run faster, and jump higher. At cake time, she limited what went on their plates and ignored their pleas for more. She never took her eyes off them, except for the times she tried to quiet all the other little boys. The hostess was speechless.

As said, that party prompted me to delve into over-parenting. The first thing I learned is that helicoptering is nothing new. Indeed, the term was first coined by Haim Ginott in his book, Between Parent and Teenager. It took the current crop of parents, though, to take it mainstream and make its way into the dictionary; that was about three years ago.

And, as well-intentioned as it may be, that doesn’t make all the hovering, rescuing, excusing, and doing for our children a noble pursuit. Indeed, child and family psychologist Kim Painter, PhD. finds that over-parenting can have a negative impact on kids, such as:

  • Deflated self-esteem
  • Difficulty problem-solving
  • Dependency
  • Irresponsible Behavior
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Self-centeredness
  • Neediness
  • Lack of resiliency and persistence

Says Dr. Painter: “Helicopter parents like to make sure everything is fair, that everyone gets a turn, and that no one’s feelings are hurt [but] this is not reflective of real life and denies children the opportunity to learn about these issues in small doses when they are young. Ultimately, play is child’s work. It’s where children learn many of the life skills needed to succeed. Life can certainly be happy and fun, but it can also include struggle and disappointment. There is important learning in all of these experiences.”

The upshot of all this intensive parenting, in other words, is kids growing up having trouble standing on their own two feet and dealing with distress, frustration, and failure. Think Peter Pan living in a parent-patrolled Neverland.

Indeed, many parents hang on to the reins even at the college level with daily calls and texts--and many even registering complaints about roommates, grades, unfair assignments, and so on. From there, it’s on to their kids’ job searches, as evidenced by a Michigan State University survey of 700 employers who were in the process of hiring recent grads:

  • 40% reported parents had obtained information about their company;
  • 31% reported parents had submitted their son’s or daughter’s resume;
  • 17% reported parents had attended a career fair;
  • 9% reported parents had negotiated salary and benefits;
  • 4% reported parents attending the job interview.

The end result? A University of Mary Washington study led by associate psychology professor Holly Schiffin found that “… Helicopter parenting decreased adult children’s feelings of autonomy, competence and connection. In turn, feeling incompetent led to increased reports of feeling depressed and dissatisfied.”

Said Schiffrin, “These parents have the best intentions. They are being involved to help their child be successful. But as we know from the previous study, that high level of involvement is stressful for parents and it is not benefiting the kids. It’s actually harmful.”

And that’s the bottom line.

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