By now, everyone is familiar with the term Helicopter Parent. The term was coined in a book for parents of teens written in 1969 but, did not become popular until around 2011, when new problematic behaviors and mental issues began to rise in young college students. Professors were getting increasingly more calls and complaints by parents about their child’s academic performance. Students seemed to know themselves less and struggle more with their academic and career decisions. When students were asked what they wanted to do with their life, their responses often began with “My parents want…”. Parents were giving daily wake-up calls and tracking their college student’s location by smart phone. Worst of all, students were reporting more anxiety, loneliness, less confidence, and more entitlement.
I can imagine most of my readers do not believe they are a Helicopter Parent. Let me first say, Helicopter Parents are well-meaning, caring, and involved parents. But, they have somewhere along the way lost sight of the ultimate goal of raising an independent, problem-solver who is internally motivated to live responsibly. Instead, parents want to do whatever it takes to give protection, success, and a life of ease to their child. I feel the temptation. It’s real and alive today. Maybe this is due to the media and outbreak of fear since 9/11. My daughter began college in August and I have been forced to think of sex traffickers on campus. Danger seems to be everywhere! I have also read it is due to Generation Xers trying to overcompensate for what they did not receive in their own childhood. It is even further perpetuated by other Helicopter Parents making their fellow parents and friends feel like they are behind or not doing enough. Among parents, it’s practically contagious!
Whatever the reason for helicoptering, it is resulting in some deficiencies in our children’s development and even, at times, causing mental distress. Research article on top of research article correlate higher frequencies of depression in children whose parents hover. Teens frequently complain to counselors and teachers about the tremendous pressure they feel from their parents regarding their academic performance or the extracurricular activities and schedule they are forced to keep. The micro-management of parents leave them emotionally stifled, rendering them helpless, under-confident in their decision-making, and passive, lacking the assertiveness to speak for themselves or ask for what they need. You can imagine when your own parents negate your desires, feelings, and needs, you would eventually give up asking.
Although not extreme, I believe I was a Helicopter Parent until 4 years ago. A combination of fear and parent peer pressure were at the root of it. You may still be unsure about yourself. After all, you are not waking up your college student each morning, right? To be certain, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your child over-scheduled?
- Do you ever do your child’s homework, school/job applications, or projects?
- Do you take credit for your child’s accomplishments or shortcomings?
- Do you drop off forgotten lunches, books, or assignments to school?
- Are you overly critical? You correct, teach, remind, and lecture more than you converse for enjoyment with your child.
- Do you make choices regarding extracurricular activities or sports for your child, believing you know better for them than they do?
- Do you follow your child either physically or electronically (and they have not given you reasons to mistrust them)?
- Are your rules created out of fear and increasing in the teen years instead of getting more loose and relaxed?
- Do you read all your child’s texts and attempt to navigate or interfere in their social relationships?
These are all characteristics of the Helicopter Parent. We will all be guilty of helicopter parenting at some point and, guilty of a too lenient attitude at another. I must also add a disclaimer that there are times when we must be our child’s advocate and children who have learning disabilities or developmental delays may need more support than the typical child. But, for most of us, we wonder how we can be a GOOD parent if we are not doing any of the things listed above? It is found in striving for a balance. We can be mindful and conscientious of when to step in and interfere and when to let our child struggle. Struggles and challenges cannot be seen as negative or something to be avoided. Our generation has done well in recognizing the need for a healthy self-esteem but, we have failed to see that it is only strengthened by overcoming obstacles. Our children need to build resiliency. They need to know they can pull themselves out of hard places.
I recommend striving towards being a Lighthouse Parent. I first heard this term in an article by Tim Elmore in an issue of Focus on the Family.
A Lighthouse Parent …
- Checks in and communicates often (not out of authority or suspicion)
- Doesn’t chase down to enforce rules (the rules or law is there and if broken, has consequences)
- Gives wisdom (light) and guidance (but doesn’t make the choices for them)
Think of the lighthouse and its function. It stays in one location and is a beacon of light and guidance to the ships around it. The lighthouse warns ships of danger but, it doesn’t chase the ships down or rescue them. We can be plugged in, connected, and care for our children without running constant interference or micro-managing them.
God reminds us to count it joy when we experience all kinds of trials, for this kind of testing produces endurance. We are then encouraged to allow that endurance to have its FULL effect (James 1:2-4). Allow your kids to experience the full effect; the full growth that results from learning a lesson by their own hardships, experiences, and consequences. Be a Lighthouse Parent. You may actually count it as joy also! I personally know that four years ago I felt that sweet relief that only letting go and trusting God can give.
(Stay tuned for Part II of this blog where I discuss how to decide when to get involved and take action and when to pray and hang tight.)