The perils of helicopter parenting: Are you hovering around your child?

Gayatri Vinayak
·5-min read

As the mother of a 1st grader, I am usually around during my child’s online classes in case he needs any assistance. I am also guilty of admonishing him when he starts daydreaming during his lessons, and have even prompted him with an answer during his class’s Q and A sessions. For a person who prides herself for not being overprotective about her child, this is a new me.

From all the messages that are posted on our school’s WhatsApp group about lessons, teachers and how kids are doing in class, I also know that I am, thankfully, not the only one guilty of this. For, while most of us were blissfully unaware of what our kids were doing while in school, except for during parent-teacher sessions, with virtual classes being held in our homes, we are often left with no choice but to be drawn into our children’s day-to-day school lives.

Nurture your child and be there for them, without being overbearing.
Nurture your child and be there for them, without being overbearing.

This also increases the likelihood of a generation turning into helicopter parents who hover around their kids. In fact, a constant complaint that many teachers have, especially with virtual classes, is of parents who insist on sitting right next to their children while sessions are going on, of interrupting the teachers and of prompting their children with answers, if a question is asked. Such is the intense involvement that my child’s school even sent a circular recently informing parents about the dangers of helicopter parenting.

In another viral video titled, “Parents, please be patient with your school teachers who are starting online classes”, Bengaluru-based paediatric surgeon, Dr Robert Antony, speaks about how parents who constantly try to find fault with teachers during online classes, must realise that it is new for them too.

Teachers are trying to adjust to the new normal where they need to manage 40 across different locations while trying to adjust to new technologies – all the while being monitored by parents. Dr Antony adds that despite having 20 years of experience as a surgeon, he still finds it unnerving if a parent asks if they can stay on during their child’s surgery.

How helicopter parenting can harm:

The concept of helicopter parenting is not new. It was first mentioned in 1969 in a book titled Between Parent & Teenager, by school teacher and psychologist Dr Haim Ginott, who wrote about the experience of a teenager who complains about the “mother who hovers around me like a helicopter.” Helicopter parenting is also known by other names – ‘lawnmower parenting’, ‘stealth bomber parenting’ and ‘jet fighter parenting,’ all quite alarming.

The term, which was coined in the 1990s by authors and child psychiatrists Foster Cline and Jim Fay, gained popularity in the United States in the early 2000s as more parents started giving their kids who were away in college wake up calls each morning, and complained to professors about the grades their kids were getting. This style of parenting is emerging in India as well, with increased competition levels and the rise of nuclear families where parents are constantly obsessed with their child’s success.

Helicopter parenting is not all negative, though, it may give children a competitive edge during childhood – a helicopter parent’s child would almost always have their homework done on time, be present for the activities and be less likely to land up in accidents or fights. It is also natural to be more clued in, and concerned about, your child.

However, research shows that by constantly trying to dictate your child’s life and by denying them their independence, you are also denying them the ability to solve their own problems and learn from their mistakes.

A recent survey published in The Age also notes that children whose parents constantly hover around them, often grow up to be narcissistic. The survey says that such parents tend to indulge in developmentally inappropriate tactics, often throughout a child’s growing years and even after they reach college going age.

In another study conducted with children and their parents in a laboratory setting, children were encouraged to complete as many puzzles as they could in 10 minutes. The puzzles were designed to mimic the often tedious task of completing homework and assignments. While parents were allowed to assist their children, they were not encouraged to do so.

The results of the study showed that parents of children with social anxiety tended to interfere in their child’s activities even when the child did not seek any help. This, in the long run, could threaten a child’s self-confidence and ability to complete tasks by themselves, and could further increase anxiety.

Research has shown that college-going children of parents who are rigid, overprotecting and overbearing are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. They could face academic difficulties as well. Studies also show that such children could resort to using medication or drugs to counter discomfort or pain since they have been shielded from pain throughout their childhood.

Another study conducted at the University of Colorado suggests that children of helicopter parents are often less likely to possess the motivation to succeed when they grow up.

How to be a balanced parent

Parenting is a subjective topic, as each parent has a unique style of raising their children. However, studies reveal that the best style of parenting is a moderate or authoritative one, where parents show love, warmth towards their children and nurture them. However, such parents also ensure that they discipline their children, explain rules and abide by them. They enforce reasonable and consistent disciplinarian actions for breaking rules.

It is fine to allow your child to deal with challenges, make mistakes and learn from them. Allow them to figure out their own way through the day to day challenges such as doing their homework, getting them involved in household chores and decisions. Also, let go of the tendency of pacifying your child the moment they start crying or throwing a tantrum. Let them know it is ok to cry and find other ways of engaging their energy if they start behaving aggressively.

Just like we did when they were babies learning to walk, we need to continue holding their hands as they grow up, but also give them the confidence and space to fall, get up and try again. At the end of the day, the child is trying to figure things out in this big world, which has just got more complicated with the pandemic.