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Landing the Helicopter of Hovering Parents

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Landing the Helicopter of Hovering Parents

“Even though Knight's twin daughters, Symphony and Kymberlee, are 19 and attending college, Knight remains deeply involved in their day-to-day lives…For example, by her count she and Symphony spoke on the phone 144 times in January, though she notes her daughter did most of the calling” (Aucoin 1). Unfortunately, this type of codependency is extremely common in young adults, who have helicopter parents. Helicopter parenting, also known as over-parenting, is when parents constantly “hover” over their children by invading their privacy and not letting them solve their own problems. This term has most recently been applied to Baby Boomer parents whose offspring are in the Millennial Generation. These parents grew up in a time when having many children was common, but now live in an age where people have fewer kids. Therefore, they have more time to invest in each child’s safety and success. Helicopter parents are especially involved in their child’s school work, often times doing most of the work for their children and disputing grades with teachers, even as their children move on to college. Beginning to become more common in the ‘60s and ‘70s, helicopter parenting is a result of marrying and reproducing later in life, both parents working long hours, and the fear and insecurity of their child failing. New technology has also stimulated the growth in the number of helicopter parents by making it easier for parents to track their children and check to see who they have been talking to and what they have been doing. “But even up to age 17, 43 percent of parents are checking their kids’ phones, and over a third, 35 percent, are doing it without their kid’s knowledge” (Koetsier 1). Although some children do not mind and, in fact, welcome and encourage their overly attached parents, helicopter parenting can lead to several major devastating consequences. While most helicopter parents believe that closely watching over their child is protecting them, they actually tend to do more harm than good by causing damaging psychological effects on children such as hindering their child’s mental growth and self-esteem, compromising their child’s success in the future, and causing their child to engage in risk-taking behavior.

        Overprotective parents send the message that their children cannot handle life’s challenges on their own, which leads to a lack of self-confidence, anxiety, and greater risk for psychological issues. “For young women, helicopter parenting predicted lower psychological well-being. They were less optimistic, felt less satisfaction with accomplishments, and were not looking forward to things with enjoyment, nor feeling hopeful” (“Mental Health; Male Versus female college students react differently to helicopter parenting, study finds” 1). These children may feel that if their parents do not trust them with the freedom to make mistakes and tackle problems on their own, then they may not have the ability to succeed in life without the continued guidance of their parents. A child with a helicopter parent usually protects themselves from a fear of failure by not taking chances or trying new things. Parents who allow children to cope with day-to-day stressors, but who offer emotional and practical support, help their child to develop resilience and strategies for coping. Overprotective parents who take responsibilities away from their child, even as they enter college, increase the risk of childhood anxiety disorders developing. These children will begin to feel lonely, sad and unworthy even though they have a lot of support from their parents. “In a 2013 survey of college counseling center directors, 95 percent said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus, 70 percent said that the number of students on their campus with severe psychological problems has increased in the past year, and they reported that 24.5 percent of their student clients were taking psychotropic drugs” (Lythcott-Haims 2).  This increase in mental health problems may reflect the lengths to which parents push kids towards athletic and academic achievement. When these young adults arrive at college and have various new situations they might encounter, they will most likely experience setbacks, due to no life skills, which will feel to them like failure and cause their anxiety and depression.

        Low self-esteem developed during adolescence due to over parenting can have serious consequences in adult-hood, including a child’s ability to support themselves or maintain a stable career in the future. Many studies show that self-esteem is a positive indicator of future earnings, so parents should begin letting their children make their own decisions and learn from the outcomes, and start building the confidence that they will need to succeed emotionally, professionally and financially. Some helicopter parents justify their over-involvement as a means to ensure their child is prepared for the real world. When the children of these overbearing parents get out into the ‘real world’, they realize that they never grew up and do not know how to face problems on their own, which leads to difficulties maintaining a job. When parents are making their child’s decisions or playing a hands-on role in their career development, they are not equipping them with the necessary skills to independently handle conflicts, disappointments or failures – they are equipping them with entitlement issues. “Over-protection makes it nearly impossible for these young people to develop frustration tolerance. Without this important psychological attribute, young people enter the workforce at a great disadvantage” (Sirota 1).  The best way for a child to get the self-esteem they need to achieve success is to work for what they want. This is the only way the child will experience a feeling of true accomplishment that they achieved independently. The lack of the ability to perform essential everyday tasks, will be harmful to a child’s future. Cooking meals, doing laundry, and maintaining good grades will be hard for these children without their parents holding their hands every step of the way. During a job interview, some employers might be turned off by their overly entitled attitude or lack of basic skills. Young people need supportive parents that want to see them become functioning adults and empower them to do and figure things out for themselves.

        Parents themselves may believe that they have a handle on being able to keep their children safe and protected, but, in reality, this can lead to an illusion of control over their children, who may rebel as they grow old older and shatter that illusion. As children reach the teenage years, they often spend greater amounts of time beyond the reach of their parents. This freedom can lead to greater risk-taking behavior such as participating in sexual activities, drinking, or drug abuse. Teens often test the boundaries of their overprotective parents because these children have likely not developed a sense of responsibility for their actions. Many kids have spent their entire lives being sheltered from the media and the activities that their peers participate in. Most students who have experimented with alcohol before they attended college, are less likely to binge-drink as freshman when they are given a substantial amount of freedom. “A teenager growing up in one of the success factories – the exceptional public high school in the fancy zip code, the prestigious private school – will oftentimes be a person whose life is composed of extremes… extreme studying, extreme athletics, extreme extracurricular pursuits and extreme drinking. Binge drinking slots in neatly with the other, more obviously enhancing endeavors” (Flanagan 3). Teens’ cognitive development, perception of the world, and influence from peers is very different from when they were younger. Brain-wise, their prefrontal cortex, which governs impulse control and emotional stability, is not fully developed, and will not be until their early twenties. “One of the biggest differences researchers have found between adults and adolescents is the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain is still developing in teens and doesn’t complete its growth until approximately early to mid 20’s. The prefrontal cortex performs reasoning, planning, judgement, and impulse control, necessities for being an adult. Without the full development of the prefrontal cortex, a teen might make poor decisions and lack the inability to discern whether a situation is safe” (“A Teen’s Brain Isn’t Fully Developed Until Age 25” 1). That makes them particularly vulnerable because, developmentally, they can make independent decisions if allowed to, but do not have the fully developed judgment needed to prevent risky decisions.



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