Several years ago a new term became part of modern lingo in our culture – Helicopter Parent. It was a term that perhaps was not around before the 21st century because the type of parenting it described was comparatively rare at that time. Being a Helicopter Parent is loosely defined as a tendency to “hover” over one’s child, being exceptionally active in almost every aspect of his/her life, from monitoring children’s academic progress on a daily basis, to full awareness of the child’s world of friends including significant guidance and direction being provided, large degrees of communication with the teacher on an at-times daily basis, and essentially being a blanketing presence in every notable aspect of a child’s life. This style of parenting, it would seem, is becoming more and more common, though not likely a dominant one in our society – at least not yet.
Favoured parenting styles in a given society will naturally shift over time, and no single style becomes dominant indefinitely. For example, a parenting approach that relied upon unconditional respect and obedience was present through large parts of the 20th century, particularly over its first half. This dissipated over time, and a return to this Victorian-era approach would be unthinkable for most today. Though there were cultural and other reasons for this shift, one reason for its downfall may be that “children should be seen and not heard”, a common refrain from the era, was inherently unsupportive of creating the safe, nurturing environment that any child can thrive under. When we choose not to honour a specific need in a child, in this case the need to be heard and feel significant, at some point there will be an intense response. This fatal flaw, I would suggest, had something to do with the downfall of an obedience-based parenting system.
Moving back to 2015, the Helicopter Parent comes from a seemingly valid and honourable place: wishing their child to be confident, achievement-focused, and otherwise well-equipped for life in a challenging world. All of these are healthy goals, most of us would probably agree. The difference comes then in one’s approach in helping a child to realize these goals. Implicit in this question lies another: what is the best way for a parent to support their child to grow up in such a way that being confident and responsible are a natural part of who they become? With the helicopter approach and its high degree of supervision and oversight, there is an inherent assumption that children cannot grow up in a healthy way without guidance at almost every step, and likely well into their teens.
The unfortunate side-effect of this belief and approach is that it necessarily suggests a lack of trust towards the child, and actually tends to reinforce the idea that he/she is NOT capable without help! When this pattern is set, it can tragically bleed away a child’s growing and often fragile confidence, which in turn does not help them to be well-equipped for life as they move towards young adulthood.
All human beings, young and old alike have a built-in need for independence. This means we need others to acknowledge our growing desire to increasingly look after our own affairs, though certainly not without some support from others as required. Nonetheless, growing up and being ready to take on the world invariably means each of us need a growing and vibrant confidence in our own abilities, likes, and sense of who we are as individuals. In other words, we need to be allowed to fail from time to time, knowing that important lessons in perseverance will be learned from falling flat on our faces occasionally! This, I would suggest, is far less likely to harm a child’s self-confidence and mental health than being unable to meet a natural need for independence. Hovering over one’s child, though it may come with the best intentions, seldom in my experience results in a healthy, happy, and fulfilled child eventually ready to go make their mark in the world.