Are You A Helicopter Parent?

photo (64)Do you hover — ready to swoop down and micromanage your children at any given moment, or do you stay in the shadows and observe, allowing them to work things out for themselves? While I strive to balance these two extreme approaches to raising kids, I admit that my natural inclinations are hard to battle. As mothers, we want to protect our cubs, but at what cost? We all know that we should (at a minimum) encourage children to step up, so that they’re equipped to function as adults in society — but when should we step in to help them learn HOW to properly do that?

Recently, one of my friends called her daughter’s friend’s mother in an attempt to figure out why her ten-year-old was suddenly being excluded at lunch and recess.  The other mother’s reply went something like, “Oh, I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding…” She may as well have verbalized what she was really trying to say: “My perfect child would NEVER exclude anyone!”  Sound familiar?

Around the same time, another friend decided to intervene on behalf of her teenage daughter who was being bullied on the bus. Although my friend hesitated given the age of the girls involved, she was ultimately pleasantly surprised that the bully’s mother not only cared, but investigated and attempted to assist.  But I couldn’t help but wonder whether there is an age limit for teaching our children right from wrong.  If by age fifteen our girls haven’t learned how to treat others, is it too late?  And even if it is too late, is it not our job as parents to continue trying?

I realize that I am presenting more questions than answers, and that is because I have always grappled with this issue.  At what point should we step in?  My husband and I struggle to come to an agreement on this difficult topic because his natural tendency is “never” and mine is “always.” Please note that there is a clear distinction between tendency and action.  Just because I want to meddle, doesn’t mean that I do.  Naturally, we’ve had to find a middle ground (except for the times that I don’t consult him and exercise my helicoptering skills behind his back). Many of my friends suggest that there is an age cut-off for meddling, but if the child hasn’t been taught how to behave appropriately and how to cope, what does age have to do with it?

I’ve had an especially difficult time striking the balance between running interference and lying low when it comes to academics.  My son, now a senior, made it easy for me when he entered sixth grade and announced that if I ever made a phone call instead of letting him deal on his own, he would not share anything with me again.  I was struck with equal measures of pride and alarm.  I was hopeful that he could advocate on his own behalf, if necessary, as we had taught him.  And he did.  You would think that that would’ve stopped my meddling instincts in their tracks… To make myself feel better, I rationalize that perhaps it’s good to know your natural tendencies to help you fight the urges.  Isn’t acknowledgement of a problem the first step?

My friends (who comprise my non-scientific and constant study group) run the gamut from heavy meddlers to total pacifists.  Most fall somewhere in the middle, and I’ve found that spouses tend to balance each other out.  I’ve also noticed that most of us agree that our kids should work things out on their own socially and academically, until we see a potential spiraling or escalation that warrants our involvement.  And the key issue remains — escalation for me, is not necessarily escalation for others.  I have learned that my best bet is to run an issue by someone cool, calm and collected before diving in headfirst.

Having admitted that I’m a natural meddler, have I earned the right to say a little something to those who never interfere?  Here we go:  ‘Never’ is an extreme, the same way that ‘always’ is, and extremes are not good.  We must find balance (even if that involves your spouse threatening duct tape).   Never interfering means never having to make the hard choices, avoiding confrontation at all costs and living in denial to some extent.  Our job is to parent and to figure out when and how we are needed.  And that’s the hard part.  So having presented more questions than answers and feeling more confused than ever, I’m asking that you TAWK AMONGST YOURSELVES and hit me up with your thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Are You A Helicopter Parent?

  1. You are so right about balance being key. Something to strive for. I struggled with this most in organized sports. There were certain parents who made it their jobs to act as agents, getting the coach’s ear, finagling things for their kids. I was hands off, except in very rare circumstances where communication was so terrible that I had to step in and say something. As for other parents, I can only think of one time when I had to call the parent of my daughter’s friend–and this particular parent more than once. It was quickly obvious why this “friend” was the way she was. : (

  2. You are so right about balance being key. Something to strive for. I struggled with this most in organized sports. There were certain parents who made it their jobs to act as agents, getting the coach’s ear, finagling things for their kids. I was hands off, except in very rare circumstances where communication was so terrible that I had to step in and say something. As for other parents, I can only think of one time when I had to call the parent of my daughter’s friend–and this particular parent more than once. It was quickly obvious why this “friend” was the way she was. : (

  3. children have to learn different skills at different ages. My opinion and older ages you’re teaching them or some of the subtleties of behavior that they can’t really comprehend earlier. And hormones erase a lot of learning frankly. The reason behavior needs continual guidance is the same reason we often need therapists in our lives. We need someone outside ourselves who is not caught up in the emotion of the moment to give us guidance on coping and better balance. Just my humble opinion.

  4. children have to learn different skills at different ages. My opinion and older ages you’re teaching them or some of the subtleties of behavior that they can’t really comprehend earlier. And hormones erase a lot of learning frankly. The reason behavior needs continual guidance is the same reason we often need therapists in our lives. We need someone outside ourselves who is not caught up in the emotion of the moment to give us guidance on coping and better balance. Just my humble opinion.

  5. children have to learn different skills at different ages. My opinion and older ages you’re teaching them or some of the subtleties of behavior that they can’t really comprehend earlier. And hormones erase a lot of learning frankly. The reason behavior needs continual guidance is the same reason we often need therapists in our lives. We need someone outside ourselves who is not caught up in the emotion of the moment to give us guidance on coping and better balance. Just my humble opinion.

  6. children have to learn different skills at different ages. My opinion and older ages you’re teaching them or some of the subtleties of behavior that they can’t really comprehend earlier. And hormones erase a lot of learning frankly. The reason behavior needs continual guidance is the same reason we often need therapists in our lives. We need someone outside ourselves who is not caught up in the emotion of the moment to give us guidance on coping and better balance. Just my humble opinion.

  7. You hit the nail on the head – keeping this balance is one of the hardest things about parenting. It is made harder by the fact that every child is different, and needs a different amount of “hovering over.” My oldest needed no homework supervision, but my youngest requires constant “meddling”. This is not just my opinion as their mother – I checked out the situation with various professionals who told me that it is still appropriate to be overseeing this child’s homework habits.

    I think that having my son in Boy Scouts helped me begin to learn the difference between appropriate guidance and helicopter-parenting. When my kid didn’t take initiative, it was my job to light a fire under him to get him to complete the requirements for (a badge, a rank, Eagle Scout), but it was never my job to actually do the requirements for him. Same thing for college applications: I could remind my kid of deadlines, but never do the actual application myself.

    On the other hand, I have heard that the human brain is not fully developed until around age 22 or so. So, yes, even at age 15 and up, they need our guidance, and sometimes our interference, especially if the situation is serious, such as bullying.

  8. If “helicopter parents” are those who hover overhead and swoop down ready to micromanage their children, would “airplane parents” be those who fly overhead quickly, barely glancing down at their families? I raised children a long time ago = this modern terminology confuses me!

  9. It is a very difficult balance. I have noticed that parents who say, “oh, it was a misunderstanding,” are the parents that are often blind to their own child’s behavior. Apple + Tree = I should have seen it coming….
    As they get older, it gets easier not to hover, as long as you purchase yourself a muzzle and crazy glue your hands to your rear. In other words, who suffers more; We, or our children?

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