Have you heard the term “Helicopter Parents”? This is a term that is frequently used for a particular parenting style in which parents “rescue” their children from the difficult things that come their way in life. Parents who are Helicopter Parents will often make excuses for their children, take their child’s perspective of a situation at face value without looking at all the facts, blame others for their child’s behaviors or difficulties and take steps to eliminate any discomfort their child may be experiencing due to their bad behaviors. It is understandable how parents fall into this particular parenting style – if you love your children, you don’t want to see them suffering or uncomfortable so you do what you can when situations arise that bring up these difficult emotions. However, what happens when parents use a Helicopter Parenting style is that they don’t allow their children to experience the natural consequences of their behaviors, they don’t foster positive decision-making in their children and they are not teaching their children to be responsible for themselves. In many ways, Helicopter Parents do a disservice to their children because they don’t let them experience difficult things as children (when the stakes are much lower) which can cause major problems for them as adults.
If you have a tendency to fall into this parenting style – this post is not to make you feel bad but rather to offer some insight into why this is not always the most effective parent style and some tips for adjusting what you may be doing. If you function as a Helicopter Parent, your child will continue to depend on you to solve their problems and will look to you to blame others for their mistakes. It may result in less conflict in the moment (since we all know that children – especially teenagers – can lash out when you are holding them accountable for something), however, they are not learning anything other than to come running to you when the going gets tough which will be exhausting for you!
Below are a few tips to consider which will help you not fall into this parenting trap and which will help your child grow into a responsible, independent adult:
1. Be an advocate, not a rescuer: of course your child will need you for support or to help them out if things are difficult and this is part of your role as their parent. When you function as an advocate, you support your child, you help make sure they are heard and you step in when you need to. However, what you don’t do, is bail them out of all the difficult situations they experience. For example: Your child is struggling in a particular class because they get a lot of homework and they are not seeming to understand the information learned in class so they are doing poorly on their homework assignments. As an advocate, you may set up a meeting with the teacher and talk about ways of getting your child extra support in the subject matter so that they are able to understand and complete their homework. What you would NOT do is go to the school, attack the teaching by saying they are not teaching effectively and demand that your child be moved to a different class with less homework.
2. Validate them but don’t always agree with them: validating your child shows you are listening, you are understanding what they are experiencing and let’s them know you can appreciate that something is difficult for them even if you don’t fully understand why or if you don’t agree with their perspective. For example: Your child has a sports game and does poorly in a game. They complain that the coach was being unfair or that their teammates were not helping them be successful during the game and they are really upset about it. You may know that the reality is that they skipped 2 practices and stayed up late the night before the game and that they simply did not play as well as they typically do. In this situation, you can validate them by saying that you know they are upset because playing well is important to them and acknowledge that it can be really frustrating to know they can play better. If you do this, they will feel heard and supported but you will not reinforce their view that everyone else is to blame for their bad game.
3. Let them sit with the uncomfortable feelings that come with mistakes: this is a really important tip. Children need to experience being uncomfortable and learn to manage it. Our feelings drive our behaviors so when children are feeling uncomfortable, it will influence their behaviors which is important. This can be difficult to watch but it is life and a much better lesson to learn as children than as adults when the consequences and stakes are much higher. For example, if you teenager cannot get up for school on time and ends up with a Saturday detention that causes them to miss something they were really looking forward to, it is much less of a consequence than showing up late for work as an adult and being fired and then unable to support oneself. If children are always comfortable, they will never learn to make good decisions because they know that regardless of what they decide that you will make them comfortable again.
Loving your children is critical and necessary for their positive growth, however, rescuing them can actually stunt their emotional growth and development. For additional parenting tips go to How To Parent A Teen and sign up for our free, weekly Ezine.