Helicopter Parenting (Pt 1) : How to Handicap Your Capable Kids

The dreaded helicopter parent... As a teacher and a millennial, I know to avoid them at all cost. While finishing up my Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling, I keep finding research emphasizing the devastating, lasting impact of this type of parenting style on brain development, emotional stability, and spiritual growth of the child. Here I just thought hovering parents were annoying!  From the bottom of this teachers heart… please, please, please, PLEASE STOP HOVERING! 

Parenthood is maybe the most important legacy a person will leave. The actions that a person decides to take in this role will directly and dramatically influence the development of another person. Parents are the first sources of security, first teachers, and first examples of how to live this life. The family dynamics are set by the leaders of the households. The responsibly is great. As a millennial teacher, my heart is saddened by the rise of the helicopter parent and the devastating consequences for my  and future generation.    For the love of all that is descent in the world, let’s quit hovering and let our children learn some grit! 

4 Types of Parents: 

Though myriad and sometimes contradictory parenting ideas flood news columns, sharing parenting advice from latest studies, households can be sorted into four basic categories that move across the spectrum of disciplinary strategies, communication, and involvement (Feldman, 2014). The authoritarian parent is one who is strict in directing their child to behave and obey, without much question or tolerance of disagreement. This severe style of parenting is associated with socially withdrawn behavior. Females are characterized by an over-dependence on parents, while males exhibit hostility in these homes (Feldman, 2014).

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the permissive parenting style. This laissez-faire take on parenting removes boundaries and authority, viewing the parent-child relationship as a non-hierarchal friendship (Feldman, 2014).  These children raised with permissive and uninvolved parents can feel emotionally detached and are described as the worst off of children raised the four types of homes.  The uninvolved parent is simply that, absent. Abandonment is not always the case in this style, as many parents assume the child is doing well and that their involvement only needs to be minimal (Feldman, 2014).

The last, most balanced approach is the authoritative parenting style. In this household, the parent places boundaries and discipline, yet they are flexible. Mentorship is the role of these parents; there is communication so the child understands the why in the rule, versus blind obedience. This supportive parenting style is associated with well-adjusted children who can adapt to new challenges well (Feldman, 2014).

Helicopter Parenting- How to Handicap Capable Kids GumptionGrace.com

How Hovering Begins: 

Often well-meaning parents think they are raising their children in authoritative mentorship by helping at every opportunity, yet, their over involvement, hovering, is a type of inadvertent authoritarian parenting. Often the description of this type of parent can paint a portrait of an abusive, violent, impatient individual seeking the child to fit a perfect mold.  Yet, even those with the best of intentions can inadvertently slip into this category when they try to help too much (Somers & Settle, 2010). “Helicopter parenting” is a popular term to describe a mother or father whose drive to see their offspring succeed ultimately deprives the child of the opportunity for independence and strips them of many self-help adaptive skill sets (Somers & Settle, 2010).

There can be positive and negative effects of helicopter parenting. If the “hovering” is age appropriate, solicited, and accompanied by discussion, this can look much like the benefits of a mentoring relationship (Somers & Settle, 2010).Yet, more of the time it take a controlling and codependent form. Research has shown that greater levels of narcissism, lower scores in coping skills, and higher anxiety and stress ensue when children are raised in over parenting households (Segrin, Woszidlo, Givertz, & Montgomery, 2013).

How does a helicopter parent affect the child emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually?

Emotional Impacts: 

Emotionally, these parents are creating a sense of insecurity within the child’s self-efficacy. In Erikson’s psychosocial stages, young children go through a phase entitle industry vs inferiority in which children’s esteem and confidence is boosted by trying new things and accomplishing tasks independently (Feldman, 2014). Piaget attests the importance of scaffold learning through new experiences (Feldman, 2014). Too much parent helpful interference robs the child from building his esteem that he can solve problems on his or her own. As a generation of kids has grown into young adults, we see parents not only doing the science fair board for the child, but now involving themselves heavily in the student’s college academic affairs and even in the first career experiences such as accompanying interviews and salary negotiations (Bradley-Geist & Olson-Buchanan, 2013). Parents are observed living vicariously through their children (Segrin, Woszidlo, Givertz, & Montgomery, 2013). As a teacher and a college student (and even as a graduate in the work force), I have watched in horror as parents become overly involved in their child’s work, while the students seem to have a paralysis of problem solving without mommy (or daddy’s) help, even into adulthood. It makes my heart sad. The emotional frustration eventually makes its way to the parents who helped create this monster. Research shows that over-parenting is also linked to over expectations of reciprocity on investment from the parents and resentment in the children in later years (Fingerman, Cheng , Wesselmann, Zarit, Furstenberg , & Birditt, 2012).

Brain Development Impact:

Cognitively, helicopter parents rob children of the experience of failure. Trial and error in exploratory play and learning is essential for young brain development, especially in the area of coping and problem solving skills (Feldman, 2014).  Parents try so hard to shield the child from the feeling of defeat and struggle. Yet, if a child only experiences success under the tutelage of parental supervision, they may be at a loss when faced with an unfamiliar challenge without their lifeline to give them the right answer. They will never develop true grit needed to succeed in life. Lack of initiative and perseverance may result from one who has not been trained to think (Segrin, Woszidlo, Givertz, & Montgomery, 2013). Those with helicopter parents lack problem solving and coping skills (Segrin, Woszidlo, Givertz, & Montgomery, 2013).

Spiritual Impact: 

Spiritually, helicopter parents can take away from the personalization of faith. There is a point in the cognitive development where a child is modeling what they see from those around them (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, & Benson, 2005). External motivations precede internal drive, meaning children will often participate in religious activities and take on the beliefs of those in the attachment relationship, but only later internalize that faith and independently pursue spiritual growth (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, & Benson, 2005). Do hovering parents inhibit deeper spiritual growth in their children? Would a child not seek deeper understanding in even these areas because the parents have been spoon-feeding the right answers through their development? Without personal adoption of faith values, what would be the reason to carry those into adulthood?

Let’s Get Healthy: 

A healthy family system is one that fosters learning and growth into a well-adjusted adult. Research supports that the authoritative, though not the most hands on, is the best parenting style (Feldman, 2014). Too much interference, as seen in the helicopter parent example, steals away the opportunity for the child to act and reason independently.  The mentorship and positive communication fosters a trusting relationship between the child and parent. Attachment in the home is tied to adaptability in other social settings (Feldman, 2014). By communicating not only what is right or wrong, but emphasizing the why, the leaders in the home are teaching children not simply how to act, but how to reason and think (Bradley-Geist & Olson-Buchanan, 2013). These problem solving strategies will vitally assist in academic, career, and social settings where the solution is easily recognized. A healthy home produces an adult that is equipped for a lifetime.

All my love and blessings,


Helpful References

Bradley-Geist, J. C., & Olson-Buchanan, J. B. (2013). Helicopter parents: an examination of the correlates of over-parenting of college students. Education + Training.

Feldman, R. S. (2014). Development Across the Life Span (7th Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Roehlkepartain, E. C., King, P. E., Wagener, L. M., & Benson, P. L. (2005). The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Segrin, C., Woszidlo, A., Givertz, M., & Montgomery, N. (2013). Parent and Child Traits Associated with Overparenting. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Somers, P., & Settle, J. (2010). The Helicopter Parent: RESEARCH TOWARD A TYPOLOGY. College and University.

2 thoughts on “Helicopter Parenting (Pt 1) : How to Handicap Your Capable Kids

  1. Marni Olson says:

    Kenzie, I loved this latest post… You have God given wisdom and I enjoy so much, your honesty and integrity in sharing your insights.
    I’m so excited that I’ll see you very soon. I miss you and love when we can connect.
    Glad you’re Family, love to Matthew too!
    Blessings, Aunt Marni


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