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What Is Helicopter Parenting? Signs, Effects & Impacts

helicopter helicopter parent May 31, 2023
helicopter parents psychology

What Is Helicopter Parenting? Signs, Effects & Impacts

The term "helicopter parenting" designates a pattern of parenting that is excessively controlled and often invasive, a style that has grown alarmingly common among parents of teenagers and young adults as well as younger children. This particular style of parenting is characterized by a high degree or intensive level of involvement, and a lack of psychological autonomy, which can, in fact, negatively impact their development into healthy adulthood.

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Developmental psychology emphasizes understanding that from a young age, children are entirely dependent on their parents to stay alive. As they get older, they should become less dependent on caregivers so that by age 18, they are autonomous enough to leave home as young adults. At each life juncture, each achievement and phase—ranging from high school to college admissions, from post-graduation to the professional realm—these overzealous parents tend to supervise their child's life minutely when actually the children need less involvement and more freedom. Helicopter parents are called so for their 'hovering' tendencies, which refers to the process in which parents persistently shield their children from the trials and tribulations of life. Lawnmower parents are very similar but are more likely to be seen rushing in and fixing things or removing obstacles that stand in their child way. 

While this approach might stem from a benign intent to ensure the welfare of one's offspring, it inevitably introduces a set of dangers as the normal developmental process is interrupted. Previous research studies have affirmed the positive role of parental involvement in a child's development and welfare. However, over the past few decades, we've witnessed an escalating trend in this parental involvement that despite good intentions, leaves adult children of helicopter parents to be more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and more. 

The implications of this heightened parental engagement have been the subject of extensive discussion among academic scholars, mainstream media outlets, and psychologists. Furthermore, the helicopter parenting approach is widely considered as developmentally inappropriate and has a significant impact on children's lives. This parenting style could potentially hinder the physical as well as the psychological evolution of the child.

The causes and consequences of helicopter parenting have continuously been a topic of enduring discussion among educators and researchers. It's, therefore, crucial to maintaining a balanced approach, ensuring children are supported while also allowing them to experience challenges and failures, which are essential for their child's ability to grow and develop resilience.  

What Is Helicopter Parenting? 

The Psychology Behind Helicopter Parenting

A helicopter parent is not a bad parent; they are coming from a well-meaning intention and desire to look after their children's welfare and pave the way for their success. However, such parents often become excessively entwined and overcontrolling, making decisions on their behalf and either consciously or unconsciously watching their child's every move. This often comes out of a logical idea that good parents pay close attention to their child's well-being and should have a strong desire to keep their child safe from risks and danger. However, this is only sometimes age-appropriate as a child's needs for space and free time change over time. This tendency to view their child not as an independent entity but as an extension of themselves can have detrimental effects on the growth of adolescents and young adults.

Parents often perceive their children as mirrors of themselves and may even attempt to realize their unfulfilled dreams and aspirations through their children, irrespective of the children's own wishes and ambitions. It has been observed that some helicopter parents strive to ensure their children's academic triumphs to bolster their social status.

This intense parenting style has attracted a lot of scholarly attention and is an area of considerable study and guidance. The underlying causes of helicopter parenting are yet to be extensively researched. A few recent studies have taken strides in this direction, exploring the potential factors contributing to this parental approach. These preliminary investigations suggest parental anxiety, parental regret, and gender as possible contributing factors to helicopter parenting. However, the field remains under-researched and calls for further in-depth study.

Parental Anxiety As A Psychological Cause Of Helicopter Behaviors

Parental anxiety, often stemming from concerns about an unsafe environment fraught with abuse, abduction, and bullying, is intricately linked to helicopter parenting. Literature underscores a strong association between parental anxiety and parental control, which can instil anxiety within the family unit and, ultimately, the children. Parents' overestimation of their child's vulnerability often prompts excessive involvement in their lives.

Such anxiety can limit children's participation in routine activities, from outdoor play to socializing with friends and being open to new ideas, which are likely to adversely affect their physical and social well-being. Incidents in the community, like child abduction or abuse, can heighten parental worry, leading to excessive protectiveness.

Parental anxiety can also hinge on a child's past experiences. For example, a minor accident like a fall from a swing can make parents overly cautious about future playtime. This anxiety may result in children experiencing homesickness and separation anxiety, as seen when children leave for college. Parents may feel insecure and unable to detach despite the child's age. Studies suggest that parents with high separation anxiety exert more psychological control over their children.

Media and technology play significant roles in amplifying parental anxiety by continually highlighting potential threats in the world, leading parents to become overly protective of their children's safety.

Parental anxiety is a powerful contributor to helicopter parenting, potentially escalating anxiety in children. The discussion also suggests parental regret as another causal factor of this parenting style.

Opposite Of A Helicopter Parent?

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How To Stop Being A Helicopter Parent

Parental Regret As A Cause Of Helicoptering

Regret, a negative cognitive emotion characterized by dejection, disappointment, and sadness over unmet goals, is closely associated with helicopter parenting. It often arises from reflections on alternate paths not taken.

Regret has two components. The first involves acknowledging past negative experiences and poor decision-making. Parents often attempt to relieve their unfulfilled ambitions through their children, resulting in excessive involvement in their lives. This might extend to dictating their academic choices or lifestyle decisions, although not all parents are overly pushy.

The second aspect of regret leading to helicopter parenting is parents' recognition of insufficient quality time spent with their growing children. As children mature and become more independent, parents may experience regret, intensifying their urge to be emotionally and physically available for their offspring. This heightened anxiety can lead to over-involvement in parenting.

Therefore, regret indirectly contributes to helicopter parenting. Further study will explore culture's role as another causative factor in this parenting style.

Does Culture Impacts Helicopter Behaviors?

Culture, defined by a society's shared beliefs, customs, traditions, and social behaviours, significantly influences one's lifestyle and social conduct. Research suggests that a family's cultural heritage can affect parenting styles, with distinct differences observed between Western and Eastern practices.

For instance, Western parents typically encourage independence, while Eastern or Asian cultures often emphasize interdependence. This divergence is rooted in cultural norms, ethnicities, and values. Studies comparing parenting styles among different ethnic groups within the same country underscore these cultural differences.

An example is the contrast between Caucasian Americans, who value freedom of expression, self-sufficiency, and individuality, and Asian Americans, who stress parental control, dependency, and social standing. Asian parents often view their children as extensions of themselves, fostering obedience, family orientation, reliability, and good manners in their offspring. This pressure can lead to psycho-behavioural effects, such as anxiety, a sense of entitlement, and narcissism.

Asian parents tend to adopt a more authoritarian parenting style, akin to helicopter parenting, characterized by sternness and lack of warmth. This is more pronounced during major transitions, like entering college, which can be challenging for both parents and children. Conversely, Western parents perceive this approach as potentially harmful to a child's development, preferring an authoritative approach with greater warmth and acceptance.

To summarize, culture plays a significant role in parenting styles, with evidence showing greater parental control in Asian cultures compared to Western ones. Future studies will examine gender as another factor influencing helicopter parenting.

Gender and Helicopter Parenting

The impact of gender on parenting style is a recent area of interest among researchers. Studies suggest that mothers and fathers often employ different parenting approaches and that sons and daughters are parented differently.

It is common for parents to believe that boys and girls should be raised differently. Boys are often parented in a more assertive way, while girls typically receive more warmth, empathy, and kindness. A helicopter mothers overinvolvement in a child's life can potentially lead to clinical anxiety in children. Boys often interpret this overparenting as caring and liberating, while girls perceive it as controlling, leading to feelings of incompetence.

Young adults tend to have a stronger connection with their mothers and communicate more with them, leading to a higher likelihood of mothers becoming helicopter parents than fathers. Children often view fathers' involvement as caring but regard similar behaviour from mothers as suffocating and overwhelming.

These perceptions may stem from societal gender stereotypes, often depicting parenting as a woman's job while men are seen as financial providers. Consequently, children might associate their father's increased involvement in their lives as an expression of love, while a constantly present and caring mother is perceived as a helicopter mom. These differing attitudes towards parenting arise from the gender roles and expectations ingrained in our societies.

In conclusion, both the parent's and the child's gender contribute to helicopter parenting. Further research will investigate the prevalence and future of helicopter parenting among millennial parents.

 helicopter parenting explained

What psychological effects of helicopter parenting have been studied? 

Helicopter parenting,or overparenting, has both physical and psychological impact and many negative consequences in adolescents and young adults. It's associated with various mental health issues, including narcissism, low self-efficacy, low self-confidence,lack of confidence, poor academic performance and coping skills, depression, high anxiety levels, poor communication skills, entitlement, and neuroticism. 



Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #1: Higher Levels Of Narcissism.

The effects of Helicopter parenting has been linked to the development of narcissism and antisocial behavior. This trait can severely impact the psychological well-being of young adults. Narcissists tend to be self-centered, manipulative, arrogant, self-absorbed, and impulsive, often with an inflated sense of their own importance and physical appearance. They continuously seek attention and admiration with little concern for others

Helicopter parents often protect their children from failures, praise them excessively, and make them the centre of their lives, which can lead the children to constantly seek attention. Overprotective parents may inadvertently increase their child's chances of developing narcissistic traits by fostering a sense of entitlement to constant attention and care. In today's culture, it's common for millennials to stay with their parents into early or even late adulthood. This persistent parental oversight can further entitle young adults to expect constant protection and sheltering, which may promote narcissism. Narcissism is also considered a dimension of entitlement that can lead to low self-esteem. High parental involvement combined with low expectations can result in higher levels of narcissism in emerging adults. Narcissistic traits are negatively correlated with agreeableness and positively related to extraversion. Moreover, narcissistic traits in children could lead to unpleasant and conflictual relationships between siblings.

Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #2: Higher Levels Of Anxiety.

Helicopter parenting can lead to several psychological impacts on adolescents and young adults, such as narcissism, anxiety, loss of confidence, and depression. Among these, anxiety is notably prevalent. Anxiety, characterized by feelings of uneasiness, nervousness, and fear, can severely affect daily life when it develops into serious anxiety disorders like social anxiety and more.

Concerns have been raised about the increasing prevalence of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and separation and attachment anxiety disorder among young adults with over-involved parents. Such disorders severely impact the daily lives of these individuals.

Overprotective parents may contribute to social anxiety in young adults, a common disorder characterized by fear of embarrassment in social situations. Parental control and intrusion can lead to a sense of lack of autonomy in young adults, contributing to anxiety disorders.

Diagnosing these disorders can be difficult, often resulting in late identification and inadequate treatment. Anxiety disorders can lead to impairment, poor academic performance, and suicidal tendencies.

Helicopter parenting can have a negative psychological impact on adolescents and young adults, often leading to poor coping skills. These skills represent the individual's mental competence to handle psychological issues like anxiety, depression, anger, and fear. Studies suggest that overindulgent parenting contributes significantly to inadequate coping mechanisms in adolescents and young adults.

High parental expectations often lead to ineffective coping strategies in young people, as the pressure to meet these expectations can become overwhelming. Parents' control over their child's autonomy through negative emotional interactions can lead to the child's inability to deal with various psychological problems.

In extreme cases, young adults may resort to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Previous studies have linked helicopter parenting and parental control to heavy drinking, suggesting that such parenting may contribute to low coping skills and, subsequently, higher intake of alcohol and drugs in young adults.

Research has also established a direct link between self-efficacy and coping skills. Low self-efficacy leads to ineffective coping behavior. Helicopter parenting is associated with dysfunctional emotional coping behaviors and a negative impact on healthy development and maturity. The lack of independent problem-solving experiences due to parental intervention can impair decision-making skills.

Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #3: Lack Of Coping Mechanisms

Another of the effects of helicopter parenting can have a negative psychological impact on adolescents and young adults, often leading to poor coping skills. These skills represent the individual's mental competence to handle psychological issues like anxiety, depression, anger, and fear. Studies suggest that overindulgent parenting contributes significantly to inadequate coping mechanisms in adolescents and young adults

High parental expectations often lead to ineffective coping strategies in young people, as the pressure to meet these expectations can become overwhelming. Parents' control over their child's autonomy through negative emotional interactions can lead to the child's inability to deal with various psychological problems.

In extreme cases, young adults may resort to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism as a result of frustration with parental control. Previous studies have linked helicopter parenting to heavy drinking, suggesting that such parenting may contribute to low coping skills and, subsequently, higher intake of alcohol and drugs in young adults.

Research has also established a direct link between self-efficacy and coping skills, with low self-efficacy leading to ineffective coping behaviour. Helicopter parenting is associated with dysfunctional emotional coping behaviour. The lack of independent problem-solving experiences due to parental intervention can result in impaired decision-making skills.

Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #4: Lower Levels Of Self Efficacy.

This parenting style also has a notable effect on a child's self-efficacy, referring to the confidence to excel in real-life situations and lack of life skills. This aspect of self-efficacy is often linked to motivation, competence, and confidence. Overparenting, in turn, has been connected to lower self-efficacy in young adults.

Higher parental involvement and overprotective parenting behavior can often correlate with lower self-efficacy in children and college students due to overprotection and problem-solving for the child, leaving them less capable of handling future difficulties. Self-efficacy also impacts a child's physical and mental health, with those having higher self-efficacy leading healthier lives.

Low self-efficacy in young adults can lead to unsatisfying peer relationships and social withdrawal due to social anxiety. Some researchers found that overparenting negatively affects socially adaptive traits like emotional intelligence and general self-efficacy. Encouraging autonomy in children often results in higher self-efficacy, while the opposite can lead to lower self-efficacy. According to Segrin et al. (2015), low self-efficacy can hinder young adults from solving problems, making decisions, setting goals, and achieving them. On the other hand, high self-efficacy can result in more confidence, social activity, and better relationships with peers. However, low self-efficacy may lead to poor career decisions and depression.

Overparenting can lead to diminished self-efficacy and a sense of entitlement in young adults. Open family communication often exacerbates this correlation, which can intensify the relationship between parental overinvolvement and low self-efficacy.

Children with higher self-efficacy are more likely to engage in productive activities and better equipped to handle psychological issues such as depression and anxiety. However, overparenting can result in children feeling incapable and incompetent, displaying low coping skills, high narcissism, and low self-efficacy.

In conclusion, helicopter parenting often results in lower self-efficacy in adolescents and young adults. Self-efficacy plays a crucial role in attachment anxiety, attachment avoidance, and peer attachment. Further research is required to explore the relationship between helicopter parenting and low academic performance in adolescents and emerging adults.

Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #5 - Academic Performance

Parents' intense involvement in their children's academics, often referred to as "helicopter parenting," can have varied impacts on their child's academic success. While some parents believe their close involvement can ensure their children's success, the research presents a mixed picture. Some studies suggest that such overbearing parenting may obstruct academic success due to increasing pressure and entitlement attitudes in students. It can also lead to maladaptive perfectionism, causing anxiety and unsatisfying academic performance. On the other hand, other research indicates that higher parental involvement can contribute to academic success, particularly when parents focus on instilling a love for learning and the intrinsic value of education rather than just aiming for performance outcomes.

The perception of parental involvement can vary among students; some may find it supportive, while others might feel it is an unnecessary intrusion. Studies have noted that the manner in which adolescents perceive their parents' advice can impact their academic decisions and performance. The academic sphere can be categorized into the learning process, subject choices, and major choices in college, with each area potentially affected differently by the level of parental control.

Moreover, an over-involved parenting style could lead to a sense of entitlement and narcissism in children, which may not bode well for their academic and personal development. Parents' impulse-driven, emotionally charged advice might not provide the necessary cognitive support to the child. It's worth noting that the influence of helicopter parenting is not yet fully understood, and its connection to academic performance remains a topic of ongoing research.

Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #6 - Entitlement

Entitlement, which is an individual's persistent belief of deserving more rights and privileges than others, is notably prevalent in adolescents and young adults. It's often linked with a heightened sense of self-importance and privilege. Numerous studies have established a strong correlation between such entitlement and helicopter parenting - a parenting style characterized by excessive involvement in a child's life.

Helicopter parents tend to prioritize their children's needs over everything else, inadvertently fostering dependence and a strong sense of entitlement in them. This parenting approach can potentially harm the relationship between parents and school authorities, which is a factor known to influence academic outcomes. Higher levels of entitlement in children can impede the development of a cooperative relationship between parents and the school administration.

High levels of entitlement can also be associated with various psychological issues such as anger, frustration, guilt, disappointment, disruption, loneliness, and contentious social interactions. A strong link between entitlement and academic performance has been found, with over-involved parenting often leading to poorer academic outcomes. The pressure from parents for higher grades can instil an increased sense of entitlement in children, and this has a negative effect on their academic performance. This connection is increasingly being studied under the term 'academic entitlement.'

A related aspect of this issue is the use of rewards and punishments by parents, which can further heighten academic entitlement. Furthermore, higher entitlement levels have been associated with narcissistic traits in adolescents and young adults.

In conclusion, the evidence clearly indicates that helicopter parenting can lead to a higher sense of entitlement in children. This entitlement can negatively impact academic performance and social well-being. Further research is underway to understand the relationship between helicopter parenting and poor communication skills in adolescents and young adults.

Helicoptering's Psychological Impact #7 - Communication Skills

Children with over-involved parents often resort to role-playing to enhance their communication skills, driven by fear of saying things that might not be accepted by their parents. This trend suggests a strong correlation between helicopter parenting and poor peer communication.

In today's digital age, the way parents and children communicate has become a topic of debate due to the pervasive role of technology. Tools like social media, instant messaging, emails, and mobile phones allow parents to maintain constant contact with their children. Open parental communication, while moderating parental control, can mitigate the negative effects of such control, enhancing the child's self-efficacy.

However, poor parent-child communication, a common outcome of helicopter parenting, can lead to an unsatisfying family environment for adolescents. Some research counters this, suggesting that limited open communication between parent and child can lead to better outcomes for young adults.

In the context of technology, children are being incessantly monitored by their highly involved parents, leading to constant communication. Interestingly, this communication exhibits a gender bias, with girls found to communicate more with their parents than boys and both genders interacting more with their mothers than their fathers, which can be attributed to traditional gender roles and perceptions.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What Is a Helicopter Parent?

Helicopter parenting is a name given to a type of parenting style in which caregivers are overly involved in their childrens life. Their focus on their child can be intense and driven by anxiety which is thought to negatively impact their child's mental health, self-esteem, coping skills, and more.

Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders says ""They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures," 

"It means being involved .... in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and over perfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting," Dr Dunnewold, Ph.D.

What Causes Helicopter Parenting?

Helicopter parenting can stem from anxiety or fear, and it is often a misguided attempt to protect one’s children from the risks and everyday struggles of life. The causes of helicopter parenting can vary between parents, but some common sources include inadequate attachment during childhood, unresolved grief or trauma, and a lack of secure attachment in the parent-child relationship. Additionally, helicopter parenting can be driven by social pressure to ensure that their children succeed academically or socially.

How To Avoid Helicopter Parenting?

In order to avoid being a helicopter parent, parents have to understand and acknowledge their own anxiety and where it originates from. Anxiety is particularly sneaky, so recognizing how it shows up in your parenting style is also important. Finding the balance between protecting, loving and supporting your child with knowing when leaving them to figure things out on their own, and even fail sometimes, is the ultimate goal. Our Grounded Parenting Course is an anti-anxiety course for parents you should check out.

Are There Any Negative Outcomes To Helicopter Parenting?

Yes- sadly, there is a rapidly growing body of research that is showing how parental anxiety can impact the emotional development of a child, some studies have looked at college students' well-being and linked parenting behavior with clinical anxiety, social anxiety, fewer life skills and even antisocial behavior. 

How Do I Know If I'm a Helicopter Parent? 

You could take our quiz! It's asks questions about anxiety levels and parenting styles which is essential if you want to know how much anxiety, worry and stress impacts your parenting. The link is here https://www.mypeoplepatterns.com/helicopter#Quiz

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