School, Sports and Chores: A Look at the Problems with Helicopter Parents

Guest Author: Estelle Shumann

From the time children are born, parents are faced with the dilemma of doing enough versus doing too much for them. The tricky part is that a parent’s responsibility changes as the child grows. In today’s post, Estelle Shumann, researcher and writer for the education resource, OnlineSchools.org, investigates the phenomenon of “helicopter parenting,” how it starts and what it does to children. Although the Go-To Mom blog suggests that, as infants, children’s needs should be attended to by their parents, Estelle notes that as children age, they benefit from experiencing certain types of hardship and challenges.

School, Sports and Chores: A Look at the Problems with Helicopter Parents

“Success” in today’s world is often hard to pin down: part luck, part skill, park experience, it can be hard to anticipate or plan. This hasn’t stopped a generation of parents from trying, however. The seeming abundance of opportunities in the 1990s paired with the ever-stiffening competition of the 21st century have created a climate in which children are often expected to do all things in all places, with their parents serving as guardians and tour coordinators both. There is a fine line between helping a child be his best and micromanaging his future, however. A number of recent studies show how even the best-intentioned parental coordination can have negative effects, like the inability to process failure and difficulty asserting independence. While involved parents are almost always an asset, moderation is usually key.

The recent phenomenon of parents “hovering” and managing their children’s affairs well into college, and sometimes even into the job market, is known colloquially as “helicopter parenting.” These parents usually start small, often by spot-checking homework, managing after-school schedules, and advocating on behalf of the child to coaches and teachers. In its early stages, this sort of involvement is often good. It lets children know that they are loved and protected, and can encourage hard work. The problem comes when parental involvement becomes so stifling that the child no longer has an outlet for self-expression, and has no opportunity to prove her merits independently or test her wings unaided.

One of the biggest challenges for helicopter parents is knowing when enough is enough. “It’s a tricky line to walk, since studies link parents’ engagement in a child’s education to better grades, higher test scores, less substance abuse and better college outcomes,” a Time magazine article said. “Given a choice, teachers say, over-involved parents are preferable to invisible ones.” However, as college admissions become increasingly competitive, many parents see it as their responsibility to make sure that children are both prepared for and pushed towards success in that battle.

There is a difference between enforcing homework time and actually ghostwriting term papers, however. Encouraging a child to talk to a teacher for extra help is not on par with calling that teacher up directly and making demands on behalf of the child. In many cases, the overactive parent gets results, which does nothing to hinder such behavior. Students get better grades, or more glowing recommendations; they often even get accepted into more competitive schools. In its most extreme manifestations, helicopter parenting can extend to the job market, with parents authoring resumes, requesting to sit in on interviews, and calling to harangue HR about offering their child a job. What then, though? A slew of recent studies shows that children from these backgrounds develop a number of social and ideological issues, despite their advantages and glowing resumes.

“What happens is that we’ve got a generation of kids that have a great anxiety of failing,” Kathleen Elliott Vinson, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, told USA Today. “That translates into a generation of workers inexperienced at hearing criticism and lacking in independence and self-advocacy. If Mom or Dad isn’t there to run interference, these kids may not have a clue about how to succeed on their own or understand how to bounce back from failure.”

Though there are a great many benefits to involved parenting, there are dangers when that involvement goes too far. Most experts today recommend a balance of oversight and independence, such that children can learn to grow in a safe space—but still understand responsibility and how to handle setbacks.

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