Society as the Problem: The Creation of the Helicopter Parent

Trying to raise children these days is nothing shy of a miracle. With everyone from your grandmother to the Facebook commentators believing they have a say in every decision you make, parenting is tough. Add to that the labels we love to assign parenting styles such as helicopter parenting or free-range parenting, and it is an understatement to say it is overwhelming. Unfortunately as parents we are frequently caught up in this drama whether we want to be or not because we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We exist under a microscope of scrutiny all while trying to keep our heads above water, provide for our families and raise the best little people we can. Of particular concern is the blaming of young parents these days for their “helicopter parenting”. As a society we may want to step back for just a moment and take a closer look at how the helicopter parents of today were created. Hint: their intricacies are not of their own doing.

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Helicopter Parenting means a parent who basically hovers, overcompensates for, or does virtually any and all tasks for their child. Unfortunately this type of action does not allow the child to learn from trial and error or have any successes and or failures of his or her own. Young adults today are so set on blaming their parents for all their flaws because they have truly never been taught or permitted to internalize self-confidence, self-control, or responsibility. We blame parents for hovering over their children, yet we fail to accept that our negative scrutiny of every choice they make likely has something to do with it. The “rules” society has imposed over the last several years have had extremely detrimental consequences to the educational experiences of childhood that result in disciplined, responsible, mature adults.

The Forbidden Nature of Outdoor Play and Neighborhood Exploration

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Long gone are the days where children came home after school, grabbed a snack and hopped on their bikes to roam the neighborhood with friends until dinner. During those years, summers were spent building tree forts and playing tag, fall meant brushing together leaf piles to jump into, and winter was full of snowball fights and snow angels. These days children are never permitted to leave their street, likely not even their driveway and parental supervision is at an all time high.

Kids are hovered over at the playground with adults even engaging in arguments with other children about sharing toys or playing nicely. Never are kids permitted to climb trees or run full speed for fear of them getting injured, and games such as kickball or dodgeball are considered all too violent to be allowed. Teams cannot be chosen for fear of hurting someone’s feelings and everyone must not only be allowed to play, but also must receive a trophy.

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Any parent who dares to allow a child outdoors to play without supervision is immediately blasted on social media and in neighborhood groups. The sense of independence, trust and responsibility that used to develop in children permitted to play outdoors has disappeared because of this constant supervision. Kids are not allowed to make wise decisions or learn from their mistakes because they are not permitted to make decisions at all.

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Children are not allowed to walk home from school and if they do are classified as “latch-key” kids, with working parents being shunned for their irresponsible parenting decisions. In several states it is literally against the law for elementary age children to walk home to an empty house and remain home alone until a parent gets off of work.

Older siblings are not permitted to care for younger children in the home, kids are not taught how to cross a street, and most people do not consider teenagers who can drive cars old enough or responsible enough to work. It is no wonder our college students join the ranks of adulthood in a daze with absolutely no direction of where to go or what to expect.

I began babysitting when I was 12 years old for a family of 3 girls, one of whom was an infant at the time. Now most babysitters considered “appropriate” by societal standards are college-educated and paid upwards of $12 an hour.

“Homework”: It’s Really for the Parents

As a 30-something parent you probably remember the days when you came home from school, sat down to do your homework and then went out to play. Rarely did you ask you parents for assistance and if so it was because you needed cotton balls, poster board, and some other craft supplies your mom either had stored in a closet or ran to the dollar store to buy. You used paste, white glue or tape to hook things together and displayed your project with pride when you took it to your classroom where the teacher displayed the projects on a bulletin board.

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Gone are these glory days! Now, whether because of the parents themselves, the projects being assigned or the weight of the expectations placed on our children, homework is no longer for the kids. Projects assigned in grades as low as elementary school involve complicated, elaborate STEM creations usually involving the use of power tools or at least a hot glue gun to create.

Children are creating “YouTube” videos, designing powerpoint presentations and being expected to have typed reports and photographs. No longer is something as simple as a picture of a kindergartener’s family hand drawn and labeled on a piece of white paper, but rather a professional photograph printed with typewritten labels. None of these are tasks young children can or should realistically be expected to be able to complete on their own.

No matter the class or extracurricular activity, as the parent of young kids I feel I am frequently the one being assigned “homework.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not mind helping my child and watching him come up with a craft or project ideas. It is fun because I can almost see the gears turning behind his little eyes. However, things have gone too far.

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Whether it is piano lessons, religion classes at church or school homework, parental expectations have been exponentially increased. As a child when I played piano, NEVER did my instructor feel the need to go over all of my lessons in depth with my mother who was likely busy chasing around my 4 younger brothers, and she most certainly did not have a cellphone app that was updated daily with my assignments or expectations from my teachers. It was up to me to do my homework, be responsible for my assignments and suffer the consequences if something was not up to par.

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The expectations being placed “supposedly” on our children are not realistic or age-appropriate, thus parents are being forced to engage at an inappropriate level. We criticize said helicopter parents when they are contacting teachers or professors, making excuses for their kids, but we refuse to acknowledge that this is a learned behavior we have forced upon them throughout the course of their children’s school years. Giving kids homework, assignments and projects that require the level of parental involvement most do these days when they are young does not teach independence, rather this fosters a situation where parents have no choice but to get involved, which simply continues as their children age.

The Consequences of Helicopter Parenting to Our Kids

We consistently hear about parents who felt the need to contact their child’s college professor, yelled at a sports coach, or engaged in some other act that clearly overstepped the acceptable boundaries of parental involvement for their child’s age. As bystanders, we are so quick to judge those parents without looking at how we ourselves are parenting or looking for the root of the problem.

Understandably, parents are afraid. Parenting rewires our brains to, as the father in The Croods so succinctly put it, “never not be afraid.” From strangers lurking on the corner to candy laced with drugs, we have good reason to be scared, but our possible “fear” scenarios may be harming our children further in the long run.

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Like it or not, the same strangers, drugs, and negative influences existed many years ago. However, without the continuous coverage of every event through social media parents did not live life in a constant state of high alert.

Helicopter parenting is ruining the young adults of today because our children are being taught no sense of independence, trust, self-confidence or responsibility crucial to adult behavior. We cannot simply place an “age of adulthood” on an individual and truly believe that they will magically wake up one morning with all the attributes necessary to function or succeed in society. Teenagers cannot talk to their own teachers or complete their own college applications and 20-somethings cannot address their own professors, obtain jobs or deal with their own bosses.

The negative consequences of helicopter parenting are leading to an entire generation that cannot seem to function on their own and looks to parents and social media for direction on every decision. From dating, to working, to child-rearing, no one seems able to make their own choices anymore. It is leading to a significant decline in the happiness or fulfillment one achieves when accomplishing something or being “successful”. Many of the “millennial generation” and younger are depressed and unhappy, disappointed with the reality of their adult lives.

In order for our children to become healthy adults in the future, we need to sit back and take a breath. As difficult as it may be, we need to stop fighting our children’s battles for them, support their decisions, and allow them to make age-appropriate choices. Parents need to stop forcing their children into academic and social situations they are not ready for and allow them to grow organically, rather than with mom or dad hovering overhead. It is our responsibility as parents today to try and find a balance whereby we can please ourselves, our family, and our friends while managing to raise a successful future generation.

For more information on understanding your child’s need for outdoor play and exploration check out Play to Increase Your Child’s Upper Body Strength and Why it Matters.

Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula, Mojitos and Munchkins



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Kristin dePaula
Kristin dePaula
Kristin is a Montessori Mama who spends her days working as a lawyer with at-risk youth and her nights chasing her 4 boys on their latest adventure. She spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen creating healthy, organic, and delicious meals for her family, reading books with her boys, and at the soccer fields. Aspiring to make a difference in lives of others one child at a time, Kristin is passionate about social justice, early literacy, and early childhood education. While she loves scarves and boots, Kristin lives at the world's most famous beach with her husband, kids, extended family, and enough pets to open a zoo.
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