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What are Helicopter Parents?

Helicopter parents hover closely over their children, often micromanaging their lives with the intent to shield them from harm and failure. While well-meaning, this parenting style can impact a child's independence and problem-solving skills. Have you considered how this might affect long-term development? Join us as we explore the implications of such an approach on a child's journey to adulthood.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many parents are naturally protective of their children, especially during critical rites of passage such as learning to drive, graduating from high school and getting accepted by the best college or university that meet their career goal. Some parents, however, have serious difficulties distancing themselves from their children's lives, and tend to hover over them over-protectively. This constant hovering and over-protectiveness has led to naming this phenomenon helicopter parents.

Helicopter parents are the polar opposite of absent or neglectful parents. They could rarely be accused of ignoring their children's needs or not preparing them for adulthood. Helicopter parents tend to micromanage their children's high school years, determining which extracurricular activities and course of study will improve their chances of acceptance at more selective colleges and universities. Instructors, school administrators and guidance counselors may be quite familiar with certain helicopter parents who apply excessive pressure to ensure their children are kept on the proper track for higher education.

Helicopter parenting refers to an over-protective parenting style.
Helicopter parenting refers to an over-protective parenting style.

Even after high school graduation, helicopter parents often continue to plot out strategies to improve their children's chances of getting into the best schools. An extreme subcategory of helicopter parents known as Black Hawks have been known to cross ethical lines by filling out their children's application essays themselves or exaggerating their children's accomplishments and honors. Black Hawks, much like the quick-responding military helicopters that inspired their name, will step in quickly at the first sign of trouble with a college admissions officer or recruiter.

A helicopter parent may do her child's homework, rather than allowing the child to complete it myself.
A helicopter parent may do her child's homework, rather than allowing the child to complete it myself.

The phenomenon of helicopter parents is not a new one in the education field, but the number of overprotective parents has grown exponentially in recent years. With a college education becoming a requirement for many career paths, more and more parents are looking at their child's college years as a substantial business investment. Their over-protectiveness and aggressive parenting style could be viewed as concerned investors taking an active role in the growth of their start-up "company."

An authoritarian parenting style means that a parent typically sets high standards and expectations for their children.
An authoritarian parenting style means that a parent typically sets high standards and expectations for their children.

While some family involvement in a child's education is considered healthy, the moral flexibility displayed by helicopter parents is not. Many colleges and universities have imposed bans on cell phones and other communication devices from classrooms not because of personal distraction, but because some helicopter parents, primarily motivated Black Hawks, have been known to transmit test answers or other materials to improve their child's grade point average. When helicopter parents begin to cross over ethical and moral boundaries to protect their children from experiencing failure, they risk teaching their children that cheating or manipulation of the rules is acceptable.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are helicopter parents?

Guidance counselors are generally very familiar with helicopter parents.
Guidance counselors are generally very familiar with helicopter parents.

Helicopter parents are characterized by their highly involved—or even over-involved—approach to parenting. They hover over their children's every move, aiming to protect them from harm, disappointment, and challenges. While their intentions are often rooted in love and concern, this parenting style can lead to decreased independence and resilience in children. Helicopter parenting can span various aspects of a child's life, from academic to social and emotional development.

How does helicopter parenting affect a child's development?

According to developmental experts, helicopter parenting can have several negative impacts on a child's growth. It can hinder the development of problem-solving skills, reduce self-esteem, and increase anxiety and dependence. A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that over-controlling parenting can negatively affect a child's ability to manage their emotions and behavior (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10826-017-0791-3). These children may struggle with autonomy and competence as they grow older.

Are there any benefits to helicopter parenting?

While the term 'helicopter parenting' often carries a negative connotation, some aspects of being involved and supportive can be beneficial. For instance, children may feel secure and valued when parents show interest in their lives. However, it's crucial to balance involvement with allowing children to experience and learn from challenges. The key is supportive parenting that encourages independence while providing guidance, rather than overbearing control.

How can parents avoid becoming helicopter parents?

To avoid becoming helicopter parents, experts suggest fostering independence by allowing children to make age-appropriate decisions and learn from their mistakes. Encouraging problem-solving, setting reasonable expectations, and being emotionally supportive without intervening unnecessarily can help. It's also important for parents to reflect on their motivations and fears, and to seek a balance that promotes their child's long-term well-being and self-reliance.

Is helicopter parenting a recent phenomenon?

Helicopter parenting gained prominence as a concept in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, coinciding with societal shifts towards more protective child-rearing practices. Factors such as increased academic competition, safety concerns, and the rise of digital technology, which allows for constant connectivity, have contributed to its prevalence. However, the instinct to protect and guide one's offspring is timeless, and variations of this behavior have been observed throughout history.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular PublicPeople contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular PublicPeople contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon29501

The helicopter parent is not just restricted to "the best of the best" for their little darling. It has been my experience that it also extends to when their little darlings get into mischief (large and small). Their little darlings do no wrong, and also never learn that there are consequences for their actions. I see this from the playground to the dorm room life. I was a DA for the freshman dorm where I attended school as an older student. I have concerns about how the little darlings will deal with life as an adult.

anon29468

I think this term refers mainly to parents of younger children--those in nursery & elementary schools. It's more about not allowing them to make choices, take independent action, and be themselves. Micromanaging is a good word for it.

By college, most kids have figured out how to escape from parental oversight.

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    • Helicopter parenting refers to an over-protective parenting style.
      By: kazoka303030
      Helicopter parenting refers to an over-protective parenting style.
    • A helicopter parent may do her child's homework, rather than allowing the child to complete it myself.
      By: lightwavemedia
      A helicopter parent may do her child's homework, rather than allowing the child to complete it myself.
    • An authoritarian parenting style means that a parent typically sets high standards and expectations for their children.
      By: alexsokolov
      An authoritarian parenting style means that a parent typically sets high standards and expectations for their children.
    • Guidance counselors are generally very familiar with helicopter parents.
      By: Andres Rodriguez
      Guidance counselors are generally very familiar with helicopter parents.