Even a generation ago, children walked by themselves to school, and were allowed many hours of unsupervised play in the neighborhood. As long as their homework was done and they came back for dinner on time, parents did not concern themselves about what their children were doing outside with their friends.
Bizarrely, a lot of these kids survived their carefree days of growing up without ever getting run over by a passing car or doing themselves any permanent physical/mental damage from self-determining their free time from the age of 7 or 8 without the interference of an overprotective mom and dad.
Alas, not anymore.
True, the world has changed, and a lot of those childhood freedoms cannot be taken for granted these days. But that said, many parents of today are so invested and involved in their children’s day-to-day existence, that they have become `helicopter parents’ – hovering over their kids 24×7, and ready to swoop in at a moment’s notice to save them from any unpleasant situation that life may throw at them.
The term `helicopter parents’ first appeared in 1969, in Dr Haim Ginott’s book Between Parent And Teenager, but gained in popularity in the early 2000s, which clearly dates the time around when the phenomenon had really taken hold of our society. (Helicopter Parents are also sometimes referred to as Bulldozer Parents or Landmower Parents).
Basically what it implies is that some parents are so preoccupied with the safety of their kids that they are stopping them from taking the sort of risks they need to take to become balanced, all-rounded adults of the future.
“More and more middle-class children are developing mental health problems as an increasing number of risk-averse parents are raising them `in captivity’,” says psychologist Tanya Byron in an interview with Medical Daily. In catastrophic consequence, these kids are developing social anxieties, intense fears of failure, lack of emotional resilience and a propensity for drug or alcohol abuse.
In an attempt to protect their children from pain, suffering, disappointment and failure, helicopter parents are constantly worrying whether playgrounds are protected with shredded rubber mulch and if their kid got a fair shot at a school sports team. They are fighting every battle on their offspring’s behalf and calling up other parents to complain if a child pushed or made fun of their own. They are sacrificing their own comfort and sleeping in the child’s room if he/she is waking up at night and asking for mommy.
The inspiration to become helicopter parents – consciously or otherwise – is coming from our society itself where social media is rife with dire consequences if moms and dads are not vigilant. The obsession with being labeled a “good parent” is reigning supreme, and there is peer pressure too from other parents who make “helicoptering” out to be a supreme virtue. In a fear-based society, it is easy to raise the specter of imaginary demons, and the retail industry is marketing this phenomenon too, to make their own products seem safer and better than their competition’s.
So what to do?
How does a parent break out of this risk-averse culture and stop laying emotional foundations that are contributing quantifiably to proven cases of anxiety, depression and loneliness in today’s college goers who were `raised in captivity’?
Here are some tips:
# 1: Lower Your Own Perception Of Risks
By not taking any chances, and projecting your risk-averse mindset on your kids, you are stopping them from making healthy mistakes. Failure teaches so much more than success. And unless they learn those lessons right now, the deprivation will show up later in their lives – when they are adults, making their own way in the world – in all kinds of negative ways. Each failure will deal a body blow to their self-confidence and self-esteem, and they will look for escapes through detachment, avoidance or substance abuse because they have learnt no coping skills.
# 2: Don’t Step In At The First Sign Of Trouble
Resist the urge to make the pain go away – whatever the pain may be. Give them a chance to experience the discomfort and disappointment on their own, because next time a similar life event comes along they will be more familiar with the experience and therefore start learning ways to cope independently. You won’t always be there to save them.
# 3: Don’t Over-Praise, When It Is Not Warranted
Compliment your children judiciously. Let them earn your praise. Do not minimize non-performance and sub-par results just because you think that will build up their self-confidence. It won’t, because out there in the big, bad world, they will have to compete with others and find acceptance among people who did not birth and raise them. The other fallout of over-praising is narcissism. The child could develop an exaggerated impression of himself or herself that is far removed from reality, and this is a destructive, undesirable trait on so many levels.
# 4: Don’t Expect To Be The Best Friend
Children need exposure to peers and be able to communicate optimally with them at a level of friendship. By cutting off budding friendships because you want to be your child’s BFF, you’re creating a parental co-dependence that will not serve well in the future.
HELICOPTER PARENTS: A Glance At The Statistics
The graphic below highlights the results of a research conducted by Dr. Jesse Viner and Matt Zajechowski of Yellowbrick, a psychology, and treatment program for young adults, on the impact of helicopter parents. The findings are extremely telling – and pretty worrisome in their ramifications.