There’s a simple reason why the term helicopter parenting has been around for decades: it’s hard not to hover. With extreme cases like the parents in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, it’s easy to tell ourselves that giving a little extra help on homework now and then isn’t that big of a deal.
But while going the extra mile for your child might feel good in the moment, it can have negative long-term consequences. Kids who depend on their parents to rescue them from difficult situations may find it harder to be responsible and to develop self-control. Their self-esteem can suffer and they may be more likely to burn out in school, which can contribute to anxiety, depression, or addiction.
It’s one thing to know that helicopter parenting is bad in principle, and it’s another to say no when opportunities to rescue your child arise. It’s a good idea to think about what you will or won’t do to help your child out in a bind before it happens. But as with many things in parenting, there are no hard and fast rules that work for every kid.
Take into consideration the child’s age, maturity level, and what they are capable of doing, and adjust how much you help them as they grow older. Many parents offer more support to young children, especially as they adjust to a new routine at back-to-school time, and do less for their older children. It can be hard to know just how much help is the right amount to give your kids, but there is one clear sign. If your kids aren’t taking more responsibility for their academics and activities as they get older, you may be stepping in too much.
Before you decide to go out of your way to help your child, think about what they may learn in the situation with and without your help. If you take time away from work to deliver forgotten soccer gear before practice starts, your child may get the message that they don’t need to be responsible for having all the things they need for the day. But if your child is stuck on the sidelines because of forgotten cleats for one practice, they may take responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Helping your child too much with homework is another area that may make things easier today but harder in the long run. In most cases, the best approach to take is for you or your child to have a conversation with the teacher. If your child is struggling to master the material, resist the temptation to complete an assignment for them. Instead, coach your child to email the teacher or ask for help at school and consider sending the teacher an email yourself.
If your child is overloaded with assignments—a standard rule is no more than 10 minutes per grade level—consider talking with the teacher about your concerns. The teacher may have insights into where your child can improve their study skills, or may be able to provide more time in class to work on assignments.
If the problem is that your child doesn’t like the teacher’s style, you can help by:
Keep in mind that it may take time for kids to learn new expectations. Nobody’s perfect, and kids may need to have new rules repeated several times before they remember them. The most important thing is to see that your child is taking steps in the right direction.
If your child is struggling to meet new family expectations, it’s a good time to have a conversation. Ask them to think of ideas that could help them stay organized and top of assignments. They’ll be more likely to try a new idea if they had the opportunity to give input.
As your kids get older, empower them to make their own decisions and solve their own problems, but be there to offer help if they need it. Parents can play an important role by helping older students develop problem solving skills.
Livia McCoy, dean of student support for The Steward School in Richmond, Va., suggests these steps to help empower teenagers:
Did you know there’s more than helicopter parents? There are new terms to familiarize yourself with, like Lawnmower and Jackhammer parents.
Lawnmower parents get their name for the way they “mow down obstacles and create clear paths” for their kids. You may be asking yourself, why is that a bad thing? The problem isn’t making life easy for your children, it’s the way you go about it. A few examples of “lawnmower parenting” include emailing teachers to dispute grades, asking teachers for project extensions on your child’s behalf, and removing your child from a challenging activity. Now, there are exceptions to everything– sometimes you really do have to intervene. However, save that action for more severe cases such as bullying, or when your child needs extra help in a particular subject.
Instead of contacting your child’s teacher about a grade, encourage your child to approach the teacher themselves. Go over a few talking points and help your child formulate the most productive questions to ask. This is an opportunity for you to teach your child how to open a dialogue about expectations, mistakes, and improvements in a healthy way. The same goes for when your child needs an extension: this is the perfect chance to teach them that it’s okay to ask for help and accommodation sometimes. Remember to set realistic expectations with your child; sometimes discussing a grade won’t result in the grade being raised, and that’s okay. Learning to take that initiative is the real lesson!
When your child is struggling with a class or after-school activity, teach them how to as for help. It’s common for kids to not raise their hands whenever they have a question in class. It can be isolating to feel like the only one that doesn’t “get it”. Instead of telling your child to just raise their hand, talk with them about meeting with their teacher before or after class for extra one-on-one help. Sometimes having such undivided attention is the best way to get a question answered directly. Keep in mind that such requests can be difficult for children to make, so remind them that their teacher is a teacher for a reason– they want to help!
Jackhammer parents are perhaps the most intense. There are multiple things that make someone a jackhammer parent, mainly revolving around the parent’s treatment of the teacher. For example, a helicopter parent might take issue with a book in the curriculum. A jackhammer parent would take that a step further and email the teacher daily about it, refusing to compromise or discuss further. They might show up to school board meetings to bring up the book, or even post about the book on social media in the name of advocacy.
In addition to mistreating teachers, jackhammer parenting takes away children’s ability to set their own boundaries and develop their own opinions. In extreme cases, it sets the precedent that children don’t need to learn how to compromise.
It’s understandable to want to be involved in your child’s schooling. Instead of jackhammer parenting, ask your child about what they’re learning in school and what they think about it. Teaching your child how to communicate their opinions, worries, and thoughts regarding their education, activities, and friendships is the best way to determine whether or not you need to be involved in the situation. When do you talk with your child’s teacher, be open to their side of things. Curriculum is often state-mandated, other times they’ve taught certain lessons with no issues to date.
Helicopter, lawnmower, and jackhammer parents all come from a good place. They want to help their child in any way they can. However, there are consequences to such approaches, mainly hindering their child’s ability to develop certain skills like problem-solving and accountability. In more serious cases, it can negatively impact self-esteem and trigger anxiety.