Helicopter Parents

NOTE: This entry is not directed at any particular person or group. The examples are composites from multiple instances.

Helicopter Parents – they hover over their kids and attempt to micromanage their lives. Combat Helicopter Parents – these guys are armed for battle, and God save you if you’re in their way! A dorm counselor at a large university received a call at 3AM from a distraught parent: “I haven’t heard from my daughter in two days. She’s not answering her cell phone and her roommate said she’s sick. I’m worried if she needs to go to the emergency room. Is she in her room? Why aren’t you people on top of this?”

Turns out the young woman was studying with some classmates who lived off-campus. The study session went late so she just “crashed” at their apartment that night instead of trudging through the campus to her dorm. When the harried dorm counselor finally found her in class the next morning, he asked, “Are you sick? Your mom’s worried.” Her reply? “Sick? No way. Well, I do have a little cold.” All the poor counselor could say was, “Call home! PLEASE!”

In the past couple of posts, we’ve discussed parenting. We can draw on some of our earlier comments to answer the question: “Why are some parents so overly involved in their kids’ lives, even when the kid is in college and officially an adult?” One possibility is that the parents are showing a pattern of control that began when their child was younger. Terrified that the kid would get into the wrong crowd and be tempted in a world of drugs and sex, they began to micromanage the kid’s activities 24/7; now they can’t break the habit. It’s also possible that the parents don’t trust the kid and never did. They see their son or daughter as lacking in ability and judgment, and believe success will only come as a result of their intervention. Maybe the parents fear their child will fail, so they become enablers who spoil the child; whatever Johnny or Sally wants is fine with them. They mistakenly believe that competence and self-esteem result from success, and failure must be avoided at all costs. So, they try to shelter the child from failure believing that high self-esteem will result – a belief that has little research support, by the way. Another possibility is that the parents reflect on their own youthful craziness, feel anxious about their ability as parents, and want to make sure their children have more focus and direction than they did.

Whatever the reason behind “helicoptering,” it’s psychologically damaging. In fact, some say it’s a form of child abuse that adversely affects emotional development. That view is supported by research and clinical observation. In the extreme, sheltered kids are more vulnerable to PTSD when adults; they are not taught how to learn from failure; they enter adulthood with low self-esteem; they feel entitled, which robs them of maintaining healthy and productive social interactions; they become self-absorbed, lacking in humility and empathy; they resist being accountable for their actions; and, most tragically, they are at risk for feeling helpless and descending into depression.

A father called his son’s university financial aid office, asking why he had not received the statement for his son’s financial aid package for the upcoming year. The staff person checked the records and told dad that his son had been sent multiple emails and regular campus mail notices that he needed to come in and sign the papers so they could be sent to his parents. Apparently, he did not see any urgency to the request, and no doubt figured he had better things to do. The staffer boldly suggested to dad that the boy was being a little irresponsible.

When dad heard about the notices sent to his son over the previous month, and the suggestion sonny was behaving in a less-than-adult fashion, he protested, “But you have to realize, he’s only 21 years old!”

The staffer was incensed, and replied, “Sir, my son is a 21-year-old soldier stationed in Iraq, and he might die for your son!” And she hung up on dad! An hour later, the boy showed up in the office to sign the papers. But you know what’s sad here? The kid showed up only after dad obviously called him and read him the riot act! This kid was overindulged, spoiled, protected, and shielded from having to face responsibility. When he graduates and enters the work force, the first time he is faced with a challenge on the job, will he call dad? “My boss gave me this assignment to finish by tomorrow! What do I do, dad? Help!”

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