The Over Parenting Challenge
What caused the ‘Helicopter’ Parent to Emerge?
It seems that helicopter parenting came as a reaction to two things, the media’s hype about “stranger danger” and the effort of a generation to parent exactly opposite of how they were parented.
On July 27, 1981 six year old Adam Walsh was abducted at a Sears department store. This became national news and a movie in 1983 that was viewed by over 38 million people. This set off the media’s coverage of children abducted and murdered by strangers scaring millions of children and their parents. Although the Adam Walsh story is tragic and horrifying, the reality is that less than one percent of children are abducted by strangers. Not only are most children abducted by a parent or caregiver, but — perhaps surprisingly — many abduction reports (thankfully) turn out to be hoaxes or false alarms. The media tends to only focus on the one percent of stranger abductions, giving the appearance that children are in constant danger. This creates hyper vigilant parents.
Another recent generational phenomenon is reactive parenting, or parenting out of a negative reaction to how they were parented. Reactive parents fight their children’s battles and fix their problems so they do not have to “suffer” like they did. The result is that the children don’t realize that their choices are the basis of their lives. And that only they can make changes and create the life they want for themselves. Reactive parents act as a constant buffer between the kids and the world outside their home, so they are unfamiliar with responsibility. They don’t get the concept of cause and effect. They don’t realize that what they do or don’t do has an outcome. That outcome is the consequence of action or non-action. For instance, they believe that nothing is ever their fault. Their overprotective parents have made mistakes disappear rather using them as opportunities to learn and grow.
Long-term Consequences to Children
Regardless of the underlying reason for over parenting, research shows that the consequences for children are high. The negative effects of helicoptering tend to make the children unhealthily “dependent, vulnerable, self-conscious, anxious, impulsive, not open to new ideas and actions.” Studies conducted at Wollongong University in Australia found that overprotective parenting could result in “natural deficit disorder”. This may be related to several problems including attention disorders, weight issues, resistance to disease, slowed or underdeveloped cognitive and motor skills, and a lack of empathy. Based on these findings, it seems that helicopter parenting not only affects children’s emotional and social development, but might also impact their physical health.
Getting Out of the Helicopter
Here are some helpful tips in the effort to reduce over parenting:
Take a Step Back. Let your children make decisions on their own. Let them begin to understand the concept of consequences. Soon they will realize that their life is a result of the choices they make rather than the ones that you make.
Let mistakes Happen. Try to refrain from ‘hovering’ or monitoring your children while they are completing a task, but let them know that you trust them to work on their own. Even if a job is not done perfectly, resist fixing it or doing it for them. Allow children to make mistakes and be okay with these mistakes. Mistakes are a natural step in self-discovery and independence. Practice listening! Practice asking non-judgmental questions that force your children to think about their actions and their effects.
Prepare them for the World.
Being too protective of children preventing them from doing anything that may involve risk is also one of the typical pitfalls of helicopter parents. Not only does the child not learn to handle risk, the child is also likely to suck up and incorporate your fear for the world. The result of such over parenting may result in unhappy, insecure, or fearful children who view the world as a scary place that should be avoided. Rather than never letting them go out alone for fear of strangers, teach them how to protect themselves, recognize signs of danger, and respond appropriately to these situations. Preparation is much more effective than overprotection because it teaches them to function in the real world.
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