Monday, 20 July 2015

Is Helicopter Parenting Causing Kids to Crash and Burn?

I was passed along this article - Kids of Helicopter Parenting are Sputtering Out, which is an expert from the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. The basic message is that recent studies are suggesting that children who have had overly involved parents and overly structured childhoods are suffering from severe mental health challenges in early adulthood.

While it is not at all possible to say that helicopter parenting causes depression and mental health problems for their children, some studies are finding red flag-raising correlations. Colleges and university of all sizes are noticing a significant increase in the number of students with issues connected to their mental health as well as an increase in students who are taking medications for psychological problems.

There seems to be a growth in a fear of failure, first nurtured from their parent's fear of their failure. The article says:

"When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, a choice between doing a summer seminar or service project but not both—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process. This inability to cope—to sit with some discomfort, think about options, talk it through with someone, make a decision—can become a problem unto itself."

My parents weren't at all excited or impressed when I told them I'd be studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree instead a science degree when I was choosing my post-graduation path after high school, but I couldn't imagine what it would have been like if they had forced me into a certain major or faculty as was described in one situation from the article. It doesn't seem like that big of a leap to assume I'd have been less happy, more overwhelmed, and more anxious to perform well for them. (For the record, my parents are over the moon happy and proud of where I've ended up after university.)

In my day job I work with youth, and my colleagues and I have noticed a significant increase in mental health related challenges over the past 5-7 years. When I was in the 7th grade, I remember worrying about the color of my hair clips and whether the boy I liked would talk to me at the school dance. Today these problems seem almost juvenile in comparison to the anxiety and depression we've started to see over the past few years. I have no idea if this is connected to overly involved parents, but I would agree that something is happening.

I get it. We love our little tiny humans fiercely. We want them to live the best lives possible and probably offer them experiences that our parents weren't able to give us. But at the cost of their mental health? No freaking way.


Our son is an only child, so he gets a lot of us. While I plainly don't have the time to be a full-on helicopter parent, my husband and I are trying to find the balance, and it's not easy. We make mistakes all of the time. When are we loving him, teaching him, giving him the attention he needs, and when are we hovering? How much do we just let him figure stuff out own his own? Which tantrums do we resolve and which do we let run their course? How do we help him build self-confidence and self-esteem but not ego? How do we teach him new skills and self-reliance? How do we teach resilience and problem-solving?

Psychologist, Madeline Levine, says there are three ways we might be unknowingly overparenting:
     "1. When we do for our kids what they can already do for themselves;
      2. When we do for our kids what they can almost do for themselves; and
      3. When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own egos."

I do not want to think about him getting bigger and growing up. I love his little snuggles. However, the reality is that I'm not going to be around our son all of the time his whole life. I have to be sure I teach him to be able to analyze situations and problems and make good decisions. That way, when he does become a teenager, and then an adult, I can feel confident when he is away from us that he has the tools to be strong and confident and know what is best for him. As the article says, kids have to learn to "be there for themselves".


For more information you can check out:
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

The Price Of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine

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