Helpful Parent or Helicopter Parent? How You may Hurt Your Children in Later Life

Helicopter parents want to protect their children, but studies show they’re accomplishing the opposite. Instead of having a positive effect, helicopter parenting puts children at risk of being more dependent on others when they reach college age, according to a 2014 study.

As college students, they also lack important soft skills like responsibility, they have difficulty coping, and they don’t believe in their own ability to accomplish goals.

The problems are greatest with controlling parenting techniques rather than simply indulging a child. Studies indicate that, as children of controlling parents enter college, they exhibit lower self-esteem and higher anxiety levels. This parenting style differed from overall parental support, which provided a better sense of well-being.

Specific types of support, such as financial, cause specific types of damage. For example, a 2013 study showed that the children of parents who spent the most money on their college educations got the worst grades. Another study from the same year found that when parents were deeply involved in their children’s selection of college majors and even the actual schoolwork, those students felt less satisfied with their lives in college. Their mental wellness was also impacted, with higher rates of problems like anxiety and depression. Additional effects of this parenting style on children include being more self-conscious and less open to new ideas and actions.

How can you use a positive parenting style that sets your kids on the path to confidence and success rather than putting them at risk by the time they read college age? Here are three strategies:

Be Engaged Without Being Overbearing
Dr. Deborah Gilboa, M.D., of, told that “It is a tricky line to find, to be engaged with our children and their lives, but not so enmeshed that we lose perspective on what they need.” The line often gets crossed when you make parenting decisions based on your own fear or anxiety rather than what’s in your child’s best interests. Sometimes it’s better for that child to take a risk and learn a painful lesson, even though you as a parent are afraid to see him or her fail. Stay involved with your child’s life and know what’s going on, but positive parenting means stepping out of the way and giving that child an opportunity to learn on his or her own as preparation for harder lessons later in life.
Let Your Child Develop Healthy Self-Esteem
Constantly giving positive reinforcement to your child for everything he or she does is not the same as promoting healthy self esteem. You shouldn’t be doing things like making sure that your kids only do activities where everyone gets a trophy or arguing with any teacher who dares to give them anything lower than an A. Truly healthy self-esteem develops when a child is able to take risks and live with the consequences of his or her own actions, whether they’re good or bad. Failure makes the true accomplishments feel so much sweeter. If you refuse to let your kids lose, they may start to feel that you don’t trust them to act on their own, which erodes their self-esteem and self-confidence, with drastic consequences later in life like those seen in the college student studies. According to Dr. Gilboa, “Failure and challenges teach kids new skills, and, most important, teach kids that they can handle failure and challenges.”
Let Your Child Earn His or Her Way
Kids love it when their parents never make them do chores or force them to do anything unpleasant. They don’t worry about cleaning their rooms and don’t sweat not finishing their homework because Mom or Dad will call the teacher with an excuse. Even when these kids reach college, this parenting style often means that their parents are still closely involved and making excuses for them with professors. Unfortunately, these kids learn zero responsibility, leaving them without important skills to cope with job responsibilities and adult relationships. Give your children chores and make them take responsibility for their actions and any resulting consequences. Getting an F for incomplete schoolwork or getting benched for unsportsmanlike behavior at a soccer game won’t mentally scar them for life. Rather, they’ll learn the cause and effect of life and be better prepared for college and relationships.

You don’t need a totally disengaged parenting child to keep yourself from being a helicopter parent. Have a healthy relationship with your children by letting them have independence, try things out on their own, and work through the positive and negative consequences of their actions. Don’t hove over them endlessly, trying to prevent every little fall. Instead, be on hand to help soften the landing.