The term “helicopter parenting” describes parents who are overinvolved in their children’s lives. They hover close by and swoop down to help at the first sign of trouble. And helicopter parents don’t change their behavior as their kids get older: they continue to hover as teens enter high school and even when they head off to college.
As parenting teenagers has become increasingly complicated, helicopter parenting has become more prevalent — along with so-called “lawnmower parents” and “snowplow parents,” who not only hover but also mow down or plow away any obstacles in a child’s or teenager’s path. In particular, the teen mental health crisis, the negative impact of social media and teen drug use and opioid overdoses are huge concerns for many parents, catalyzing their over-involvement.
The impact of helicopter parenting on children and teens isn’t all bad. In fact, these parents often have close and caring relationships with their kids. But the biggest problem with helicopter parenting is that kids don’t get a chance to learn how to navigate the world on their own. Research shows that this leads to emotional and mental health repercussions, such as increased anxiety and depression, difficulty in school and poor emotional self-regulation.
In addition to these negative effects, helicopter parenting can strain the parent-child relationship. This is especially true as children enter adolescence and rebel against parental involvement. For teenagers, developing an independent sense of self is crucial; they need to test their own capabilities and learn how to face and cope with the consequences of their actions.
“Allowing your teen to explore different facets of self and claim their identity in healthy ways is key to remaining supportive and staying involved in their lives,” said Heather Senior Monroe, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and Director of Program Development at Newport Academy.
Here are a few approaches to parenting teens without hovering.
Be a coach instead of a dictator: Helicopter parents tend to step in and make decisions for their children and teens. With a coaching approach, however, parents ask questions that encourage teens to work toward solving their own problems.
Allow natural consequences to unfold: This way, kids learn that the responsibility for their actions falls on them. In addition, they learn to make better choices next time.
Don’t manage their schedule: When it’s up to them to stay on track, teens feel a sense of autonomy and competence.
Let kids fail: No parent wants to see their child fail. Yet failure can offer much greater life lessons than success.
Offer unconditional love: Teens need a healthy balance of space and emotional support. It’s not hovering to express sympathy, empathy and caring.