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Helicopter Parenting: The Negative Impacts

Failure to cut the cord has a long-lasting impact.

I remember the day she came into our lives like it was yesterday. My wife woke up one morning and said "My water broke." But she was in no rush to make it to the hospital. She said we had plenty of time and hopped in the shower. I was a mad man running around grabbing things and throwing them in a suitcase hoping that she would pick up on my energy and hurry it up a little. But no. She put on her makeup, did her hair, got dressed and then calmly said, “I’m ready.”

I drove like a bat out of hell to get to the hospital. We called parents, friends and family to inform them that our little girl was on the way. And as we started to get close, my wife again calmly said to me, “I’m hungry. Let’s stop at Mr. Goodcents for a sandwich.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!

So we stopped and ordered two sandwiches. She sat and ate hers. I paced and left mine on the table.

We eventually got back on the road and made it to the hospital. My wife was right, her labor would take another 12 hours. And after many failed attempts at a natural birth, our daughter was brought kicking and screaming into our world by emergency cesarean section.

I’ll never forget the moment I heard that little cry. There she was, the most beautiful thing my eyes had ever beheld. It changed me as a man. My world would never be the same.

She had me wrapped around her finger from the get-go! You daddys out there know what I’m talking about. I was always there for my little princess. She never had to ask for something because I knew what she needed. If she fell and scrapped her knee, I was there to hold her and make the boo-boo all better. I saw her as this little fragile person that I MUST protect at all costs. I would not hear of me spoiling her, I was just being a good daddy.

Not until she got older did I see the negative effects that my parenting style had created. Not only was she not able to make friends or decisions on her own, she wanted me to do those things for her. I realized that I hadn’t been helping her, I was crippling her. It took several years to undo what I had been doing. Even to this day, there are times where I can see that early parenting coming out in her behavior.

That got my wife and me to thinking and doing some digging about the negative, long-term effects of hovering or helicopter parenting. What we saw surprised us a little. Here’s what we found.

Some say it can be a good thing

There are some authors and researchers out there who say that in today’s culture and economic downturn that helicopter parenting is a good thing.

Don Aucoin of the Boston Globe wrote an article in March 2009 that said, “Some researchers have begun to argue that late adolescence and young adulthood are such minefields today—emotional, social, sexual, logistical, psychological—that there are valid reasons for parents to remain deeply involved in their children's lives even after the kids are, technically speaking, adults.”

The Harvard Family Research Project found that:

  • Adolescents whose parents monitor their academic and social activities have lower rates of delinquency and higher rates of social competence and academic growth.
  • Youth whose parents are familiar with college preparation requirements and are engaged in the application process are most likely to graduate high school and attend college.
  • Youth whose parents have high academic expectations and who offer consistent encouragement for college have positive student outcomes.

This research allows for the question “Is there room for helicopter parenting in today’s culture?”

There are some clear negative effects

Keeping in mind that there may be room for some hovering in our children’s lives, to do so all the time produces clear-cut, negative, long-term effects. 

In June of 2010 Live Science studied a group of 300 incoming college freshman and the effects of helicopter parenting during the crisis point of entering college. The study found that 13 percent of girls had parents that hovered compared to just 5 percent of boys, with mothers doing the majority of the helicoptering.

The lead researcher Neil Montgomery, when talking about the students, said: "We have a person who is dependent, who is vulnerable, who is self-conscious, who is anxious, who is impulsive, not open to new actions or ideas; is that going to make a successful college student? No not exactly, it's really a horrible story at the end of the day."

They did state that more research on larger groups was needed to confirm the initial research but the findings were clear.

In my own circle of influence I have seen children grow up in this environment and have witnessed how it affects who they are. Let me share with you the story of “Timothy” (not his real name).

Timothy was a good kid. He was on sports teams in high school, made excellent grades and never got into any real trouble. The only problem was a large umbilical cord still attached to his mother. Timothy never did anything without his mother’s permission. And I’m not exaggerating. He never made a decision without consulting his mother. If he wanted to ask a girl out, he went to his mom. If he wanted to go get some new clothes, he took his mom with him. His mother even went on interviews with him to potential jobs—he never worked in high school. It was ridiculous.

I met with Timothy as he came to the crisis point of college. He was unsure of what to do. His mother wanted him to go to the local community college and live at home, but he had received full ride scholarships to several schools, none of them close by. He sat in my office and cried about having to make a decision. He didn’t know how to process any of the information and was anxiety ridden over not having his mom close by.

I encouraged him that he was an amazing young man, capable of so many new things. It was months of meetings with him, his parents and teachers before he finally made the decision to take one of the scholarships at a state college several hours away. My wife and I were overjoyed at Timothy finally standing on his own two feet.

It did not last long. Modern technology helped Timothy stay in constant contact with his mom, even to the point where they would Skype every day, and she would call him in the mornings to make sure that he was up in time for classes. At the end of every day, she would go over his homework to make sure that he was doing his best. She had managed to stretch that chord hundreds of miles.

Timothy has grown into a fantastic man. But he is a fantastic, single man back in his hometown because his mother is the only woman in his life. Who knows where Timothy could have gone or could have been? Regrettably, we’ll never know.

As my wife and I looked through all these studies and thought back to our own experiences, we came to the conclusion that there are times when we will need to start up that helicopter and swoop in for a rescue. 

We can also see those times where I was just hovering over my daughter, waiting to save my little princess. We are going to continue to fight those battles that I have created so that our children will grow up to be strong, independent adults. But for that to happen, I’m going to have to make sure that my helicopter mainly stays grounded.

kennib hooge November 13, 2011 at 10:48 PM
I don't see helicopter parenting as that bad, as long as you can tell the difference between a flyby and a rescue operation.
Joe Smith November 14, 2011 at 04:23 AM
Nicely said! Love that.

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