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Raising Self-Reliant Kids In The Age Of Helicopter Parenting

By now we are all familiar with the term helicopter parent, which entered Merriam-Webster’s dictionary back in 2011. It’s a great metaphor for parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives, hovering all the time.

It’s natural, and desirable, for parents to want their children to be happy. So when given the chance, parents try to make things easier for their sons and daughters. But helicopter parenting takes “being supportive” to a whole new level.  

What does helicopter parenting look like? It can be applied to all stages of a child's life, and it can come in many forms.  

Toddler stage:
- Constantly asking the preschool teacher for a progress report 
- Not encouraging developmentally appropriate independence, such as a child’s attempt to walk and figure out games on his/her own.  

Elementary school:
- Asking school administrators to make sure their child has a certain teacher
- Choosing their child's friends
- Enrolling kids in activities without the child’s input
- Completing homework and school projects for their child
- Refusing to let the child solve problems on his/her own.

Teen years and beyond:
- Not allowing their child to make age-appropriate choices
- Becoming overly involved in academic work and extracurricular activity to shield their kids from failure and disappointment
- Intervening in disagreements with their child’s friends, co-workers or employer

When I first heard about helicopter parenting, I was certain my husband and I were not practitioners. But after doing a little research on the subject, I realized we did, in fact, do many of the things noted above. Once you recognize that you are over-parenting — and that it might be harmful to your child later in life — you pause and reflect, and ask yourself, why are we doing this. According to Dr. Karen Gill, a pediatrician, our actions as parents can stem from a variety of reasons:

1. Fears about their future: If the child gets a low grade or doesn't make a sports team, are they failures?
2. Anxiety: Some parents get anxious when they see their child hurt or disappointed
3. Looking for a sense of purpose: A parent becomes wrapped up in his/her child's accomplishments. The child's success makes mom or dad feel like a better parent.
4. Overcompensation: Maybe the parent didn't feel loved or protected by his/her own parents and is now overdoing it with their own kids.
5. Peer Pressure: This phenomenon doesn't just happen with children, it happens with adults, too. If parents are surrounded by helicopter parents, they might feel pressured to mimic this style of parenting.

If there are benefits to helicopter parenting, they only extend to the parents, who might feel a greater sense of purpose at their child's expense. In a 2014 study evaluating the impact of helicopter parenting, students raised under that approach were found more likely to be on medication for anxiety and depression. There's also the risk of a child developing entitlement issues … coming to expect that he or she deserves certain privileges. The child may grow up believing the world  will go the extra mile for him or her — something we all know is untrue. Some children may not develop proper coping skills, because mom and dad have stepped in and solved all problems.

After learning more about helicopter parenting, my husband and I began to think deeply about the long term effects. We didn’t want our son always relying on us to fix things for him. We instituted changes to improve his self-reliance and allow him to make age-appropriate decisions. For example, we now let him choose his own extracurricular activities and hobbies. And if he gets into a disagreement with a friend, we let him deal with it.

One book that we found extremely helpful was Raising an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Among other topics, the book points out how important it is to allow your children to fail. As long as they have tried their best to achieve something on their own, that's what matters. Lythcott-Haims also encourages parents to teach their children life skills, such as how to cook, clean and do laundry; how to handle face-to-face interactions; and how to talk with teachers. All of these life skills should be in place by the time children are 18 and ready to enter the work force full-time or attend college.

Although my husband and I have managed to let go of the reigns quite a bit, one thing we won’t compromise on is the safety of the products our son (and we) use, especially for personal care. Safe and effective products are a must in our household, and so we are happy that our son has found his own favorite Starling favorites: Force Field deodorant, clear lip balm, and Quench.