Down To Earth Dad

Helicopter Parents
Is There Ever Too Much Parenting?

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Anew study finds that parents who hover over their child's every move--the so-called helicopter parents--can create adults with weakened resolve and trouble making independent life choices. Researchers at Keen State College in New Hampshire, led by Professor of Psychology Neil Montgomery, say 10% of college freshmen's parents linger quite close. So close, in fact, that if two days go by without contact, the parent calls their adult child on the phone.

"It seems to be a baby boomer form of parenting that's been enhanced by the invention of the cell phone," Dr. Montgomery told me. "It's where the parents are constantly tracking even their older children. They want to know where they are, what they're doing, [and] who they're with. There's a real fear in some parents that their child is either going to get hurt or killed if they don't constantly monitor them. These parents are involved in their child's academic and social activities. Their parent becomes their best friend."

Sometimes the hovering parent can be downright controlling of their child's world, he said, noting preliminary findings showing that kids raised by domineering parents learn to need constant support from others, and often don't do well in social settings. They may also not be ready to leave the nest when they become adults. These children are highly dependent and they also "exhibit anxiety," he said. "There would be vulnerability. There would also be self-consciousness. What we also found is that [children of helicopter parents are] not open to new ideas or new actions. They are also not maturing as quickly as previous generations did."

This research has me wondering which is worse--helicopter parenting or lack of significant parenting. Thirty years of father-involvement research, for instance, shows that children without involved dads experience an increased risk for a host of negatives including growing up poor, getting into trouble with the law, abusing drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and even suicide. Sure, there are risks associated with helicopter parenting, but parent involvement in general will always trump parent absence. And there's this: Despite the negative attributes associated with the actions of helicopter parents, Dr. Montgomery says there are actually some positives. "In terms of character strength, [these children] have the capacity for love, and a belief in spirituality. What we have also found is that these are young people who feel supported. They know someone has their back. And when they go into new social situations, they look for people to support them," he said.

Asked what advice he'd offer parents, Dr. Montgomery said, "Don't abandon your kids.... I'm not advocating neglecting your child. Helicopter parents need to give their child responsibilities, and monitor [children] while they carry their responsibilities out, and praise them for when they do well carrying them out," he said. "By doing so, your child will become more and more self-confident. They will also be able to cope with the world more easily, rather than being guided through it as these [helicopter] parents appear to be doing."

The research is new, and the discussion is underway, but in drawing my early conclusions, I'd have to say yes, some children are overparented by well-meaning parents, but they are the least of our worries in a nation where one in six children will go to bed tonight in a home where no father is present, and where parents are increasingly distracted from focusing on their kids. Lucky, after all, is the child who has the "problem" of a parent who cares too much, fumbles the ball by hovering too closely, and is overly involved in his life.

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, and facilitates the National Dads Matter!(TM) Project for child- and family-serving organizations. He provides keynote addresses and trainings, and conducts Family Storytelling Night(TM) events for programs and schools. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the National Dads Matter!(TM) Project for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877-282-DADS, or e-mail him at patrick@downtoearth dad.org. Website: www.DownToEarthDad.org.

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