The Helicopter Parent and the Dangers of Over Protecting

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Hypothetical Case:

Bob’s mother went to school to complain about the classes her son was placed in. She wanted more challenging classes and demanded his schedule be changed. She also complained about the time of day he would take lunch. His present schedule meant that he would be eating too early in the day to suit his needs. She was most insistent in her attitude and would not take “no” for an answer. To make matters worse, she told him to send his laundry home every week so that she could do it for him and she would send it back. Never mind the fact that the dorm had plenty of facilities for the students to do their own laundry. 


For his part, Bob was extremely embarrassed by his mother’s interference in his life. He knew that he could see to these issues himself and didn’t need her to come to school. He felt deep resentment because, once again, she was treating like a handicapped person, as though he was still a child.

You see, Bob was nineteen years old and a freshmen in college and was living far away from home. She travelled a long way to come up to campus…uninvited.

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Bob’s mother was what is described as a helicopter parent.

During the early stages of life, babies and toddlers rely on their parents to do just about everything for them. However, the process of development is such that, as the child grows and develops, they want to take on more tasks on their own. Parents often hear the demand, “I can do that.” Perhaps the child cannot “do that” as yet, but they want to try. The helicopter parent hovers over their child, not letting him learn by doing. The child is never out of her sight. He is never sent to the store to do some family shopping with a list of needed items. He is never allowed to take an after school job delivering newspapers or working in the local supermarket. The helicopter parent impedes the child’s acquisition of skills of all kinds, social, academic and working. She hovers over his social life, and academic life and discourages him from getting that after school job that teenagers want so that they can have some extra cash. Most of all, this type of parent does not allow her youngster to learn from his mistakes.

Parental over involvement can lead to negative outcomes. Rick, now a 40 year old man, was someone who could talk about that because his mother was this type of parent. He recently recounted how his mother, a loving, warm and caring person, brought mothering to a new level of over parenting. When he went off to college, he was filled with anxiety. This was not the type of anxiety most youngsters experience when they are about to leave home. Rick feared that he would not be able to take care of himself. His mother even buttered his bread for him so that he feared his ability to do something as basic as that. He describes himself as someone who was mollycoddled from as far back as he could remember.

The point is that for adults like Rick, Bob and others, over parenting harmed their sense of self esteem. Adult children of helicopter parents are often depressed, anxious, and dependent. That last is no surprise since they are accustomed to relying on someone else to do everything for them. They also express less satisfaction with life, probably because their sense of autonomy has been shaken.

For those who emerged from these types of homes and want to regain their sense of self confidence in navigating life, there is help. Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps along with behavior modification, helps people learn and acquire the necessary skills and self confidence that are missing from their lives. That is what Bob and Rick did and with satisfying results.

Parenting is a difficult thing especially in this world when so many young parents face the task with little support and guidance. For new parents there are lots of support groups that help people discuss the challenges they face. A Google search is helpful in finding parenting groups in every neighborhood in the nation.

What are your experiences with over parenting?

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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