Are You a Helicopter Parent?

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Lizzy Stewart for the New York Times.

When our first child was about a year old, my husband and I took him to the neighborhood park, more for ourselves, I suppose, than for our baby since he was far too small for any of the playground equipment. My husband put our big-eyed baby boy about an arm’s length up the tube slide a few times and held him as he slid down.

Justin was enthusiastic about this new experience, but our son didn’t seem to like it much. He whimpered, and to my surprise, Justin continued to slide him down. Frustrated with this lack of parental response, I rushed over and grabbed our baby with some searing indictment about lackadaisical parenting.

I’d no sooner rescued him from his offending father and that awful tube slide than I turned indignantly away and conked little baby’s head full force on the metal playground pole.

Oops.

My husband, as perhaps you can imagine, has loved telling this story for the last eight years, and I laugh, too, of course. It’s a classic tale of misguided zeal, and I’m surprised to find that as our children grow, a new meaning to the story is surfacing.

I think it was my first offense as a helicopter parent, the term used to describe parents who “hover”, and (depending on who you ask) either offer extra support for their children, or interfere to the point of undermining their children’s growth. I couldn’t believe the apparently opposite results of studies on helicoptering. Clearly, it’s a topic parents and researchers are discussing. This study, referenced in Psychology Today, suggests “overinvolved” parents have a positive benefit, and this one, from Reuters, suggests helicoptering can be linked to depression in adult children. I tend to like this balanced approach, which suggests assessing both the need and desire for help before jumping in. And I also appreciate this piece, which advocates that challenges lead to personal growth. “If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy,” author Madeline Levine writes, “you are in the wrong business.”

Our son, 9, is now quite adept on the twisty slides, and instead I’m tempted to rescue him from playground fights, forgotten snack money, unkind substitute teachers, or the hurtful words he exchanges with his brother. I guess I never expected that so much of parenting would be biting my tongue and wringing my hands while I let my children figure things out on their own.

What about you? Have you been tempted to rescue your children from life’s challenges, only to find that it didn’t really serve them in the end? And how do you balance love and support with fostering independence and personal responsibility?

P.S. — I was surprised that this interesting article, The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, appeared in Time 3½ years ago. Has our culture moved very far away from overparenting in the years since it was written? And I think many of us will relate to Tracey Stewart‘s example of over-involvement when it comes to art projects. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves!