Pursue What Matters
Episode 240: Are you a Helicopter Parent?
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you a helicopter parent? Do you coddle your children? Do you worry and fret about the choices they make? Let me tell you, it’s time to back off and let your children develop their capacities.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:13
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love on work. So we’re talking all about helicopter parents. Now I’m looking at all of you comfortable middle-class, parents who are educated, right? Like, this is the group that’s more likely to be a helicopter parent. Because right you have some experience with the world you have some you have means and resources. And so you know, the thought often is if I can help my kids, I should. And let me tell you that’s dead wrong. You do your children a major disservice if you are always helicoptering in, or paving the way from for them. And so, you know, if, if any of this rings true, it’s okay, be compassionate. But let’s really understand the dangers of helicopter parenting and how you can really help your children grow in capacity and in resilience without undermining them. So that’s really what we’re talking about today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:36
So first, let’s start with what is a helicopter parent. So this is a parent who takes an over protective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children, right. And so if we think about so this is this is from an article on helicopter parenting, that some college officials see all this as the behavior of an overindulge generation raised by helicopter parents, and lacking in resilience. So sometimes, we see the entitlement, entitlement and overindulgence is a direct result of helicopter parenting. And so these are parents that helicopter in to really make sure that their children are protected, that they’re not people aren’t being mean to them. And they fail to realize and recognize that it is in facing challenges and learning to make decisions for ourselves that we actually develop self esteem that we develop self efficacy, that we develop a belief in ourselves that we can do hard things, which is the path to resilience. And so, in 1969, Dr. Han denotes a book parents and teenagers talked about, talked about this term helicopter parents and talked about teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. And so you know, it became a dictionary entry in 2011. And maybe you’ve heard similar terms, which include lawnmower parenting, costing parents, so costing your, your, your kids, or bulldoze parenting. We’ll talk a little bit more about that one later. But helicopter parenting really refers to a style of parents who are over focused on their children. And it can be a real problem.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:24
So this is from Carolyn Deitch, who is the Director for the treatment of anxiety disorders near Detroit. And here’s the thing, often it is helicopter parenting is a symptom of anxious parents, right. So it’s a parent’s, a difficulty managing their own anxiety. And so they project that on their children and take control of their children’s lives. And it can certainly feed anxiety in children, but it can also feed a lot of annoyance. And so a little bit more on these parents. So they typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences, and specifically their successes or failures. And this is a big deal because one of the most important paths to wellbeing is our ability and willingness to take on responsibility. And so if parents well intended as they may be, are taking too much responsibility for their children. Their children are not developing opportunities to take responsibility in their own lives. And then they feel incapable they feel scared about the world, and in that way, it can really breed anxiety in children. So So another way to think about helicopter parenting is it’s over parenting. So it means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is over controlling, over protecting and over perfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting. So of course we have responsible parenting. And the best way to think about helicopter parenting is it’s over parenting so you’re doing way too much.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:55
So now let’s talk about some of the consequences of helicopter parenting because there are are significant consequences of this. So in our children, what happens, there’s a lack of confidence and self efficacy, because anytime things get challenging mom or dad helicopter in and solve the problem. Another consequences is that children have undeveloped coping skills, so they don’t develop distress tolerance skills. This is a big problem. I already mentioned this consequence, but you can see increased anxiety in children because the message their parents are communicating is that the world is scary, and you’re incompetent, and you need me to manage life for you. So is it any wonder that kids feel anxious and fearful and unable to take on adult responsibilities, so it’s easy to see how this happens? Another consequence is entitlement. Right? Their children assume these and often right at the point of being young adults, they assume that the world will fall in line with whatever they want, and moving to away going to college becomes a very rude awakening. Because, you know, they, they don’t even realize how parents have paved the way or, or protected them from the realities of life. We also see undeveloped life skills. So simple things like how do you how do you talk to a teacher about a concern with a grade? How do you get a job? How do you talk to a supervisor about a pay raise? And then of course, one of the big consequences is risking a failure to launch and I think we see a generation of this currently, and it’s, it’s a real problem, and I think we can look directly to parenting for, you know, for a better understanding of how this has happened.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:49
So let’s talk a little bit about snowplow parents. Maybe you’ve heard about this. So this is similar to lawn mower bulldozer parenting, right like there, everyone gets their fun little pop psychology terms. But snowplow parents is is kind of even taking helicopter parents to the next level, and not in a good way. But snowplow parents tend to engineer every aspect of their children’s experience, so as to protect, to try to protect them from grief and struggle, you know, as if that were possible. That’s not how life works. And so today’s snowplow parents keep their children’s futures obstacle free, even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries. And unfortunately, we’ve seen some really, really horrible examples of this with the college entrance scandal, right, the LSAT scores, and so many affluent parents who took this to extremes, meaning they would bribe sad Proctor’s and paying off college coaches to get their children into elite colleges, and then going to great lengths to make sure they never their children never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there. It’s so bad, right? And like 50 people were charged in a wide ranging fraud to secure students admissions to colleges, several went to jail, including some, some prominent individuals, actresses, that sort of thing. According to the investigation, one parent lied about his son playing water polo, but then worried that the child would be perceived by his peers as a benchwarmer. And so you know, really worked really hard to make sure that their son would be okay. Another one paid someone else to take the AC T for her son, and then pretended to proctor it for herself. So she was totally lying in front of her child, which, you know, maybe by the way, that’s not what we want to be teaching our children.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:51
And so this is this is the ultimate example of snowplow or bulldozing parents. But it is a brazen mode of parenting of the privileged children in everyone gets a trophy generation. And so it can start really early with parents getting on waitlist for elite preschools, even before their babies are born, trying to make their toddlers make sure that their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. And when I read that, I’m just like, that’s hilarious, because like, when I think about what defines a toddler, it’s frustration, because they’ve got these bodies and they don’t have this distress, tolerance develop. And so life is just one big frustration. And so to think about a parent trying to protect a toddler from frustration, boy that you’re really overworking it, you need an easier job. And so, the bribery scandal, of course, highlighted the incredibly dark side of what has become more normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best is exposed to the best has every advantage without understanding how disabling that can be, you know, you’re not really doing them a favor.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:05
So that’s the last point that I want to talk about is you think you’re helping but you’re not. So, you know, we try to give our our kids advantages, but we actually undermine them for the skills that they need for life. And so of course, it’s a parent’s job to support their children, and to use their adult wisdom to prepare for the future when their children aren’t mature enough to do so. That’s why we take toys away from toddlers to avoid temper tantrums. But if children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world? And in a word? The The answer is they flounder, right? They can’t be successful, they drop out of school, they just they waste their parents time and money. And so the root cause, according to one, former dean of a F, Stanford, said that the root cause was parents who had never let their children make mistakes or face challenges. And so of course, Snowplow parents have it backwards. The point, and this is really the take home point for each of us. The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:20
So good parenting is helping your children to, to be equipped with the distress tolerance skills with the capabilities and the problem solving, to be able to face the challenges of the road of life, not to prepare the road for the kid. And so, you know, if you don’t take anything else, away from this podcast, that’s really the message. And so you know that I don’t want anyone to feel badly about their parenting. But I think it can bring in a little bit of awareness to be able to ask yourself in these moments, am I helping my child? Or am I protecting them. And of course, Brene, Brown has taught that kids develop hope and struggle. Now that sounds really contradictory. But it’s absolutely true. We develop our capacities, and our self efficacy and our sense of worth and self esteem, as we take on struggles. And I think most of us can relate to that we can think about the times in our lives where we have learned the most, it’s always in struggle. It’s never on the easy road. And so we want to convey to our children, that we know that they can cope with those challenges, and that we have confidence in their ability to do that. We don’t want to protect them from those challenges. And here’s the other thing, like as if we could, you can’t, because when you might protect them when they’re at home, but then you make it you make it 10 times harder for them when they get into the real world where people will not coddle them the way you have.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:58
And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/240-helicopterparent. And, of course, on Instagram, I’m going to have more resources related to this podcast. So I’d love to connect with you there @dr.melissasmith. And if you’re so inclined, I’d love it. If you gave the podcast a five-star review on podcast or on Apple podcasts or Spotify. It helps other people find the podcast and also gives me great feedback about what’s working for you. So in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai