Why Do People Helicopter Parent?

New research finds three reasons why people helicopter parent.

Posted Sep 26, 2017

Unsplash/London Scout
Source: Unsplash/London Scout

Helicopter parenting goes by many names: over-parenting, bulldozer parenting, over-involvement; all of which refer to the same behaviors: Typically well-meaning but overinvolved parents who engage in protective behaviors that are not appropriate for their child’s age and ability level. Helicopter parents often make major decisions for their children long after they should, for example, choosing their child’s major in college or applying for jobs for them after graduation.

We know that helicopter parenting is on the rise, and that many millennials have been exposed to these destructive parenting behaviors their entire lives.

Late adolescence and young adulthood mark a time when children become more independent and renegotiate their role in the child-parent relationship. Helicopter parenting interrupts this natural process. Having helicopter parents puts children at risk for poor adjustment, interferes with young adults’ ability to make their own decisions and become independent, and decreases their self-confidence.

If we know helicopter parenting is linked to these negative outcomes for kids, why do parents do it? A new study provides some answers.

Drs. Sofie Rousseau and Miri Scharf, psychologists at the University of Haifa in Israel, reveal why some people helicopter parent.

  1. They have a prevention focus to how they work toward goals. Prevention-focused people tend to avoid failure and disappointment. They see difficulty and negative experience as a sign of their lack of skill instead of a chance to learn something and grow as a person.
  2. They have a promotion focus to how they work toward goals. Promotion-focused people emphasize achievement and progress. They see failure as a necessary part of life and a way to learn from mistakes. These people are willing to take risks and problem solve when things go wrong.
  3. They harbor regret about decisions they have made in their own lives. This is especially true for mothers. When moms believe they would have had better lives if they had chosen differently when they were younger, they are more likely to helicopter parent. Fathers are different. When dads report having regret about their choices in life, they actually do less helicopter parenting.

Both prevention-focused and promotion focused parents engage in helicopter parenting. Dr. Rousseau and Dr. Scharf suggest parents should recognize that their actions influence the way their partner parents and the way their children will eventually problem solve and become independent. Parents should address their own difficulties and work through regret they are harboring. 

References

Bradley-Geist, J., & Olson-Buchanan, J. (2014). Helicopter parents: An examination of the correlates of over-parenting of college students. Education+ Training, 56(4), 314-328.

Higgins, E. T. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. Advances in experimental social psychology, 30, 1-46.

Rousseau, S., & Scharf, M. (2017). Why people helicopter parent? An actor–partner interdependence study of maternal and paternal prevention/promotion focus and interpersonal/self-regret. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 0265407517700514.