Hands-Off Parenting For Resilient, Resourceful Children
When The Best Support Is Less Support
Posted April 28, 2016
My educator/ writer friend Dan Riseman of Riseman Consulting has written another helpful blog that is related to his last. He explains just why helicopter parenting can backfire. It can be hard to resist the urge to manage many details of our children' lives. However it appears that the best support is less support even it it means standing by or feeling idle while they work though uncomfortable situations on their own.
Most of us were raised in the absence of baby monitors, formal playdates, and cell phone trackers. But such laissez-faire parenting experienced a shift in the mid-1980s as parents became more anxious about child abductions as photos of missing children began staring at them from the back of milk cartons. The trend of hypervigilance built momentum, and by 1990, the term "helicopter parent" was coined. However, this low, interminable "swoosh-swoosh-swoosh" now extends beyond our children’s safety and has become a dangerous epidemic.
As helicopter parents, we hope to help our children achieve heights, psychologically as well as practically. According to psychologist and writer Dr. Wendy Mogel, “Well-intentioned parents [are] metabolizing their [children’s] anxiety for them.” By taking on their discomforts we deprive them of opportunities to develop problem solving ability. By eschewing downtime and increasing adult-directed structured activity, we take away their ability to develop internal resources. To make it in the real world, they need the internal skills to find their way. Self-reliance is a great, if not essential asset. Autonomy is crucial for success in both work and love. A hands-off milieu is a great way to foster such independence. While a helicopter parent may tell you his or her motivation is protecting his child, the investigative book NutureShock reveals that it's usually about protecting the parent from the “harrowing business of letting go.” Psychoanalysts have suggested that parents with narcissistic injury bred from not having achieved what they might have, can pressure offspring to provide the prestigious bumper sticker.
Helicopter parents who diligently push children towards high grades, peak athletic performance and extra curricular inundation hope to secure success, status or financial safety, but this type of investment can backfire. It turns out that tending to the inner life is a better bet. Research shows that by cultivating character and calm for example, children become more capable and confident. A pressured, anxious mindset can lead to some degree of accomplishment but too much strife can undermine the goal. Unfortunately, parents who hover and control, push and panic over “lesser than” can produce helpless, entitled, unmotivated, non-resilient children. Dependent rather than able, expectant rather than searching, they struggle with everyday existence and can find it hard to function, much less soar. Parents worst fears may come to fruition.
In addition, helicopter parents can jeopardize the relationship with the child. Relentless pressure without adequate rest and the intrusion of watchfulness can produce a resentful or even hostile offspring who may just shut down at a later time. According to researchers, “Parents' inappropriate meddling gives the child the message that nothing is good enough, so many frustrated children quit trying” (Riveria).
Children who have been deprived of private journeys can suffer from low confidence, poor self-esteem and a sense of helplessness. Combined with the fact that they may have been over-complimented for their compliance and performance, they are frequently unable to handle criticism and have trouble dealing with disappointment. They have not faced it before. As Hara Estroff Marano, psychologist and former editor of Psychology Today says, Helicopter parenting “compromise[s] children's autonomy, mastery, and personal growth” (Marano).
Those given time, space, freedom and autonomy develop a deeply personal method of dealing with challenges as well as true competence. Faced with uncertainly and adversity, they can pull from within. Depriving children of problem solving practice and spontaneous exploration while directing their every move can lead to mental health problems. Research indicates that young people with overinvolved parents report higher levels of depression/anxiety, decreased satisfaction with their lives and poor social and coping skill. In a recent survey carried out by the American College Health Association, 84% of college students felt overwhelmed by responsibilities. Thirteen percent of freshmen reported that their parents “frequently intervened on their behalf to help them solve problems they were having at the college” (Nelson, p. 2). Dr. Neil Montgomery’s recent survey of college freshmen nationwide found that students with helicopter parents were “less open to new ideas and actions and more vulnerable, anxious, and self-conscious.” These students were also more likely to be medicated for anxiety or depression.
Even after college, some helicopter parents do not relinquish their grasp. They accompany their child on job interviews to negotiate salary and benefits. Helicopter parents make their presence felt at their child’s workplace. They call managers and bosses to advocate for their child’s advancement and complain if promotions are not given. In a national survey of employers seeking to hire recent college graduates, approximately twenty-five percent of employers reported hearing from parents urging that employer to hire their child.
What can be done? According to former Stanford University Dean of Freshmen, Julie Lythcott-Haims, parents need to take the following steps to break free from their helicopter ways.
1) In conversation about your child, don’t refer to her achievements by using “we.”
2) Let your child advocate for himself with his teachers and coaches.
3) Your child needs to do his homework without your assistance.
A crucial determinant of a child’s success is grit. According to Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, the most significant predictor of success in kids isn’t social intelligence or IQ; rather, “It’s about having stamina, sticking with your future.” Young people tend to do well when they have such passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals. In fact, researchers have shown that grit is more predictive of a child’s success than intelligence. Therefore, parents need to nurture grit by teaching their children that disappointment is acceptable and a good way to strengthen their problem solving skills.
Hyper-vigilant parenting may be on the decline as more research about the dangers emerges. Currently some parents are trying to raise children who are capable of living on their own or “free rangers.” As author Lenore Skenazy cites in her book, Free Range Kids, these parents are committed to providing their children “independence training” that will help them learn to fend for themselves, trust their own instincts, and face challenges with confidence rather than fear. These moms and dads are realizing that their most important job is to raise an independent and self-reliant child.
Bronson, Po, and Ashley Merryman. NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children. New York: Twelve, 2011. Print.
Cooper, Carolyn R. "Band-Aids, Safety Nets, and Escape Routes: How "Helicopter Parents"
May Be Harming Their Children." Parenting for High Potential Dec. 2007: 20+. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.
“In Defense of Helicopter Parents.” New York Times. 4 Mar. 2009. <http:// parenting.blogs.
Marano, Hara Estroff. “Helicopter Parenting- It’s Worse Than You Think.” Psychology Today. 31 Jan. 2014.
Nelson, Margaret K. Parenting out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times. New York: New York UP, 2010.
Skenazy, Lenore. Free-range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had without Going Nuts with Worry. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.
Somers, Patricia, and Jim Settle. "The Helicopter Parent: Research Toward A Typology." College and University 86.1 (2010): 18+. Web. 23 M