As parents of little ones, we’re naturally focused on helping them, keeping them safe, disciplining them, praising their achievements, sorting out their problems and finding solutions for situations that distress them. Many of us would say that being our child’s protector is one of our most important roles as a parent. But there’s a fine line between keeping your child safe, and overprotecting your child (also known as helicopter parenting).
Take a moment to think about the sort of child you want to raise. Do you want him to be a resilient, compassionate, confident, fulfilled and hard-working adult? We want our kids to have the resources to deal with the slings and arrows of life, while being good people living out their potential.
Now think about what you don’t want to show up in his character: selfishness, unkindness, a sense of entitlement, frustration, violence, dependence, an external locus of control and impatience.
Whether you raise the adult you envisage or an egocentric narcissist can depend to a large extent on the level of protection you surround your child with now.
How helicopter parenting can harm your child
A child wrapped in cotton wool can’t suddenly be unwrapped at the age of 13 or 14 without trauma to himself and his parents. You want your child to have the confidence, judgement and experience to navigate the dangers of the teen years when his natural developmental tasks involve experimentation.
It is often the overprotected toddlers and junior-school kids who rebel as teenagers when their natural inclination to define themselves apart from their parents is thwarted because they are still being protected. At this stage of his life, you will need a strong relationship with your child in order to parent effectively. You will need to have developed enough trust in your child to allow him to step away from you and become a competent adult fulfilling his true potential.
- If kids never experience adversity in childhood, they won’t know they have the inner strength to overcome adversity when they face it later on.
- If a parent rushes in to protect their child from unfairness, he’ll never learn that it’s a part of life or be able to shrug it off and move on.
- If parents always steering the ship, kids will never be able to navigate life themselves. They will grow up frustrated when things don’t go their way.
- Overprotective parenting or helicopter parenting inhibits learning. Kids can’t fulfil the developmental tasks they need to if they never get a chance to work things out for themselves.
- Overprotected children can be stressed. Their parents are so busy reaching for perfection that there’s often little true fun in these homes.
- They often have very little confidence as the message they’re getting from their over-helpful parents is that they aren’t to be trusted to do it themselves. “Be careful, you’ll fall” is not interpreted by these children as a warning. It’s heard as a statement of fact. They take on their parents’ fears, and as a result are anxious and slow to develop traits like self-esteem, responsibility, self-respect and courage.
US-based paediatrician Dr Ramon Resa notes that he is seeing more depressed kids and children with anxiety than ever before. “Parents can do much to ensure the health and wellbeing of their children, but being overprotective won’t often prevent catastrophe. Instead, it will prevent your children from leading the type of normal and healthy lives that will allow them to grow into more independent adults down the line.” Dr Resa recommends that parents “protect against the obvious, and leave the rest to nature”.
Helicopter parents should:
- Encourage their children to try new activities
- Let their kids struggle a bit. Step back and tell them to explore. Allow them to fall and pick themselves up. If they’re devastated that a friend got a toy they wanted, let them be jealous. Accept that kids are fickle and can be rejected.
- Be astounded their kids’ resilience, rather than constantly trying to protect them from all their fears.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.