Helicopter parenting undercuts childrens’ autonomy

Kylie Kvam

Little Sally, wearing bubble wrap and a helmet, spent her afternoons at the park with her mother. Sally wasn’t allowed to tie her own shoes out of fear that she would tie them wrong. She wasn’t allowed to ride a two-wheeled bike in case she scraped her knees and she wasn’t allowed to play on the monkey bars because she might break her arm. Now Sally is at college and her mother is living in an apartment off campus, doing Sally’s laundry, making sure she attends all of her classes and correcting all of her homework.

Parents who hover, contrary to what they intend to do, are setting their children up for failure. After reading an article titled  “Helicoptering? Parents Go with Kids to College” from the New York Times, I was absolutely shocked that this level of hands-on parenting occurs for college-level kids. The story describes multiple instances of parents essentially packing up their lives and following their kids to college.

For example, Dianne Sikel, a mother of two boys from Phoenix, flies back and forth between her home in Arizona and a rental she has close to one of her son’s colleges in California.

“These are moments that will be gone forever. I refuse to miss them,” Sikel said in the article. “I’ve got to be near my children.”

A study published by the Journal of Education and Training last July found that students with micromanaging parents are less sure in their own ability to complete tasks and achieve goals. This forces these students to become dependent on others, use poor coping strategies, and never fully develop necessary traits for the future workplace, such as responsibility.

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The parents who demand success from their children are projecting their dreams onto their children because they were unable to have the same opportunities. Another reason may be that parents are trying to uphold a social standard or family appearance and do not want their child to be the one that alters their social image.

It is relatively easy to spot which children are raised by micromanaging parents. As a youth volleyball coach, I interact with children and their hands-on parents all the time.  I have noticed that kids with overprotective parents are often the ones that have no self-restraint and goof off during practice.

When it comes to game time, parents wonder why their child isn’t playing and demand me to sub them in for more playing time, which isn’t fair to the other kids on the team who put in more attentive effort during practice.

In youth sports, I believe whoever puts in the most effort deserves playing time, regardless of skill level. When a child’s parent intervenes for them, they don’t learn how to be fair to their teammates.

Typically, those kids depend on their parents to get them playing time and continue to depend on others throughout the rest of their lives.

This creates a cycle of disablement for the child because they know Mommy or Daddy will put in the effort when they won’t. For kids to grow up and become independent people, they need to make some mistakes along the way and learn from them. If there is always a parent making sure the child never makes a mistake, the child will never learn how to be independent.

Michigan State University Professor Karl Gude described in, “College Students and Their Helicopter Parents: a Recipe for Stress,” that many of his students’ parents force their children into unwanted majors  so they can “succeed” later in life. Because these kids have depended on their parents to provide for them for so long, they don’t want to disappoint their parents.

Every parent wants the best for their children, and almost every parents wants their child to succeed. I am not saying to not be involved in your kids’ lives, but maybe loosen the leash every once in a while. As a coach, I want to speak with the player if there are any issues about playing, and as a teenager, I want to make some mistakes while I can. But for any of that to happen, helicopter parenting needs to stop.