From the moment you find out that a new child is coming into your life—by birth or by adoption—you begin feel protective over your offspring. This normal, healthy response is nature’s way of ensuring that you will keep the child safe and cared-for through this vulnerable stage of life.
Although many parents strike a healthy balance between strict and permissive, some parents struggle to keep their protective instincts within reasonable limits. The chronically overprotective parent has been the subject of many a tale throughout history, but modernity has seemed to breed a whole new type of over-involved parent.
It’s unfortunate that a heartfelt desire to give your child the best can sometimes go too far. You may be a “helicopter parent” if you find yourself constantly monitoring and being involved in even the smallest details of your children’s lives. Some examples of overprotective parenting include:
- A mother who watched the feed from her son’s daycare cameras all day long at work. She would call several times a day to complain about the staff or how other kids were reacting with her child.
- A father who was banned from his child’s little league stadium because he became physically aggressive with the umpire after what the father thought was a bad call.
- Parents who made their children take walkie-talkies when they went to play with the neighborhood kids, so they could check in with them every 10 minutes.
- A mother who ran out onto the floor in the middle of her son’s karate practice, to demand that the instructor stop putting her child in danger.
- A guy whose college roommate didn’t know how to do his own laundry. His mother visited every few months to wash his clothes for him.
Talk to any college administrator and you may be shocked by all the stories you hear about parents trying to micromanage their grown children’s lives from afar. Administrators and professors routinely field calls from helicopter parents calling to complain about scheduling, grades or roommate squabbles.
Even after their kids graduate from college, many parents get over-involved in helping their grown kids find jobs. Hiring managers have far too many stories of parents accompanying their adult children to job interviews, or calling the boss to explain why they should hire their child.
Do you fear that you may fit the profile of an overprotective parent? Ask yourself the questions in the next section, then continue reading to learn how this type of parenting affects kids, and how you can learn to let go.
Are you an overprotective parent?
Answer the following 11 questions honestly to help determine if you are a mom or dad who exhibits micromanagement tendencies. If you’re unsure, it may help to ask your spouse or best friend if they’ve noticed you engaging in these behaviors.
- Do you jump in to fix things because you can’t bear to see your child confused or frustrated?
- Do you frequently find yourself in power struggles with your child over small things, such as the length of his hair or which vegetables he likes to eat?
- Are you more concerned with the “right way” to do something instead of letting your child try it their own way? For example, do you insist on your daughter coloring the sky blue and the grass green instead of letting her color them purple and orange?
- Do you often end up doing your child’s homework for them, deciding that it’s easier than watching them struggle over an assignment?
- Are you surprised when other parents aren’t worried about the same issues you are? For instance, are you the only parent who won’t let your child try climbing a tree at the park?
- Have you ever argued with another adult over how they treated your child? In some cases, this might be understandable. But if you’re upset with Grandma for giving your child sugar, or angry that another parent let your child stay up too late at a sleepover—you might be micromanaging.
- Do you set expectations for your child too high, by overscheduling activities and managing every hour of the child’s day?
- Conversely, do you set expectations too low? Do you accept failing school performance because you can’t handle the thought of putting any pressure on your child?
- Is it difficult for you to figure out age-appropriate expectations, such as which chores a child can do at what age? Do you avoid assigning chores at all because it’s easier to do it yourself?
- Do you make your parenting decisions based on how much anxiety you will experience over the outcome?
- Does it feel like your own interests and activities have taken a back seat to your child’s schedule and desires?
While every parent has one or two areas where it’s a struggle to let go, answering “yes” to several questions could indicate what is a helicopter parent. Don’t despair, though. There are ways to overcome the habit of micromanaging our kids. But first, it’s helpful to understand how parental over-involvement can affect our children.
How does helicopter parenting affect children?
As author Nassim Nicholas Taleb expressed, “This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help us are often hurting us the most.” Helicopter parents usually have the best intentions. They don’t mean to hurt their kids. They just can’t bear to see their children suffer, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, there are some upsides to being strongly involved in your children’s lives. You know where they are at all times, which is an important safety measure. You probably know who they’re talking to online and limit their daily amount of screen exposure—also things that help keep them safe. Your kids know that when they face bullying or another complex situation, you will be there to help them.
Moreover, coaches, teachers and other parents know that they can count on your kids to be on-time and prepared for the task at hand. They know that you care about how your child is doing and that you’re willing to support your child through any issues. It means a lot to these other adults when involved parents volunteer for the PTA or to provide snacks for the team.
Even with the positive aspects of being a very involved parent, over time, the bad often outweighs the good. This is because a child needs independence to be able to function in the real world. Kids with overprotective parents may struggle with the following as a result:
- Poor problem-solving skills from not being allowed to figure out their own solutions.
- Low self-esteem: a lingering feeling that they can’t do anything right.
- Low motivation or apathy towards trying new things.
- Too much dependence on their parents as teens and young adults.
- Inability to receive constructive criticism.
- Disrespect for authority figures, including teachers, coaches and law enforcement officers.
- Habitual lying.
- Poor friendships and later, romantic relationships.
- Eventual resentment of their parents.
Tips for Overcoming Overprotective Tendencies
If you’ve identified a few ways you might be holding your children too close, and recognize the benefits of letting go, here are some expert tips for working through your overprotective tendencies.
- Address the reasons behind your desire to over-shield your children. Perhaps your own parents were emotionally distant, so you swoop in and overly console your children when they’re upset. Or maybe losing a loved one has led to anxiety over something terrible happening to your child. Seeing a therapist can help you figure out your reasons for being overprotective and they can provide personal recommendations for improvement.
- Make a few changes around the house. Assign age-appropriate chores. It’s never too late to begin expecting your kids to help out around the house. Of course, it’s easier to do most chores yourself, but doing so denies kids the sense of pride and accomplishment that follows a job well done. It also robs children of the valuable life skills necessary to live on their own someday. Kids learning how to cook, vacuum, mop and do laundry is good for the entire family.
- Let the small things go. Does it really matter how your daughter styles her hair, or if your son chooses the same cereal for breakfast every day? As long as no one is being harmed, allow your children to make their own daily decisions as much as possible.
- Let kids try new things. Allow your children to make their own choices regarding clubs, sports and hobbies. Although parents have great insight into their kids’ talents and abilities, trying something new could uncover a strong skill you or your child never knew they had.
- Realize that your child is going to fail, and that’s okay. When they do fail, resist the temptation to jump in and fix things. Instead, encourage them to identify and follow through with their own solutions. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by their resiliency, and proud of how well they bounce back.
The bottom line: we all want the best for our children, and there’s no one correct way to parent. Recognizing—and correcting—our own issues can help us release the need to micromanage our children. Remember that treating your kids like intelligent, competent human beings is a requirement if they’re ever to reach their full potential.