Are you a helicopter parent?

Are you a helicopter parent?

Divya Palaniappan details why helicopter parenting does more harm than good...

Gen Y or millennials were the first ones to be helicoptered, whereas their previous generations enjoyed a rather carefree childhood in comparison.

Bringing up a child can be quite a task, especially if you are a first-time parent. Just when you are done with toilet-training your kid, the whole responsibility of enrolling them into schools comes in. On top of that, you want your little one to excel in extra-curricular activities. Sounds hectic? Imagine how it would be for the toddlers who have just started memorising the alphabet.

In today’s extremely competitive age, there is intense pressure on our children to achieve great heights. Getting top grades is no longer considered sufficient; they need to be good at things outside the classroom as well. In fact, children now hardly get any free time after school as their schedule is packed with either singing lessons or swimming classes apart from completing their homework. As childhood becomes increasingly competitive, parents often feel the need to push their kids beyond their natural capacity. They are constantly made to fear that they are not doing enough to help their children succeed in a cut-throat world. This gives birth to dangerous parenting trends that do more harm than good.

One such trend is helicopter parenting, a metaphor to describe a breed of over-controlling parents who closely monitor and get involved in every aspect of their children’s lives. While the seemingly innocent parenting style may improve your kids’ school performance, it can have adverse effects on their psychological well-being. Before we get into that, let’s find out more about the rise of helicopter parenting.

When was the term coined?

In 1990, child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay came up with the term ‘helicopter parent’ to refer to a parent who hovers over his/her child just like a helicopter. Gen Y or millennials were the first ones to be helicoptered, whereas their previous generations enjoyed a rather carefree childhood in comparison.

Helicopter parenting in India

A couple of decades ago, parents seldom paid close attention to every aspect of their children’s lives. Academic performance was always important but one rarely heard of parents who were equally invested in every little detail of their child’s life, from their extra-curricular activities, their relationship with their peer group, their appearance, etc. However, in the wake of globalisation in the 1990s, the education sector in India went through many changes. Government schools started losing their value with the mushrooming of private English-medium schools. These new schools offered curriculums that were too burdening for little kids, asking them to focus not only on their academics but also on out-of-classroom activities. This forced parents to take up strict measures like limiting unstructured playtime and cutting social interactions, which pushed their children over the edge. The modern admission policy of educational institutes also contributes to the rise of helicopter parenting as colleges and universities look out for well-rounded students who have many talents to flaunt along with high marks.

Impact on children

Being familiar with your children’s lives is crucial, but there should be a boundary. Helicopter parents, however, don’t believe in any boundaries. From dropping them off at school to finishing their projects, they are virtually shadow-living the lives of their children. Unfortunately, children of such parents may fail to foster emotional and behavioural skills imperative for their overall growth.

According to a team of researchers led by Dr Nicole Perry of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, children with helicopter parents are less able to control feelings and impulses compared to their counterparts. Writing in the journal Development Psychology, they highlighted the fact that their failure to manage emotions can prove to cause problems in schools and other outdoor settings. Conducted by the American Psychology Association, the study further stated that helicopter parents do not adequately prepare their children for the outside world. There are tons of other research that talk about the harmful effects of helicopter parenting on young minds. Some of the common issues faced by helicoptered children are anxiety, lack of mental resilience, inability to make decisions, etc.

Don’t let yourself become a helicopter parent

There is a thin line between a supportive and a helicopter parent. Make sure you are not crossing that line. Keep a track of your children’s day-to-day life without being too intruding. Kids are more capable than we give them credit for, and in most cases, they can take care of their problems. Ask about their day, but don’t ask them for minute details.

It’s high time for parents to sit back and let their kids enjoy a relaxed childhood. Instead of expecting them to beat everyone in the class, encourage them to pick up things on their own by introducing fun, game-based learning methods. Allow them the time and space to discover what they like doing and to take it ahead on their own. Ultimately, the happiness of your children should determine how successful you are as a parent, not their exam grades or their trophies.

(The author is a child psychologist, Flinto R&D Centre)

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