Helicopter Parents Are Depressing (with poll)

May 7, 2013

I recently took an online test to determine if I am a helicopter parent.  Ironically, it was a helicopter quiz!  After every question, it gave me immediate, condescending feedback about whether my opinion was right or wrong.  And with several of the questions, I didn’t like ANY of the options; they were all too helicopter-y for me.  Let me give an example from the quiz I took:

When my child brings home a poor grade, I:

  1. Run directly to the phone to call the teacher. When she doesn’t answer, I call the principal.
  2. Talk with my child about the grade and contact the teacher to discuss ways we can help my child improve her academic performance.
  3. Yell and scream at my child and tell her that if she doesn’t bring up her grade, she’ll be grounded.

Uhm, how about 4?  I am not even aware my kid has a poor grade.  We operate under a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy! Apparently the quizmasters never thought of that one.

Helicopter parent is a colloquial term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.  Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.

A recent Time article talks about the side effects of helicopter parenting:  kids who are incompetent and depressed.  We have to allow the little chicklings to peck their own way out of the egg or they do not have the strength to survive, as this wise and adamant person said online:

Do NOT help your chicken out of its shell!!! It needs to do it by itself! If you help a chicken out of its shell then it could get sick or even die. The chicken knows what to do. Some people think that its ok but don’t listen to them!

So it is with children.  Although they may not become sick and die, they will not develop into adults (or chickens) if they are not allowed/forced to learn how to fend for themselves.  This parenting style is also creating a lot of “rubber band” kids:  kids who return home to live after college rather than finding their way in the world.  Look, if my parents hadn’t sped off so quickly after dropping me at the Y, I might have come home more often too.  This rubber band phenomenon is worse thanks to the high unemployment rate in the wake of the global economic crisis and the tendency of Mormons to marry in infancy college.

I have observed a lot of overprotective parenting behaviors in the church and among the rising generation of parents in general.  Especially when the parents are nutjobs view the world as a dangerous place full of moral perils, they may be overprotective nutjobs.

Is this why the incidence of depression is so high in Utah?  Do parents teach their children that they need to be taken care of and are not capable of thinking for themselves?  The difference between a behavior being helicopter parenting and normal good parenting all depends on context and the age of the child (trust should increase with age).  What is appropriate when a child is in kindergarten becomes overparenting by middle school.

Helicopter parents want what is best for their children:  academic success, achievement, for their kids to be treated fairly, for their child’s specialness to be recognized and acknowledged, for them to feel safe and protected.  Parents start with good intentions and end with bad behaviors.  Part of growing up includes learning that life isn’t always fair, that kids need to take feedback and make improvements to do well, that they have to advocate for themselves at times, and that they won’t always have a safety net.

Which of these statements are accurate about your parenting? (choose all that apply)

  • I stay up until my older teen returns from being out with friends. (40%, 16 Votes)
  • I often drive items to the school that my child has forgotten (school projects, a signed form, books, or gym clothes). (38%, 15 Votes)
  • I have done a significant amount of the work on my child's project. More than my child did. (30%, 12 Votes)
  • I Facebook stalk my kids and their friends regularly. (23%, 9 Votes)
  • I have created my child's pinewood derby car (or rocket or similar). (20%, 8 Votes)
  • I routinely clean my teenager's room or bathroom. (20%, 8 Votes)
  • I call adults on my child's behalf: teachers, parents of friends, etc. (13%, 5 Votes)
  • My teenagers do not know how to do basic chores like vacuuming, cleaning a toilet, or mopping. (13%, 5 Votes)
  • I have done my child's homework. (13%, 5 Votes)
  • I pay for my adult child's groceries or rent regularly. (8%, 3 Votes)
  • I call my college student son or daughter daily. (8%, 3 Votes)
  • I have defended my child's behavior when a teacher complained s/he was disruptive in class. (3%, 1 Votes)
  • My college bound kid didn't know how to cook or do laundry. (3%, 1 Votes)
  • I argue with teachers at parent-teacher conferences. (0%, 0 Votes)
  • I have fought a teacher over my child's grades. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 40

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Do kids leave their restrictive home environment and go straight into an episode of Girls Gone Wild?  Or simply wet themselves when they have to learn to feed themselves or fight their own battles?

The church itself sometimes behaves like a helicopter parent:

  • Strictly correlated materials and a prohibition from using outside sources in teaching.
  • Adults as well as youth being encouraged to follow the standards set out for the youth.
  • Members are sometimes encouraged to police each other.  Certainly those attending BYU are encouraged to do so, as the honor code stipulates turning in other students for violations.
  • Women can’t meet without a man present.  Men can’t teach children without another adult present.
  • Being told (erroneously but still frequently) that “once the brethren speak the thinking is done.”
  • Members meeting with leaders regularly to account for their tithing payments and temple worthiness.
  • Some of the instructions in the White Bible on the mission felt pretty helicopter-ish.  So did many all of the BYU rules.
  • The Word of Wisdom could be seen as overly restrictive to prevent extreme abuses that are rare.

Does this result in our being perpetually dependent rather than developing our own spiritual power and personal revelation?  Does it result in morally reckless behaviors for those who leave the church (like those Amish kids on Rumspringa)?

  • Are you a helicopter parent?  Why or why not?
  • What helicopter parent behaviors do you see at church or in the community?
  • Do you see the church “overparenting” its members?  Or do you see us given more than average trust and freedom (e.g. lay clergy, missions, members do the sermons)?

Discuss.

*This post was originally posted at BCC, sans poll.

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18 Responses to Helicopter Parents Are Depressing (with poll)

  1. Jenn on May 7, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    My kids aren’t old enough for most of these options (2 and 5) but we’re a big fan of the free range parenting movement (anti-hellcopter) :)

    “Do you see the church “overparenting” its members? Or do you see us given more than average trust and freedom (e.g. lay clergy, missions, members do the sermons)?”
    YES! THIS! Absolutely. Look at the length of the church handbook… pretty thick for a church that believes in “teach correct principals and let them govern themselves”. I think it all comes down to D&C 89:3: ” 3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”
    We’ve adapted all the rules to the capacity of the weakest, so no one can slip up. But in the end many mormons have come to revere the rules as more important than what they are there to accomplish.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on May 7, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    Now that some boys are going out on missions at 18, straight from living at home, trends of helicopter parenting are going to be particularly difficult for Mission Presidents to deal with. I noticed that when the missionaries called our house to talk to my son, the elder who called seemed to lack basic phone skills. Actually, I think that’s pretty common among teens now who never use the phone. They just text or FB message. The phone is scary!

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  3. Will on May 7, 2013 at 9:24 AM

    Great post Hawk. The thing I loved most about my parents is that they made us fight our own battles — poor grades, relationships, friends, the law, whatever. It translated into highly successful kids, at least financially.

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  4. Paul on May 7, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Of course the behavior I selectected from your list is NOT helicopter parenting — it’s just good sense. ;-)

    There’s a related issue: helicopter parents are often co-dependent on their children for their happiness and feeling of success. It’s destructive not only to the children but to the parents themselves.

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  5. Douglas on May 7, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    If I were to be likened to a helicopter, I’d prefer to be a Russian Mil-24 “Krokodil” (NATO name: Hind). Retrofitted with a GE 134 mini-gun.
    Most of this seems to be what Lucifer proposed: failure is not an option. Neither would freedom of choice. So if “we” nixed it then, why are so many adopting it today even in our ranks?

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  6. Toni on May 7, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    You forgot the option “none of the above.” I wasn’t able to cast a vote in your poll.

    When my children were younger teenagers, I had a difficult time going to sleep when they were out, but now I trust them enough that I just fall asleep. (Or maybe it is just that if they are determined to do something wrong, they’ll find a way to do it earlier in the night.)

    I have kind of wondered if I was a neglectful parent. My children have a lot of freedom to choose their own lives, but if they get bad grades or if some other kid doesn’t like them, that’s their business. My son would come home during school last year while he skipped a class. Some of his friends thought I was a “cool mom” because I let him do that. What they did not notice was that if he got in trouble for it at school, I did not stand up for him. If he flunks a class, he flunks a class. I don’t live my life vicariously through my children.

    My children have a problem with the church’s tendency to micro-manage, be a helicopter “parent” when they shouldn’t even be our parent at all. They should be preaching repentance, and let us live our lives according to our own consciences. There should be freedom for incredible diversity of thinking in the church, and all of it without negative consequences because our thinking or our behavior is not in line with some rule book or tradition or folk belief.

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  7. Hedgehog on May 8, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    Having a child requiring SEN support for Asperger’s syndrome I did my best to select a school that would promote independence, as opposed to one that would pander to every whim (and yes, those latter did exist – it made their life easier). Knowing when to step in, and when to leave that child to sort things out themselves is a tricky balance that has occasionally blown up when there has been insufficient oversight or intervention. But the consequences of doing too much are also severe, since said child will withdraw further and cope with less and less, emphatically not what we want.
    Child no. 2 then demands equal attention, understandably.
    So yes, in the case of child 1, I have been asked by the school from time to time, to take in forgotten kit for games. Consequently child 2 demands the same treatment for anything left at home, and child 1 is also sensitive to any unfair disparities in treatment between the two of them. I have had to establish the following. First offence – I’ll take it in. Second offence – I’ll bring it, but you pay the transport costs. Further offences – you pay both transport, and for my time (which I don’t rate cheaply). Child 1 is of course at the mercy of school staff contacting me or not, whilst child 2 has several times decided the request isn’t worth the cost.
    The school pretty much demands that parents pay attention to grades, and that where there are problems parent and teacher get together to get to the bottom of any problems. I have had to do that for one subject with child 1, where the grades were so much lower than anticipated, given the grades for related subjects. This would be working with the teacher, not confrontational. And grades improved enormously. The demand of the school comes from the whole school league table assessment of schools in this country, and also because the children have public exams every year for three years, age 15/16, 16/17 and 17/18. It’s pretty grim for them.
    If they are having problems with homework, and are requesting clarification, I tell them to email the member of staff themselves, which they do, and the teachers are happy to respond to them.

    They both have household chores to do, and don’t get pocket money unless they are completed.

    I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but it certainly creeps in.

    On the church as a helicopter parent, I’m in the teach correct principles and let us govern ourselves camp.

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  8. hawkgrrrl on May 8, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Hedgehog, you bring up an interesting point about Aspies. In the US, the trend for the last 10 years or so has been to mainstream children with extra needs, but it can at times be very difficult on the teachers and parents to do so. I believe this is because discretionary funding has gone down to about nil. One of my employees’ has a son who is autistic, and he was also mainstreamed with same age peers with no disability. I think it can be a situation that requires more parental involvement; however, my best friend’s older sister is mentally challenged. Their mother was divorced and had to work long hours. They worried that the older sister would never be able to support herself, but through lots of work helping her to gain independence, she has been able to live in an apartment with a roommate and hold a job for over a decade. We never regret giving kids and young adults more responsibility and life skill, IMO.

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  9. Irene on May 8, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    It is painfully obvious to me that the church acts as a helicopter parent. We are told how many earrings we can wear, what color of shirt s appropriate, and that we are somehow bordering on apostasy if we turn down a calling. As a temple worker, not only am I told what type of clothes to wear to the temple, as well as the appropriate jewelry to wear in the temple, but we are constantly told that by our example the church is hoping that temple attenders will follow our example — one specific being that we should always wear hose (women) in the hopes that non-hose wearing arriving patrons would get the clue. I could see this as fostering a very judgemental attitude in my fellow workers.
    There was also a story going around my stake awhile ago about some YW playing basketball in a ward building. The prophet had occasion to be there, and the girls were invited to meet him, yet one girl who was wearing shorts a little too short stayed back, and later said that she was not dressed properly. The followup was that not only should we always be dressed so that we are not embarassed to meet the Prophet, but we should also be dressed so that we are not embarassed to meet the Lord. What a hugely detrimental idea of judgementalism and needless to say, this sort of puts the Lord in the role of a helicopter parent.

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  10. Paul on May 8, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    Is the establishment of rigorous standards the same as helicopter parenting? One may quibble about the appropriateness of some of the standards (particularly the dress and grooming ones), but for me, clear boundaries are a part of freeing myself from helicopter parenting. A child can then make an informed choice if I say, “If you do this in our home, here is the result.” The child can then choose however he wishes to behave, and he will know the consequences. That’s not helicopter parenting; that’s responsible communication.

    Similarly, the church can provide standards for temple attendance, or for full time missionary service, and so on. We can still choose however we’d like, but we’ll know if those choices will exclude us from participation.

    That there are some members who use their helicopter skills in the church setting is undeniable, like YW leaders who would teach that we should always dress so we can meet the Savior. (What does that even mean?)

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  11. bin on May 8, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    Parallels… just read this article today on a “nation of wimps.” Seems to echo more than a few sentiments aired here. Very, very good article.

    Nation of Wimps

    One quote from it:

    Maybe it’s the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruising along the dirt path… at three miles an hour. On his tricycle.

    Or perhaps it’s today’s playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And… wait a minute… those aren’t little kids playing. Their mommies—and especially their daddies—are in there with them, coplaying or play-by-play coaching. Few take it half-easy on the perimeter benches, as parents used to do, letting the kids figure things out for themselves.

    Then there are the sanitizing gels, with which over a third of parents now send their kids to school, according to a recent survey. Presumably, parents now worry that school bathrooms are not good enough for their children.

    Consider the teacher new to an upscale suburban town. Shuffling through the sheaf of reports certifying the educational “accommodations” he was required to make for many of his history students, he was struck by the exhaustive, well-written—and obviously costly—one on behalf of a girl who was already proving among the most competent of his ninth-graders. “She’s somewhat neurotic,” he confides, “but she is bright, organized and conscientious—the type who’d get to school to turn in a paper on time, even if she were dying of stomach flu.” He finally found the disability he was to make allowances for: difficulty with Gestalt thinking. The 13-year-old “couldn’t see the big picture.” That cleverly devised defect (what 13-year-old can construct the big picture?) would allow her to take all her tests untimed, especially the big one at the end of the rainbow, the college-worthy SAT.

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  12. Will on May 8, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    “It is painfully obvious to me that the church acts as a helicopter parent.”

    Blah, blah, blah….

    It is called AGENCY for a reason, you do not have to comply.

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  13. hawkgrrrl on May 8, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    Irene: “one specific being that we should always wear hose (women) in the hopes that non-hose wearing arriving patrons would get the clue. I could see this as fostering a very judgemental attitude in my fellow workers.” You are kidding me! Hosiery with dresses are a fad of a bygone era, not in some way better. They also contribute to female problems, but so do many garment bottoms. They are definitely not superior to going without.

    Paul: “we should always dress so we can meet the Savior. (What does that even mean?)” It means some people have confused Jesus for the Church Lady.

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  14. Frank Pellett on May 8, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    Irene, you may be able to convince your Temple President that hose is no longer required by asking if it is required in the Church Administration Building. If the women working with the Prophet aren’t required to wear hose, then neither should those working in the Temple. (Course, he may not care, but it’s worth a shot)

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  15. greedy reader on May 9, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    To be a tough-it-out parent in the age of helicopter parents was no easy gig. Among other things, if my kids missed the bus, they walked. If I told other mothers what I did, they reacted with blinking shock, speeches about “Oh, I could never do that!” The principal would call and interrogate.

    If I refused to drive an adult daughter up the hill to the city bus stop, the husband quietly tsked as he walked away (and didn’t drive her himself).

    I am so glad to have it all behind me.

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  16. brandon@tiredofworking on May 10, 2013 at 5:44 AM

    Are you a helicopter parent? Why or why not? No because I like to give my kids their space.
    What helicopter parent behaviors do you see at church or in the community? Well I don’t see that many but their is some of this behavior going on.
    Do you see the church “overparenting” its members? Or do you see us given more than average trust and freedom (e.g. lay clergy, missions, members do the sermons)? Well it certainly not like it was back in the old days.

    This has been a really interesting article keep up the good work!

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  17. Joseph M on May 11, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    “Look at the length of the church handbook… pretty thick for a church that believes in “teach correct principals and let them govern themselves”.” You have obviously never dealt with the procedure portion of any large bureaucracy. I work as a contractor for the USAF and the document detailing the proper way to format documents is bigger than the Handbook.

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