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Why helicopter parenting is hurting your kids

We live in an age of helicopter parenting, accompanied by lax expectations for children. Find out how to incorporate real and meaningful discipline into your relationship with your kids. They’ll be better for it.

Father standing behind son |

Helicopter parenting, defined

Helicopter parenting is the parenting style of our generation.

Most people think of the prototypical hovering mother or father as the definition of a helicopter parent. Hovering, however, is only half of the story. Helicopter parenting assumes at least two things:

  1. Children need to be protected from challenges and trouble at all costs.
  2. Children will be traumatized or rendered helpless when they’re faced with challenges they don’t know how to manage.

As a result of these assumptions, parents adapt their style of involvement and discipline to remove or reduce challenges.

Why helicopter parenting derails discipline

Helicopter parenting removes challenges before children are even required to face them. For example, a helicopter parent may turn into a short-order cook when a child refuses to eat family dinner, rather than allowing the child to go to bed hungry. This isn’t just a hovering problem; ultimately, it’s a discipline problem.

Unfortunately, shielding children from natural consequences and meaningful discipline can produce the following negative outcomes:

  • Poor problem solving skills. A child who never has to think for herself will not be able to develop adequate problem solving skills. When helicopter parents remove challenging obstacles, discipline or conflict from a child, they are removing an opportunity to learn important life skills.
  • Inability to self-advocate. When kids are just handed the world on a platter without any expectation for good behavior, they never learn to promote themselves and advocate for their needs. Guess what? The world doesn’t hand out promotions and participation ribbons just for showing up.
  • Inexperience with natural consequences. A natural consequence is anything a child should expect to happen following a particular behavior. A helicopter parents who removes the natural consequence of toy removal makes it impossible for him to learn that bad behavior produces uncomfortable outcomes. And the stakes are much higher, unfortunately, as kids grow into adults.
  • Dependence. When mom and dad remove barriers and consequences, children learn dependence rather than independence. No matter how charming your sweet child is, you probably want her living at home until he’s 38.

Be a grownup, not a helicopter

Parents everywhere can avoid the pitfalls of helicopter parenting if they make a concerted effort to act like adults. Helicopter parenting is born from a place of care and concern, but it’s a parent’s responsibility to consider long-term concerns rather than short-term concerns alone. Sure, it’s incredibly uncomfortable in the short-term to send your child to bed without dinner because he refused to eat what was prepared for him. It’s a lot less uncomfortable in the long-term if your child doesn’t turn into a demanding diva who believes the world will bend to his needs simply because he exists.

Let your children face natural consequences

Acting like an adult doesn’t mean you need to start acting like a harsh dictator or implementing corporal punishments. In fact, authoritarian discipline isn’t all that effective. Instead, you need to allow your children to experience natural consequences in order to engage the logical parts of their brains. Some examples include:

  • Allowing your child to fail a test if she chose not to study, rather than calling the teacher to demand a re-test or extra credit.
  • Expecting your child to apologize to his friends if he was hurtful, rather than doing it for him.
  • Sending your child to bed hungry if she chose not to eat the dinner that you lovingly prepared for her and the rest of the family.
  • Allowing your child to miss a school dance if she didn’t complete her chores.

Smart, loving and long-term parenting requires you to parent your kids through the natural consequences of their behavior. It allows your kids to face challenges and make logical choices that create self-sufficiency and problem solving skills. Frankly, it’s how our kids turn into competent and kind adults, which is the real goal of parenting anyhow.

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Photo credit: Tim Klein/Stockbyte/Getty Images

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