7 Reasons I've stopped helicopter parenting my middle schooler

Nov 25, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: Emma Kim/Getty Images

For the first 11 years of my son’s life, you could hear the constant "wop-wop" sound of a helicopter flying overhead. It followed him to the playground, off to school and straight onto the ball fields. It hovered over him as he ate, slept and completed homework.

That constant monitoring was being done by me...the person who swore pre-children that she would not be one of “those” parents. I was always ready and waiting to swoop in to assist, on alert for trouble and ready with an encouraging word. I wanted to protect him from every obstacle or uncomfortable moment, so he would grow up to be confident and successful.

He started middle school this year, and it didn’t take him long to socially adjust. He quickly made friends, got used to a new routine and experienced his first crush. It was when he came home from school day after day saying, “Wow, Mom... we’ve got a lot of homework tonight,” that I realized it was time to land the plane.

Here are a few things I’ve learned by shifting from a rescue parent to a supportive parent:

  1. Middle school is the time to learn time management and organization. He can learn these skills, make mistakes and become prepared for high school and college without worrying about the consequences of bad grades.
  2. My relationship with him has gotten closer. When we took away the after-school arguing over homework, test prep and projects — our bond got stronger. He feels comfortable coming to me with problems and questions.
  3. He is learning independency instead of dependency. I can count on him to know what to do without my help. (This is still a work in progress.)
  4. He can experience true pride. He can take full credit for his accomplishments because he does all of the work.
  5. Many opportunities for growth. As he masters new skills, he is feeding his self-esteem with positive feedback.
  6. Failure teaches problem solving, resilience and accountability. By developing “grit,” my son will continue to plug away at something until he figures it out.
  7. His social competency is growing. Without me hovering, he’s learning to use his own judgment, stand up for himself and eliminate peer pressure.

So even though I have many... many... days where I’d like to climb back up into my command tower, I know he is growing more self-reliant every day. He knows the expectations we have for him and the consequences for failing to follow through. This was presented to him on a neatly typed piece of paper when I granted him his autonomy.

If I open up the online school grade book and see a missed or late assignment, he knows exactly what privileges he is losing. He also knows what he needs to do to get them back. I do swoop in on occasion — not able to help myself from taking over — but hopefully, I too am learning from my failures.

It takes a lot of grit to push through and wait for him to make the right decisions, to hand in missing assignments, study for tests or plan ahead for upcoming projects. Sometimes, I bite my tongue, and other times I give a gentle nudge. I just try to keep my eye on the prize, which is an independent, well-adjusted kid with a positive self-image.