4 Signs You Might Be a 'Helicopter Parent' -- And How You Can Stop

Are you in danger of becoming a "Helicopter Parent?" Find out the signs and how you can avoid this trend from two SCSU family therapy experts.


It is an unspoken right – and even social expectation -- among those who have reached a certain age to express concern about the younger generations. You know the comments:

  • “Kids today just don’t have any respect for authority.”
  • “What’s going to happen when these kids start running the country? We are going to be in serious trouble.”
  • And a host of remarks that begin with something like…“When we were growing up, we didn’t have…”

But today, perhaps more than at any other time since the height of the Baby Boom Generation, parenting styles also have taken the spotlight. We hear much of what happens if you raise your children without structure and rules, and what happens if you have too much structure and too many rules. We hear about raising your kids with too much self-esteem and not enough self-esteem. And you might remember all the media attention paid to the “Tiger Mom” and how it prompted a national discussion about parenting.

Nevertheless, it is the phenomenon of Helicopter Parents that is the most discussed and analyzed by professional psychologists, family therapy experts, parents and educators. The consensus is that this type of parenting, while often well-intended, tends to do more harm than good. For those who may not have heard of the term, it refers to parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives and who tend to “micromanage” their kids’ day. In many instances, this “hyper-involvement” continues into the college years and sometimes even beyond. The consequences of this type of parenting style can include hindering kids’ ability to gain a proper amount of age-appropriate independence and to solve their own problems.

Suzanne Carroll, professor of marriage and family therapy at Southern, and Phyllis Gordon, manager of the university’s Family Therapy Clinic, are quite familiar with this trend. Both say that many people might not even be aware that they have fallen into the Helicopter Parents category. They offer four examples of how you know you are probably a Helicopter Parent:

  • You are doing homework assignments for your child or are frequently checking to make sure they’ve done them.
  • You are the one managing their responsibilities, such as doing their homework, waking up on time and attending athletic team practices.
  • You refer to your child’s team, club or organization as “we.” For example, saying that “we have a game today.”
  • You and your child are communicating too frequently, such as with multiple texts and/or phone calls each day.

Carroll and Gordon are not in any way suggesting that parents should be oblivious to their children’s lives. On the contrary, they underscore the importance of showing concern for their children’s well-being. But being overly involved in their lives can create long-term problems. Here are some suggestions that Carroll and Gordon offer to strike that balance of being a responsible mom or dad without being a Helicopter Parent:

  • Set REALISTIC goals and expectations with your child, based on their age and abilities.
  • Work with your child to make a plan (if needed), on how to meet those goals/expectations.
  • Step back. Have your child take responsibility for meeting those goals/expectations.
  • Be prepared to renegotiate.
  • Let your child accept the natural consequences of their efforts.

Carroll and Gordon recognize that resisting the inclination of parents to “fix” their children’s every problem or task can be difficult – especially at first. After all, it is perfectly natural for parents not to want to see their children struggle. And, of course, there are times when swift parental intervention is necessary. But a consistent pattern of micromanaging can have significant consequences as a child gets older and enters the world of adulthood.

“Remember, parenting is the illusion of control,” Carroll says.

For additional reading about the phenomenon of Helicopter Parents, check out a recent column written by Anne Michaud, interactive editor at Newsday.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lora March 09, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Wow, no wonder the kids can't get along. There's nothing wrong with being involved with your child, you should be. You should know if their homework is done, some kids don't need prompting, , some need a little push and others need to be held in the chair until the homework is finished. If you have more than one child, you know each one requires something different. Don't know how to use social networking?..LEARN....simply to keep your child safe. They unfriended you? Great..take away their access until you are friended...they will find a way around you..and your job is to figure it out. Maybe the difference is this: ex. Another child said something to make your child upset or cry. The helicopter parent screams at the school, the other parents and whoever else they perceive to be responsible. The involved parent talks to their child (and they know their child is upset, and that the event happened BECAUSE they are involved) and discusses ways to handle the situation and ALSO uses it as a learning tool to build a conscience in their child by saying, "see how you are feeling right now? It doesn't feel very nice right? Ok, I want you to remember that and make sure YOU never make someone else feel like that"...that helps them build compassion and you will find they will be the first to stand up for someone else. A helicopter parent isn't one that is involved and interested and present and monitoring of their child's life...that's a good parent.
John Yannacci, Sr. March 09, 2013 at 02:45 PM
I thought that I was moderately intelligent and I have absolutely no idea what a 5x5 is.
John Yannacci, Sr. March 09, 2013 at 02:48 PM
I think it means, "Like, you gotta, like, go slow."
Digby March 10, 2013 at 07:46 PM
Danielle: "good children result from giving the kid the right 'kick of encouragement' at the right time." But when is the right time? Do we leave them to their own devices starting in 7th grade and tell them to give a call if the decide to go to college? I say no way. They still need guidance all the way through high school and beyond. yinyang: "Im a high school teacher...These kids will someday be shocked when they lose a job or end up in jail because Mom and Dad can't shield them from the consequences of their bigger screw ups as adults." I'm saddened to think you are a teacher. I would expect a more nurturing personality in a teacher. Susan Parent: "if after giving it their all only managed to get a C, that was ok." I think this is wrong. You showed your kids that a C is okay. How does that prepare them for life, to show them a bad job is acceptable? Getting a C means they have poor academic habits. This isn't for the child to fix. It needs the parents' intervention. "Somehow they all managed to become honor roll students, were accepted into colleges of their choice, and were dean's list students. Two of the three chose to continue with graduate degrees and completed their degrees with a 4.0 GPA. All are working in their chosen fields. Was I not conscientious?" It depends. Maybe they only had "C" ambitions and they now work at the mall.
yinyang March 11, 2013 at 02:57 AM
Digby- you should be more saddened that a parent would cover for their kids who cut class, lie, and expect their parents to make excuses for their bad behavior. That's what you call nurturing? Trust me, in 25 years of teaching I have seen the negative consequences for kids when their parents never allow them to experience the consequences for their actions. The parents do their kids no favors; in fact it is terribly detrimental, regardless of whether the parents have good intentions. So, your definition of nurturing is certainly not mine....I consider nurturing to be somethng which is beneficial to kids. And no matter how much I would sometimes like to shield my own kids from their mistakes, I try to remember all the times I've seen this done with such negative outcomes.


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