· Welcome to Parenting Decoded, a podcast for practical approaches to parenting. I’m Mary Eschen and thanks for listening in. I’m so excited that you’re listening to my first podcast ever. I’m hoping that I can help you decode the deep mysteries of parenting. I plan to tackle the most common parenting situations and give you really practical ideas that you can grasp and implement today and do it in a loving and empathetic manner.
In my work for the past 8 years as a parent educator and coach I’ve found that a lot of cycles for healthy family life are used up with miscommunication, frustration and anger. My view is the long-term one, helping you to see that what you do today will impact your adult child in the future. I want to help you create respectful, responsible and independent adults.
With that said… let’s get started to create happier and healthier families!
Today I want to spend time talking about One of the biggest challenges where I live in the Silicon Valley, Helicopter Parenting. It’s become such a common term in our vocabulary that it’s even a verb – “to helicopter”. We are pressured into hovering over kids trying to make everything perfect because we believe this will help them succeed in life and we don’t want to take any chances of our kids screwing that up.
HOVERING - Some parents literally hover – over dinner to make sure their kids eat a nutritious meal, over homework to make sure it is done or all the answers are correct, or by going online to check grades and assignments.
NAGGING - Other helicopter parents might use nagging as a way to “help” – “have you packed you homework in your backpack”, “I see your homework is still on the table, it needs to go in your backpack”, “Let’s get in the car, do you have your homework?” all the way to “I dropped your homework off with your teacher since it never got in your backpack.” Some parents might do this with a loving attitude but lots of us are very, very frustrated that our kid just ignored us each time we tried to nag them to get their homework in the right place. It’s enough to drive us crazy, isn’t it?
WHY PARENTS HELICOPTER?
WHY - The first thing to consider is the question of WHY a parent would helicopter. I live in the Silicon Valley where my husband and I have raised our two boys. It’s a very academically competitive environment and it seems helicoptering is the default style of parenting here. All these Helicopter parents are wonderful, amazing parents who are trying to see that their kids are happy, that they have everything they need, that there are no bumps in the road for them or if there are bumps then those loving parents will minimize the bumps so their kids can move forward and not be thrown off course.
I learn best with real life examples so I’m going to talk about some helicopter situations and why a parent might behave this way:
o Scenario #1. This is when the parent drops off a lunchbox to school when a child has forgotten it. The child was reminded several times and it didn’t get done but the parent goes out of their way anyway. Why would a parent do this?
The answer I get from parents is that they don’t want their child to be hungry, that they want them to eat a healthy lunch and unless they drop it off these things won’t happen. Some parents think their child would starve! Ha!
o Scenario #2 the helicopter parent wakes up their kid every morning by repeatedly coming into their room to make sure they get out of bed, that kid just doesn’t want to wake up! You some days have to physically drag them out of bed since they keep going back to sleep. The child takes forever to get out of bed and often times your entire family starts off their day frustrated and angry. Why does the parent keep doing this day after day?
Parents feel that the kid can’t possibly take care of getting out of bed on time. They need watching over because they would sleep right through an alarm and be late for school.
o Scenario #3 - Now let’s move along to an older child and a helicopter parent who logs on to the school website to closely monitor assignments, grades and attendance. Why would they do that?
Parents feel if they don’t look at what’s online then their child won’t plan their assignments correctly, that they might have forgotten to turn in papers or even that a teacher recorded a grade incorrectly and it will impact their future in academics. They need to make sure that doesn’t happen at all costs and those electronic school systems are a way of double checking.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE HELICOPTER – now let’s take those same examples – the lunchbox forgetting, the not waking up on time and the academic monitoring and see what the impact is on our kids
o The lunchbox
A kid learns that they don’t have to remember a lunchbox, that it’s really their parent’s job. If they get to school without their lunch, they can blame the parent. They can keep playing electronics or Legos or whatever in the morning and ignore when mom or dad politely asked them to pack their lunch in their backpack. They have been given permission to tune out mom and dad since there’s nothing bad that happens, their lunch always magically appears. Why should they bother packing their lunch? Nagging isn’t all that bad, they got to keep doing something fun that they liked.
o Waking up
The child learns they don’t have to be responsible for getting up, their parents will make sure via nagging or whatever to get them out of bed “on time”. You know what? They can even blame the parent for not doing their job of waking them up if they’re late to school. “It’s my mom’s fault, she slept through her alarm and didn’t wake me up.”
o Grade/Assignment checking
The child doesn’t bother taking a look at their own assignments, if they miss one they blame the parent for not telling them. The child doesn’t worry or plan their studies since it is the parent who “owns” the schedule for when things need to be done. They basically get to check out of the planning. Even if they are willing to do the work, they just wait to be told when and what to do.
LETTING GO – I happen to know a lot about issues with helicopter parenting. I’m a recovering helicopter parent. I was just trying to be helpful and loving but in reality, I was robbing my son of the opportunity to learn for himself and take control of his life.
One example that comes to mind is when he had trouble with reading in middle school. He just hated to read so he’d keep putting it off, he’d do his other homework just fine but that reading… boy… it was hard. He wasn’t a slacker student; he just didn’t want to read. I finally realized that when I “helped” to set a reading plan with him or even sometimes read the book with him that I wasn’t teaching him anything, he was only learning to rely on me to help make a plan.
So, one time I decided to put my helicoptering aside and let the responsibility be his, not mine. My role was to give love and empathy in the event that he got behind. Well, in no time my empathy was utilized. “Oh, that’s so sad. I hate it when I have to read a lot of pages in one night and have a book report due too.” “Can I fix you a snack?” In the end I think he had piled up about 200 pages to read in one night which was, of course, impossible. Well, that was a rough night and I don’t think he ever finished reading that book but when he came home the next day loaded down with his next book assignment (his school was really in to reading lots of books one after the other) I was able to have a discussion with him about ideas about what HE could do to smooth things out in the future.
I didn’t tell him what to do, we just thought about ideas about what to do and in the end, he decided to use a basic math equation -- # of pages divided by the number of days he had left to read a book. For his first book that was 25 pages a day. He looked at that number and was amazed at how reasonable that sounded. It was so cool to see him realize that with a bit of his own planning that he could conquer what seemed like an impossible and hated task. Reading was no longer hard for him and when he missed a day, he could recalculate the pages or just read double to catch up, it was doable.
He was so happy and confident that even today as a senior in college he uses that same simple math calculation to help plan all types of work that he has to accomplish. All because way back in middle school I let him own his own homework and he was able to learn how to pace his work. And me, well, I just sit back as a very happy recovering helicopter mom knowing that I’ve helped to raise a responsible adult.
Bottomline, we Helicopters think we are “helping” our kids but more than likely we are interfering with the development of our child’s sense of responsibility and their ability to solve problems on their own.
I want to talk a little more about two unintended consequences of helicoptering that I’ve noticed in my time as a parenting coach – one is the impact on self-confidence and the other is how we create lazy kids:
o SELF CONFIDENCE– when we constantly do things for our kids they often start believing they can’t do things themselves. This shows up in their hearts… they aren’t “smart” enough or “organized” enough or whatever. And they believe it! In the case of a parent who is always checking on assignments and knowing when tests and assignments are due, they basically let their child know that they can’t do it. If the parent isn’t there they will FAIL. This robs their self-confidence and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that they really can’t do it without mom or dad. Take the kid who makes their parent pack their sports equipment because the kid has learned that they’ll forget something and it will be a disaster so they don’t that responsibility since they’ll just screw it up and everyone will be mad and disappointed so mom and dad better keep packing that sports bag, they can do it so much better.
o LAZY, ENTITLED KIDS – The other side effect of helicoptering is that we can create lazy, unmotivated kids. Who wants one of those?! Have you ever thought or even said that your kid is lazy? That your child does not seem to care about their work? Do you have the feeling that you are raising an entitled couch potato instead of an adult? Helicoptering can give kids power over us. We run around panicked doing things to cover up for our kids not wanting to do those same things. When we start covering for them when they are young the problem just grows and grows.
§ Take studying, for example. If they won’t study on their own, parents force them to do the studying, they sit next to them to make sure they stay focused, they drag them through the work, planning assignments, correcting papers, hiring tutors. Their child learns that mom or dad will keep everything on time and in order. There will be some yelling and lots of nagging but, hey, they get to pass on being responsible, so it’s worth it.
§ How about kids who don’t do their chores? They tell their parents they are too busy doing homework. Those helicopter parents fall for that line all the time thus creating entitled kids who feel that there’s no need to contribute to the family, just to their own selfish educational pursuits.
How to overcome being a helicopter:
Let them fail
Let them learn what happens when they forget stuff, that the next time they’ll have an opportunity to remember what was missing
Let them know what a bad grade feels like and that they can study harder and recover
Let them not finish their homework and talk to the teacher about it
Let them not get to school on time and go to the office to get a late slip
Let them not practice their sport and tell their coach why
Let them forget their lunch and figure out how to mooch from their friends or ask folks in the cafeteria
o The secret is to Give them EMPATHY so they can get back up and try again!
Love will go far when you allow them to fail and they learn you will love them unconditionally. If you yell at them, lecture them and reprimand them as they fail then they become panicked and brittle, will break instead of bend. Comments like “Well, if you had packed your lunch like I told you to this wouldn’t have happened. I don’t have time to run to school every other day because you were too lazy to get your lunch into your backpack. This really makes me angry.”
You want them to know that they can get themselves back up after they’ve fallen down, that they are resilient and that you’re on their side, not running the show but an encouraging spectator and coach who loves them beyond measure. Try saying something like this in a CALM, LOVING voice: “Wow, that must have been a hard to not have your lunch today. Your snack was in there too. What do you think you can do to make sure you pack it tomorrow? “