5 Clues You Might Be a Helicopter Parent

Wikipedia defines a helicopter parent as … a 21st century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions, and controls the smallest details of the children’s lives (OK, that last part was mine, not theirs).

They hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not.

Does the shoe fit? Let’s see …

1. Have you hired a tutor to address your primary school student’s imperfect grasp of a number 2 pencil in anticipation of the many years of standardized testing to come?  Go ahead and laugh, but I’ll bet when you read that sentence you entertained the fleeting thought that maybe you should.

It’s becoming harder and harder to sit back, encourage your child to do the best they can, and let the chips fall where they may.  The competition is fierce, and more and more we’ve bought into the idea that our job is to give kids every possible advantage that might push them to the front of the line.  But there’s a big problem with that approach.  Kids end up getting the message that they’re just not good enough to cut it on their own.

2. Do you use the ‘g’ word?  Don’t even pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about.  You secretly (or maybe not so secretly) believe that your kiddo is gifted. Ah yes, ALL of our children are way above average.  Admit it, if only to yourself.  You’ve made sure that your child has taken an I.Q. test (or more likely, more than one) and are on top of the score.  And you’re convinced that he had a cold that day, or didn’t get enough sleep, or have some other explanation for why the number is at least 10 points below the real one.

Yes, that might put a bit of pressure on your little guy, but if you don’t reach for the stars you’ll never land there, right?

3.  Is every moment of your child’s life scheduled up the wazoo?  We’ve all read endless expert opinions about how our kids need more down time.  Creativity and brain power are enhanced when children have time to use their imaginations and … just … play! But do we believe it? Really believe it?

My daughter is at school from 8 AM ’til 6 PM most days, between academics, sports, and extracurriculars. When she gets home she eats a quick dinner (yes, we do insist on eating together as a family) and then retreats to consume at least 3 or 4 hours of homework.  Most of the time she hits the pillow long after I do.  When does she have time to think?  Or dream? Or imagine?  It’s no wonder she occasionally accuses me of the ‘h’ word.  Hypocrite.

4.  Are you spending most of your free time at your kid’s athletic practices and events? Worse, are you the Team Mom, and the Class Mom, and the Mom who always volunteers to make the dance costumes?  I hate to say this, but it’s time to get a life.

Your child will not fall apart if you skip swim practice occasionally and grab dinner with Dad from 5 to 7.  I have it on good authority that the coach would be grateful if you and all the other hoverers would butt out for a change.  Let Junior be responsible for his performance and learn what it feels like to be — dare I say it? — independent.

5.  Do you protect your kiddo from ever making a mistake? Are you that mom who delivers the lunch that was left on the kitchen counter, hands in the homework that didn’t make it into the backpack, and scoots into soccer practice with the shinguards that were left behind in the dryer?  Don’t even get me started on the subject of stepping in to argue for a higher  grade on the final exam.

If so, you may be robbing your child of lessons he can’t learn any other way. Chances are his college roommate isn’t going to run back to the dorm to get whatever he forgot, or call the professor to magically transform that B+ into an A.

Did your parents do any of this stuff for (or to) you?  Mine sure didn’t.  And when I had to figure out some things on my own, like how to get home from sports practice (it was ballet class back in the day) when my mom was working, or when it was wise to suck up a bad grade on forgotten homework and work harder on the next assignment, it made me better able to attack the bigger problems that showed up down the road.

Mastery.  Competence.  Resourcefulness.  Resilience.  Isn’t that what we’re going for?  We’re really good at giving them roots, but maybe we have some work to do in the wings department.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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