Trust And Communication Can Help “Helicopter Parents” Land Safely

The near-universal access to high-broadband internet technology in recent years has led to a marked increase in enrollment in online K-12 schools. Online education options appeal to parents who are looking to give their children a head start, but for many parents, online classes represent another opportunity to keep their children nearby and out of harms way.

Known as “helicopter parents” for the way they hover around their children’s lives, they monitor their children’s behavior obsessively, looking for any chance of problems or issues. Many studies have likened parental engagement in a child’s education with better grades, less substance abuse, and increase the likelihood of attending college, but recent findings show that as more parents are increasing the management of their children’s lives, they are often impeding their children’s development and hindering their independence.

In today’s hypercompetitive global marketplace, it’s understandable that parents want every advantage for their children, especially if they feel they never had an opportunity to reach their own full potential. Statistics show the importance of beginning education at young ages, leading many parents to push for schools to teach Mandarin language classes in grade school and requesting that preschool teachers assign homework.

Yet, in many cases, the demands parents are making on their children, as well as the school systems and society in general can have damaging implications. “If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect,” argues Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play. The American Academy of Pediatrics also warns that a decrease in free playtime can create long-term health risks, leading to stress, anxiety, and even depression.

In a study at Japan’s Gunma University, researchers measured the relationships between parents and their young adult children. The team found that those with overprotective parents had less grey matter in an area of the prefrontal cortex than those with healthy relationships. The underdeveloped section of the brain showed abnormalities common in those with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses.

“The way kids learn to be resourceful is by having to use their resources,” says Lenore Skenazy, author of the popular blog Free Range Kids, in which she argues about the detrimental nature of helicopter parenting. “We’re infantilizing our kids into incompetence.”

While many parents recognize the dangers of helicopter parenting, curbing the behavior is often easier said than done. The strong emotional bond nearly all parents feel for their children can understandably make rational decision-making a difficult process, especially when it means stepping away from a child’s life. Ithaca College offers a great checklist of advice for parents who have trouble letting go, with recommendations including:

  • Visit (but not too often)
  • Communicate (but not too often)
  • Don’t worry (too much)
  • Expect Change
  • Trust Them

Never forget that when it comes to a child’s learning and development, failure is often as important as success. As Kenneth Wesson notes,”When it comes to learning, failure is often a prerequisite. This is particularly true when learners lack related prior experiences, as the new information cannot merge with brain circuits that don’t exist yet. When there is nothing with which to integrate new knowledge, the building process must begin from scratch.”

By trusting their children’s intuition and intelligence, parents can lessen the burden their children feel to succeed while easing their own anxiety in knowing that in the long-term, their hands-off approach will likely produce more fully developed and capable, free-thinking people.

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