Helicopter parenting is about certain parents showing over-protectiveness concerning their children. They tend to take an excessive interest in them by always being after them, especially in matters of study. They seem to dictate everything, leaving them little or no choice to decide for themselves.
The term, it appears, was coined in 1969 in “Between Parent and Teenager”, a book with a teenager having the nagging feeling of being watched over by his mother very much like a helicopter hovering above the head.
It’s possible that such parents are well-intentioned. They desire, after all, the best for their children. They believe that some pushing around is the right thing to do in order to be successful. But it’s the method that’s wrong, for being too zealous can be counter-productive. It’s when they cross the limits to practically control every area of their children’s school life that matters become serious.
Is helicopter parenting really so good as some people claim?
Of course, parents must keep track of the activities of their children, of how they are performing at school or of their general behaviour. They must be concerned. There’s no denying this. However, the teenager must not be made to feel that the parent is breathing down his neck every moment. He may feel insecure at being constantly spied on.
He may feel hurt that the parent does not have enough trust in him. This may trigger a feeling of low self-esteem. There may also be a sense of ‘suffocation’ to struggle with. All this may create tension which, in turn, may give rise to confusion and aggressiveness, if not revolt. He may have difficulty figuring out the parent’s odd behaviour. Needless to say, he will be unhappy.
He may also feel guilty. He may feel he has done something wrong somewhere and that he is being punished. There’s the case of a Form IV girl who is at a loss to explain why, every month, her mother telephones her tuition teachers to enquire about her performance and so on. Her friends find it funny and queer. The girl is embarrassed at being treated like a primary school kid. And she is always in a low mood.
Teenagers, like adults, need a space of their own where they can be free and enjoy privacy. No teenager wishes to be at the total mercy of adults. Spending some time alone and planning the next day’s tasks is important in the process of growing up.
Learning from mistakes and failure
Parents must allow children to stand on their own feet and let them learn from mistakes by inculcating problem-solving skills.
The teenager needs to find out, question, seek answers, use his hands and his imagination. Instead of repairing a damaged piece of equipment for him, give him the time to explore the possibilities to do it by himself. He will feel fulfilled and satisfied.
We may step in when he can’t
Adults must encourage their children to grow up with the idea that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s when some parents demand nothing but success that the teenager develops the fear of failing. Each time he fails in a task, he feels ashamed. He doubts his own abilities.
Later on, the teenager may have to face setbacks. Life may not treat him kindly. How will he cope if he has never been educated to manage? Adults must be there to support and encourage but without appearing to meddle or steer the teen’s life. Too much monitoring may leave him entirely helpless and dependent.
Problem-solving skills play a vital part in the development of a teenager’s brain. Neuroscientists are telling us that kids need to learn when to take a risk, when not, and parents need to stay out of the day-to-day trial and error.
Talking of dependence, in Fasting, Feasting Anita Desai sketches a father who takes immense pride in deciding, alone, his son’s academic career. Arun is dispatched to America for higher studies. He stays at Mrs Patton’s place. She has a young daughter called Melanie. Arun cannot adapt himself to change and to a different culture. He has no friends and he just cannot cook. He has to depend on others for food. His first attempt at cooking is a fiasco. “Yuck! What’s that?” exclaims the girl in disgust when she sees the food. He is humiliated and made to feel miserable because he has never been taught to be independent-minded.
The father is a perfect example of a helicopter parent who thinks he needs to decide everything relating to Arun’s education. He is focused on the academic success of his son and forgets to teach him the practicalities of everyday life.
* Published in print edition on 19 February 2016