It’s a natural reaction. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to keep your children safe and free of harm. But can an overbearing parenting style spell problems for your child later on?
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According to a 2018 study, it’s possible.
The study looked at 422 children and followed them over a period of eight years — at ages 2, 5 and 10.
Researchers found that over-controlling parenting of a child at age 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5. Likewise, the children who had better emotional regulation at age 5 were less likely to have emotional or social problems at age 10, and were also more likely to fare better in school.
Pediatric psychologist Vanessa K. Jensen, PsyD, ABPP, didn‘t take part in the research, but says parents should allow their children to make mistakes, within reason.
The term “helicopter parenting” refers to a type of parent who‘s always hovering over their child’s every move. If you find yourself staying alert over your child’s every action and choice and are always nearby, paying close attention to every activity and interaction, you may be helicopter parenting.
While always keeping an eye on your kids may seem like a good thing, research and advice from doctors have indicated that it may stunt development if taken too far.
Some parents hover more than others, but Dr. Jensen also cautions about being quick to label parents who are trying to respond to their child’s needs.
“Oftentimes, you have a parent who is simply responding to their specific child’s behavior and needs,” she notes. “It is important to be somewhat protective at times, and to be cautious, especially in our current culture.”
Helicopter parenting may come from a genuine place of wanting to help provide support for kids as they grow up — but the key is having a balance.
It’s understandable to want to pay close attention to your kids. And how attentive you are will depend on your specific style and the needs of each child. Indeed, with the rise of the internet and social media, there can be benefits to applying boundaries like child locks and social media barriers.
“Even 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have brought social media up as something that is nearly as important as I do now,” says Dr. Jensen. “In our world, kids can access so much information online, so I really believe parents need to be relatively invasive early on. A lot of teaching opportunities can be used in those early years to teach kids what’s appropriate and not appropriate.”
So, while it’s important to pay attention to what your kids are doing and watching, there are some general warning signs that your hovering is going too far.
You may be crossing the line into harmful helicopter parenting if:
While it may not seem like it at first, being too protective of your kids can have an impact on their development and growth. There are certain things your child will miss out on if your parenting becomes too overbearing, and some important developmental milestones can be missed if your parenting style doesn’t give them space to grow.
When we think of a child’s development, we often think of them succeeding in various challenges throughout life. But it’s also important to allow them to make mistakes and develop problem-solving skills through trial and error.
“It is important to let your child make mistakes,” Dr. Jensen says. “If you are the parent constantly bringing little Juan or little Jennifer back in as soon as they’re going a bit too far from the nest, like a momma chick — there isn’t the chance to make the little mistakes they can learn from.”
In other words, if a parent is constantly fixing things for their kids, they won’t get a chance to fail or learn through trying. Making mistakes is a natural part of growth and, while it can be scary at first, children have much to learn from them.
“We all know that we learn from mistakes,” says Dr. Jensen, and she encourages you to let your child do so as well.
Just like problem-solving skills, it’s also important for kids to learn how to stand up for themselves in tough situations. While many parents naturally feel the need to fix problems for their young ones, there comes a time when a child learns how to do this for themselves.
It’s common for helicopter parents to jump at the chance to get involved with their kids’ conflicts. If your child is being bullied at school, your desire to come to their rescue is perfectly understandable. While it’s important to intervene when necessary to ensure your child’s well-being, it’s also important to use real-life situations as teaching moments for kids to deal with some things themselves.
If you’ve identified some of these traits in your parenting style, there are steps you can take toward slowly letting go. It can be a difficult transition, but building independence in your child is a valuable part of their development.
According to Dr. Jensen, it’s important to still be watchful of your kids, though. But she recommends being more cautious early in your child’s life and then slowly lessening your monitoring.
Here are steps you can take to let go of your helicopter tendencies:
As your kids grow and learn from their mistakes, so will you. If you’re worried about a new parenting style you’re trying, ask for help if you need it. It can be beneficial to reach out to other parents for advice, but not in a judgmental way, especially for a first-time parent. Talking to the parents of a child’s peers about what they allow at certain ages can be helpful for parents who are concerned about being too protective or too lax in their parenting style.
Ultimately, you’ll find that every parent has different styles of discipline and parenting when it comes to their kids. Everyone wants to protect their kids and prepare them for the real world, but part of that is easing them out of the nest in small ways. By using open communication and gentle monitoring, it’s possible to find a healthy balance that doesn’t harm your child’s development and improves your relationship with them.
“There’s got to be a point where you begin to trust them,” says Dr. Jensen. “If you have a sense that your child is trustworthy, give them space.”
Complete results of the 2018 study can be found in Developmental Psychology.