Helicopter Parents Are Damaging America’s Future
“Helicopter parenting” happens when mostly Baby Boomer mothers and fathers become overly involved in every aspect of their children’s lives. Among other things, they’ll contact their child’s bosses, teachers, coaches, and any other adult influence in the child’s life and intervene on the child’s behalf. Researchers have been watching this phenomenon grow like a malignant tumor over the past two decades, and here’s what they’ve learned: helicopter parents attempting to protect their children from disappointment and unhappiness create negative side effects like codependency, lack of confidence, lost learning opportunities, flawed critical thinking skills, and the inability to form stable relationships. In short, these parents undermine the relationships that the child and the various professionals must build in order for the child to grow into a fully functioning adult. This problem can last well into college and beyond, which doesn’t help America’s future in an increasingly competitive global economy.
More often than not, children raised by helicopter parents cannot function in a professional manner in the academic environment due to intrusive and even deviant parental behavior. Homework, an integral part of the academic experience, allows a student to learn better research and study habits that will help her throughout her life. At times, misguided parents will help their children with their homework in unproductive ways, e.g., doing some of the child’s critical thinking and writing for her. In the most severe cases, they actually do almost all of the child’s homework. I work with a 19-year-old nursing student we’ll call “Jill.” Quite often, Jill has told me that her mother does her Biology and English homework, while her father does her Algebra homework. Jill claims they do this so she can maintain good grades, implying that she cannot maintain good grades on her own. Due to this offensive and immoral academic meddling perpetrated by her parents and her boyfriend, who does her Spanish homework, Jill will gain very little knowledge from what should have been a valuable and enriching educational experience. Worse still, she will one day earn a nursing degree and get a job in the medical field while learning next to nothing of importance for herself. Any self-respecting hospital will soon discover her ineptitude and fire her. Fortunately, this is usually what happens, and ideally, she won’t find another job within her field of “expertise” anytime soon. The fallout from this person’s inexperience, however, may have already made an unfortunate impact by the time she loses her job. In the case of nursing, Jill’s inexperience may harm or kill a patient.
Of course, helicopter parenting leads to sequential problems. Think of how a helicopter father’s inability to let his child be responsible for her own actions leads to the suffering of other more worthy students. Specifically, while in school, these helicopter “children” have a negative effect on their peers. The girl who receives good grades due to her parents’ efforts will more likely receive financial aid and scholarships. This means less money for those students who can actually use the money to further themselves within a given field. One has to wonder what the father thinks about this. How does he live with the injustice of his behavior?
Sons and daughters of helicopter parents also serve as a distraction during class time, frequently showing up late or texting during class because they have no real desire to be there. Eventually, the parents find out one way or another that their child doesn’t participate in some fashion, whether he is just not showing up to class or disrupting class time. In elementary, middle, and high school, teachers or administration contacts parents when a child causes a disturbance. These parents, who have been doing their children’s work all along, show surprise when little Joshua ditches school or disrupts class time because “he’s so well behaved at home,” as I’ve heard them say naïvely or disingenuously. They will then e-mail and call the teachers or administrators at home, have the child transferred to a different class, or, in extreme cases, even transfer him to a different school. None of this solves the problem, just shifts the burden of having to deal with Joshua onto some other unfortunate person or institution.
At the college level, problems like the ones I’ve been describing aren’t usually discovered until late in the game because parents aren’t contacted about troublesome students. When I took my Business and Ethics class for Massage Therapy, one student we’ll call “Jack” had zero desire to attend class. His helicopter parents wanted him to have a degree, so he made sure to do the bare minimum allowed by the school in order to scrape by. This school’s policy on absences states that once you’ve acquired seven unexcused absences in a six-week period, you fail that class. Jack missed multiple classes and constantly served as a terrible disruption when he did bother to show up. The other students counted down his absences, waiting and hoping for the school to drop him. Sure enough, Jack missed his seventh day, but to nearly everyone’s dismay, he continued to attend class. His parents had found out about the school dropping him, so they called and complained until the administration agreed to excuse some of his absences. Fortunately for society, he ended up failing the class — for the third time. The school dictated that if any student failed a class three times, he or she would be dropped from the program.
The ideal parents of a college student will not help directly. They will not do their child’s homework for him or show up during class to take notes when their little baby comes down with a fever. Good parents will show their love by supporting their child’s accomplishments in college courses. Perhaps they may occasionally lend a little bit of money for a semester when cash is tight for the kid. Maybe they let him live at home, rent-free, while attending school. As we have seen, helicopter parents operate differently, with different consequences. They have damaged their child’s ability to deal with problems on his own. Mom and Dad will take care of everything for him. After college, though, what do the parents do? Do they help their child find a job, start a relationship or a family, raise the grandkids? Do we then end up with helicopter grandparents and aimless parents? No current solution exists to stop this form of parenting. Fortunately, raising children who cannot cope without Mommy and Daddy to guide them seems like an issue that will eventually collapse in on itself. Certainly, the children of helicopter parents will not be able to do the same with their children. Not having made it through school without their parents’ involvement, they will not be able to help with their own child’s schooling.