You may get annoyed when your parents fuss over how many layers you wear when it’s cold outside, or what kinds of food you eat, but trust me, some have it worse. Those with the well-feared “helicopter parents” have every aspect of their lives scrutinized by their mothers and fathers.
This term was first used in the 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by Dr. Haim Ginott, in which teens complained that their parents hovered over them like “helicopters.” It was later coined in the 1990s, and has been gaining popularity ever since. “Helicopter parents” refers to parents that deal with all the affairs in their children’s lives, even when they’re no longer children. When we were kids, it was normal, sometimes even expected, for our parents to call our elementary school teacher for a bad grade. Helicopter parents would do that with college professors as well. These parents all but follow their kids to college, and they control their student’s daily lives even during what should be a time of independence.
Helicopter parents micromanage their child’s life as if it were their own. Usually, these types of parents feel that they have to compensate for some missed events in their own childhood and want to live vicariously through their children. This is damaging to both the student and the parent; the student will never be able to understand their individuality and independence, while the parent will find no pleasure in forcing an unwilling child down their own path.
It isn’t a surprise that helicopter parents refuse to let their children leave the nest… even after high school. But why are they so unwilling? These parents fear that letting go of their children is an opportunity for something to go wrong and for their children to miss out on the things that they did. They feel that since they have more experience, they know exactly what and what not to expect. After all, the key to success is repetition- after living their lives, these parents can now repeat through their children and hope their children live it better.
Regardless of how pure the parents’ intentions are, the fact stands that this type of parenting is detrimental to their children. Two management professors, Bradley-Geist and Olson-Buchanan, surveyed over 450 undergraduate students by asking about the involvement of their parents and their own self-efficacy (Joyce). The results showed that students with parents that constantly hovered over them have a hard time believing in their own abilities to accomplish tasks; they instead feel heavily reliant on others. If one of the helicopter parent’s main goals is to ensure their children do not miss out on the same experiences they did, then this style of parenting is highly counterproductive.
These kinds of parents are regarded with apprehension by colleges. Why? Because having a parent constantly hover over you during school is often distracting. It doesn’t let you make your own opinions and decisions. Bill Deresiewicz, the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, writes, “[for students] haunted their whole lives by a fear of failure- often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure, the cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential.” Children spend their entire lives trying to please their parents; they are discouraged from taking risks by the fear of failure instilled in them. In the end, this fear of risk-taking won’t let you become an independent individual making contributions to the world, which is exactly what universities want you to become.
Oxford University has recognized the potential danger for a student raised by helicopter parents by separating students and parents at some open-day events. Influential figures have complained that parents continue to pamper the “snowflake generation” (yep, that’s us in all of our overindulgence), and they also take over the student’s experience by asking all of the questions. Mary Curnock Cook, the head of the university’s admissions office, said, “I think for middle-class parents, they should butt out, because they’ll be using a 30-year-old out-of-date model trying to advise their children.”
But helicopter parents are not always seen as a bad thing. In China, colleges are accommodating parents with mats in their gyms to sleep in during their student’s freshman year. Specifically in Tianjin University, these “tents of love” allow parents to practically go to college alongside their students.
Part of the reason helicopter parents are embraced in China is their culture; many children are used to being strictly guided by their parents. “Going to college is a life moment and my parents didn’t want to miss that,” remarked Xiong Jinqi, as his parents traveled a 19-hour train journey to accompany him to college. He later added, “being accompanied by my parents doesn’t mean I’m spoiled.” Spoiled? Perhaps not, but held back? Maybe.
To Jinqi, this behavior from his parents is normal. In fact, these typically Chinese parenting styles have been categorized as “tiger mom” parenting. “Tiger moms” are parents who strictly discipline their children in order to push them towards focusing on academic achievement; the children of these parents are often restricted from the many things that others enjoy: going to the mall with friends, signing up for fun (and often frivolous) clubs, and sleeping over. In her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua describes herself as a tiger mother, justifying it by saying, “I have a family name to uphold, aging parents to make proud. I like clear goals, and clear ways of measuring success.”
With the rapidly modernizing culture in China, though, more and more people are speaking out against this. Jinqi admits that although he defends his parents, he looks forward to living independently in the future.
“We’ve seen the harm helicopter parents can do and we see the need for children to grow and build their self confidence,” said Mimi Barrow, mother of a English and Journalism major at Drake University. “When you hover, you take away that sense of self esteem.”
If the children of helicopter parents are too dependent to speak out against this type of parenting, at least colleges are getting their point across. It’s time for helicopter parents to let their children be independent.
Image: Jessica Chang