The Overparenting Trap
A great deal of pressure is placed on kids to succeed these days.
When it looks like our children aren’t achieving to our satisfaction, parents often jump in and “help” them along. We let them know—through our words and our actions—that their efforts aren’t meeting our standards.
While we may not realize we’re doing this, I think we can all agree—“over-helping” our kids in this way (also known as overparenting or helicopter-parenting) is far from helpful.
At each stage of development, from the toddler years to the teens, our children are learning new skills and seeking age-appropriate independence. When we repeatedly do for them what they are capable of doing for themselves, we undermine this skill development and chip away at their confidence.
As parents, it can be hard to let go and allow our children to do things on their own—especially if it didn’t go so well the last time we tried it.
When you add being busy, and over-scheduled to the equation, it can sometimes feel easier (and quicker), to involve ourselves in the process. To bail them out—by doing their chores because “it was a busy week.” Keeping track of school deadlines and contacting teachers on their behalf. Requesting extensions on projects, “so their GPA’s won’t be affected,” by poor planning or lapses in organization.
This approach does our children a disservice.
The article, “The Effects of ‘Helicopter Parenting,’” by Joel L. Young, M.D., warns against this: “Saving your child from consequences and challenges now, only ensures he or she will face more challenges down the road.” He provides several suggestions to help avoid helicopter parenting and nurture independence in your child.
Want to Raise Confident Kids – Avoid Overparenting
My teens are in high school and it seems like the pressure to get them into the “best colleges” started as early as middle school, if not before.
I liken it to a scene in a horror movie—when everyone is running frantically in the same direction. There’s always one person who isn’t entirely sure what’s going on, but feels compelled to join the mob—start running first, ask questions later.
That’s what college prep feels like these days.
I recently listened to a wonderful TED Radio Hour podcast on NPR, called “Turning Kids Into Grown-Ups.” One of the TED Talks covered in the podcast, “What’s The Harm in Overparenting,” was that of Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University.
Lythcott-Haims made an excellent observation: “Parents are so concerned with getting our kids to the right place in life, whatever that might be in our own minds, we’ve decided it’s our job to arrive them at that destination… We think good parenting is to try to control and engineer outcomes for our kids, what we now call over-parenting or helicopter parenting—and it harms them.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Keeping Expectations Reasonable
Looking at life as existing in three general areas: 1.) Family/Relationships, 2.) Home/Household (administrative tasks, finances, chores, etc.), and 3.) Professional (working inside or outside of the home, at a job or as a full-time student)—I find I’m only able to excel in any two areas, at any given time.
I could cover the basics across the board, but excellence… that can only be achieved in two of three areas at a time (maybe)—and that third area is on its own!
* If I’m spending quality time with my husband and children AND my home is clean, then I’m not doing as much on the professional front.
* If I’m making strides professionally AND my home is company-ready, then I’m not nurturing my relationships as much as I’d like.
* If I’m tending to my relationships AND doing well professionally, then my house is probably a mess!
Now, this may be due to hyperfocusing indiscriminately on my part—but I’m sure others experience this dilemma, to some degree.
As adults, we know “having it all,” all at once is difficult, especially without help.
So why do we as parents, expect extreme excellence, in ALL areas, at ALL times, from our children?
Organic Discovery Rather Than a Checklist Approach
I’m not immune to this tendency.
As a recovering perfectionist, I was also that Mom—trying to forcibly check all of the college prep and pre-professional boxes for my children—often attempting to drag them through their lives, in pursuit of the competitive goal of higher education. Signing them up for leadership opportunities, suggesting extra Honors and AP courses, scheduling additional training sessions… the list goes on.
And all it did was wear everyone out, especially me!
I was forcing the situation, rather than allowing them to seek out experiences organically, according to their interests. I had to get better at suggesting opportunities that I thought they’d enjoy—that fit in line with who they are as individuals and what they want out of life.
I do believe there are times when we need to encourage our children to expand their comfort zones—providing structure and support, as they stretch ‘outside of the box’ and challenge themselves.
Children mature at different rates, so their level of maturity should always be considered, especially if ADHD or other learning differences play a role.
In those situations, providing enough support for them to achieve success early on, then backing off incrementally, is a good scaffolding strategy.
Scaffolding, according to Nancy Darling, Ph.D, is “a term used by Vygotsky to refer to the structure that adults provide to children as they develop new skills… If you’re providing scaffolding after the child can stand on their own, you’re helicoptering.”
Unconditional Love vs. Love Tied to Achievements
If we want our children to believe us when we tell them—”making mistakes is how you learn” and “success is achieved through failures”—we need to let them have the experience of learning from mistakes. Of failing, then figuring it out for themselves.
Along the way, I’ve learned to make sure my kids know my love is unconditional and is not tied to their achievements. I’ve gotten more comfortable with taking a step back, relying on the foundation of our family’s values (proudly on display in our kitchen)—and letting them try.
Do you struggle with overparenting? Which strategies help you to avoid the helicopter parenting trap?