Grounding the Helicopter: A Relational Approach to Parenting

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It’s probably safe to say that everyone wants to raise their kids to become the most successful adults they can be, but can being too involved in creating that success actually harm kids in the long run? According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, the answer is yes. The negative impacts of what many refer to as “over parenting” or “helicopter parenting” are often revealed in college. If a kid’s interests are born out of their parents interpretations of what is “good for them” and their consequent success the product of their parents’ watchful eyes, then college becomes the first experience in which the kids are left to create those interests and successes on their own. And they are left completely underequipped to do so.
Mental health issues on college campuses are not solely the result of helicopter parenting (a 2013 survey of over 153 college campuses found that a majority of college student had felt very sad or very lonely over the past twelve months, regardless of parental involvement), but over-involved parenting certainly does not help the situation. Lythcott-Haims, as the dean of Stanford University’s mental health task-force, saw many high-achieving students in her office whose struggles with mental health resulted from a perceived lack of freedom and disinterest with their studies that often originated with their parents. Beyond that, countless studies have re-affirmed that helicopter parenting can lead to depression and anxiety by the time the kids reach college, regardless of the academic success of the kid who is suffering.
Lythcott-Haims suggests a solution that echoes our standpoint on the issue: be relational with your kids. If you are solving conflicts and making decisions for your children while they are at home instead of allowing them to make their own choices, then they will be unable to be centered and grounded enough when on their own to make those same decisions. For example, if John’s mother has always decided his extracurricular activities during high school, he will feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of options at club rush during the first week of college, and a potential conflict will emerge when he can’t do all of the things he wants to do. It can be tough on the mother, too, when John calls her in a panic unsure of how to handle the conflict. Being aware of over-parenting is therefore essential not only to your kid’s health, but your own as well.
Despite how painful it may be to be a bystander in your child’s conflict, it is necessary for kids to have space to experience difficulties and learn how to resolve them on their own. But just because they are dealing with the conflict on their own does not means that you have to be totally isolated from the conflict yourself. You can be supportive of your child without telling them what to do by practicing being relational with them. When they call you in crisis, you do not tell them what to do. You do not solve the problem for them. You stop, take a deep breath, listen, and reflect their
words back to them. And once you think that they’ve reached a point at which they can make a next step, you ask them “what are you going to do next?” They may not solve the problem perfectly the first time, or the second time, and they may still be in conflict the next time that you talk to them, but allowing them to find a way to rely on themselves to solve their problems and create their own paths is an integral part of not only inspiring healthy behaviors, but being relational on a day to day basis.


Photo Credit:
Title: 5/365
Author: Anna Gutermuth
Source: 5/365 Photo on Flickr

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