The Psychological Bonuses of Helicoptering

Rob F. brought me this very interesting link. Thank you, Rob F.

A new study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that being overly involved in your grownup kids’ lives can do more harm than good.

What is sad is that studies are needed to prove the patently obvious.

The research was conducted by the same scientists who showed last year that intensive parenting — constantly stimulating your children — can make moms more depressed.

The causation here is all wrong. Housewives suffer from depression more than any group of population (irrespective of country, culture, socio-economic status, age, etc.) These are precisely the women who micromanage their children because they have nothing else to do with their lives. They micromanage as a result of the rage and depression they experience on a daily basis.

You may think you’re helping out by phoning your kids’ college professors to haggle over the difference between a B+ and an A–, but that interference may be undermining young adults’ ability to problem-solve and fend for themselves.

Parents don’t do this to help their children. They do it because:

1. They are bored.

2. Control is a socially acceptable form of aggression.

They are more than happy to undermine their children’s ability “to problem-solve and fend for themselves.” This is the entire goal of such parents’ existence because it will allow them to use their children as helpless puppets for ever and ever.

Constantly texting adult children and friending them on Facebook — letting them fly the coop but still demanding daily check-ins — is not exactly building a generation of confident and resilient grownups.

Well, duh! The last thing such parents want is to see their children become confident and resilient. To the contrary, they want them dependent and malleable.

“Parents are sending an unintentional message to their children that they are not competent,” says Holly Schiffrin, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington. “When adult children don’t get to practice problem-solving skills, they can’t solve these problems in the future.”

 

This is the level of psychological discourse in this country. An unintentional message, indeed. There are thousands of little tricks controlling parents use to make their children completely incompetent. Fostering incompetence in a growing individual is a labor-intensive life-long project. If you undertake a series of consistent measures over the course of several decades, how unintentional can such actions possibly be?

To reach this conclusion, Schiffrin and colleagues surveyed 297 college-age children about their parents . . . Their answers showed that helicopter parenting decreased adult children’s feelings of autonomy, competence and connection.

And this is EXACTLY what controlling parents want. Note that this is what happens in every abusive situation: the victim of abuse is isolated, made dependent, and rendered helpless.

In turn, feeling incompetent led to increased reports of feeling depressed and dissatisfied. “These parents have the best intentions,” says Schiffrin.

Yes, the best intentions in the world, such as preventing them from ever growing up and having a life, a will, or a single breath that is their own and nobody else’s.

But her work should help moms to shift that perspective. Perhaps by choosing to watch Downton Abbey reruns instead of playing Candyland with a tot or editing college essays for a high-schooler, they’re actually building their offspring’s independence and confidence.

Yeah, ’cause “moms” are such brainless idiots that they have no idea what they are doing and why they are doing it. Can you get any more condescending? There is that much Downton Abbey even the most hard-core fan can stomach. And then what? How will cannibalizing parents entertain themselves if their child actually gets a life? This is the real problem of controlling parenting.

What is the use of publishing an article on a subject when you have zero insight in why helicoptering takes place and what purposes it serves? Do people who write these articles really believe that helicoptering parents are so stupid that they have no idea they are breaking their children’s backbone and turning them into lifeless dolls? Of course, they know exactly what they are doing. This is not a goal anybody confesses out loud or even quietly to themselves but it is, indeed, the only goal of overbearing, controlling parenting.

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25 comments on “The Psychological Bonuses of Helicoptering

  1. It is totally crippling and these people do not actually care about their children, only about eating them. It is so incredibly disabling.

  2. There are some good points in your column. But you generalize far too much. I have helped to bring up children and grandchildren so I speak from personal experience. Young children require a lot of personal attention. There is no alternative unless you cage them like they do in some third world orphanages. Either the mother and father have to undertake this role or they have to pay someone else to do so. Nannies are expensive, beyond the reach of many families.And there is a principal-agent problem in relying on nannies.

    Mothers who are accustomed to working naturally feel dis-oriented when they shift roles. Most of them do well, making valuable contacts with other mothers to soften the solitude. When fathers help out – as I always did – the burden is more than halved.

    Very young children are insufficiently mature to make most decisions for themselves. So parent must be, well parents, and help them along. Well-balanced parents do not engage in excessive control, nor do they become unnaturally depressed. Life, after all, is what one makes of it, however it unfolds.

    Your conversation focuses on extremes – parents and children both. Of course some parents should not bear children – if they have emotional problems before hand, most especially. If they are already undergoing pyschological analysis, they are not fitted to take on additional responsibilities. Some children are born with defects – and that poses additional pressure on families. Again, that is an accident of fate.

    Mothers and fathers, for the most part, do not become demented controllers of their children. A minority do so. That is where your focus should apply.

    • // Mothers who are accustomed to working naturally feel dis-oriented when they shift roles. Most of them do well, making valuable contacts with other mothers to soften the solitude.

      For how long do those mothers stay at home with children in your examples? Months? Years?

      // Nannies are expensive, beyond the reach of many families.

      But if mother stays at home, it is often more expensive in money terms, no? If she makes more than will be paid to a nanny, of course.

      From which age do kindergartens accept children? In Israel it’s from 3 months. Private kindergartens can be till evening, not till mid-day as usual.

      • In the US, 6 weeks is when most daycares start accepting children because 6 weeks is the length of a regular maternity leave.

        A child does not benefit from being kept at home with an adult past the age of 18 months at most. Their development slows, they get cranky, sickly, their vocabulary develops more slowly, they start throwing tantrums. Even the most energetic, involved adult cannot possibly provide as much stimulation as a group of other toddlers.

        Of course, if they are kept at home past the age of 5, they will have serious issues of socialization, difficulties in developing life skills, will be much more sickly, develop basic competence much more slowly, etc. I was kept at home until the age of 7 and I still haven’t gotten over the damage this did to my socialization.

    • “Mothers and fathers, for the most part, do not become demented controllers of their children. A minority do so. That is where your focus should apply.”

      - Being in a minority does not make us less significant and our suffering less important to ourselves than the better luck of others. People should feel free to share their experiences with non-controlling parents. And I will speak of my own experiences.

    • “Mothers who are accustomed to working naturally feel dis-oriented when they shift roles.”

      My mother wasn’t accustomed to working, but she was accustomed to contact with adults during the day and to be responsible for herself (and cared for by my father), not to have them both have to focus suddenly on some tots and put themselves second. Situation landed her in mental hospital, depressed. Peace treaty was, we had to really BE her life … get home as fast as possible from school to play, bring people over and not go to their house, etc., etc.

      It is easy to say my mother was an extreme case but almost every housewife I know is extreme like that in some way.

      • “Situation landed her in mental hospital, depressed. Peace treaty was, we had to really BE her life … get home as fast as possible from school to play, bring people over and not go to their house, etc., etc.”

        - Same here. Nobody was even allowed to call me on the phone at home, let alone come over.

      • “Helicoptering is not very much about very young children.”

        - It starts at birth and then never stops. Even among toddlers, there are kids who are allowed to tie their own shoe-laces, even when it takes a while. And there ate those whose Mommies hurry to do it for them.

        I didn’t know how to take off my own pants or tie my shoe-laces until the age of 9. Because there was always a group of people rushing to do it for me.

    • “Mothers who are accustomed to working naturally feel dis-oriented when they shift roles. Most of them do well, making valuable contacts with other mothers to soften the solitude. When fathers help out – as I always did – the burden is more than halved.”

      Ugh! The assumptions about appropriate gender roles in those two sentences are disgusting.

  3. Actually, too, I broke up with a friend over this and have felt bad about it since, but it turned my stomach. She was following her son, in college in anoter place, on the Internet. Figuring out which bus route he should take in that city, etc., and bugging him about it, and all sorts of c.r.e.e.p.y. stuff that one could not have done pre Internet … also wanted to enlist me to claim to him that his girlfriend could not love him if she was not moving in (she was in school 50 miles away so commute would not have been good). I had this really visceral reaction and disappeared, never to speak again, have always felt I should have been more “mature” about it but maybe not.

    • “I had this really visceral reaction and disappeared, never to speak again, have always felt I should have been more “mature” about it but maybe not.”

      - Just think of how much he was suffering. There is nothing mature in condoning this by offering companionship to such parents.

  4. I completely agree with you.

    There was a time when I thought that helicopter parents are usually well-meaning, they just didn’t understand the damage they are doing to their children. Then one day I had a very eye-opening conversation with one of my stay-at-home-mother relatives, who has a pre-school kid. This woman simply does not believe that children should be encouraged to become more independent, in matters such as feeding and clothing themselves! She thinks that 5 year olds who can feed themselves and put on their own jackets are “convenient if you are a working mom”, but otherwise, there is no need for a 5 year old to learn these things.

    That was when I became staunchly anti-helicopter parent.

  5. I remember being pretty shocked when I saw the mother of a child aged about 7 insist on holding his hand walking to school. He wasn’t happy about it but she just didn’t care. Maybe she didn’t trust him not to jump the protective railings along the quiet road to school in front of a slow-moving car containing more kids going to school!

    I wonder about that Tiger Mom who was so incredibly controlling every minute of her daughters’ time was regulated. They insisted they didn’t mind (in the end) as it got results. I don’t know if TM now believes her job to be done and does not helicopter in at every opportunity now that her girls are at university. Must be a hard habit to break though.

    • I’m not surprised they said they didn’t mind. With a mother like that, they’d be terrified of saying anything against her, especially in such a public way. The first thing an abusive family teaches you is never to reveal what is happening inside it.

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