The effect of helicopter parents on their kids

“Helicopter parenting” refers to parents who incessantly hover like a helicopter around their kids.  Some have blamed this style of parenting on the palpable entitlement felt and exercised by this generation of college students. Reader Brian called my attention to this short (2-minute) video from the Atlantic, one of a series on parenting. The Atlantic gives some background:

“Initially, helicopter parenting appears to work,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult. “As a kid, you’re kept safe, you’re given direction, and you might get a better grade because the parent is arguing with the teacher.” But, ultimately, parents end up getting in the child’s way. In the first episode of Home SchoolThe Atlantic’s new animated series on parenting, Lythcott-Haims explains how helicopter parenting strips children of agency and the ability to cultivate their own tools to navigate the world. “Our job as parents is—like it or not—to put ourselves out of a job,” she says.

This episode of Home School was produced by Elyse Kelly.


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Makes some very good points and we see the long lasting affects. People of my age (PCC age) did not understand this change in society because it did not exist in our childhood and then, we did not have kids and did not see this change as it happened.

    I think the children of the baby boomers where the first to get this treatment and it became worse after this period. The idea of the “soccer mom” and running around delivery the kids to all these functions was not something we could even identify with. It simply did not happen when we were kids. The only time our parents got involved in our business or school was if something strange or bad came up. Most of the time we were on our own and made our own decisions. At least this is the way I remember it.

  2. Bruce J. Cochrane
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect, I think this video suffers from some tunnel vision. Yes, there are “helicopter parents” and children who may have failed to mature as a result. But I would suggest that the view of the world one gets at an institution like Stanford is a view of the world of privilege, not that of the world as a whole. I served in a similar role at a major state urban institution, and while I saw some of this, I also saw students who learned to fend for themselves at a very early age and were more than capable of dealing with adversity. All in all, I totally agree with the four step process, but I think there are lots of parents (and I hope I am one of them) who get it, and I am confident that their children (as well as children who didn’t have the benefit of parenting) will be the leaders in the future.

    • Michael Hart
      Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      This is my view as well. I’m about 10 years younger than PCCE and teach at a large public university. The students I see in my classes are mostly self-motivated and independent. I’ve only encountered one helicopter parent in 20 years, and she was the parent of a student with substantial physical and psychological disabilities. So I don’t dispute that helicopter parents exist but I don’t see large effects of their parenting on the twentysomethings in my classes. Maybe the effects are just not as apparent at State U compared to Snodfart or other Highly Selective Us.

      • Posted April 22, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        “I’ve only encountered one helicopter parent in 20 years, and she was the parent of a student with substantial physical and psychological disabilities”

        But do you think that the term “helicopter parents” is still applicable to parents who have a substantially severely impaired, developmentally challenged child?
        Children with disabilities require much more effort in nursing and education than in children without impairments. Parents of children with disabilities therefore have to deal with authoritys, schools and teachers from the beginning, if they want to preserve for their children those resources that they are legally entitled to, but which are often denied them by the communities or institutions for financial reasons ,

        • Michael Hart
          Posted April 22, 2018 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

          In this case yes it was still applicable. For example, the parent was answering course-related email on behalf of the adult university student using the student’s institutional email account (and not self-identifying as the parent while doing so). But in general yes I agree helicopter is not necessarily an apt description for most parents of disabled children.

          • Garnetstar
            Posted April 23, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            I also teach at a large state public university, and I’ve taught five thousand freshmen over the last five years. (You have to teach freshmen to see the worst of this: upperclassmen are the successes, the ones who learned to deal.) And the problem is worse than anyone can imagine.

            I’ve had to teach students how to get up at a certain time in the morning (aka, an alarm), how to formulate a schedule (you go to one class, then to lunch, then to your next class.) Anxiety and depression are now the most common reasons for missing exams and the like, now surpassing the old reasons mono, flu, and pnuemonia. Debilitating exam anxiety is so common and so debilitating that I had to put a section about seeking help for it in my syllabus. My office hours are, sadly, now mainly taken up, not with tutoring or class affairs, but with psychotherapy trying to teach life skills.

            The problem is not with, as some may think, those who feel entitled to safe spaces and no unpleasant speech. Those students may be entitled, but they are taking an action about their desires.

            The problem is that students are helpless: they don’t know how to take an action. So, the college has enormously expanded their “helping” facilities: free tutoring on all subjects all semester, an “early alert” office to notify students who aren’t doing well and to offer help, free evening review sessions (in my class, eight/week). But they are thinking like people who’ve haven’t been raised this way: they think that, if information on how to fix this is supplied, the students will take action. But that’s the problem: you can supply all the information you want, but they *don’t know how* to take action: to go to the tutoring and review sessions, to take the help offered.

            And, the number of parents who insist that their children’s F’s are the result of inadequate teaching! I know that it’s statistically more likely, with my huge number of students, but it’s an increasing problem in every department.

            I recall a typical case: an online homework assignment, due a certain date, and the computer screwed up for a certain student, so he couldn’t finish it. So he did nothing. Didn’t email, didn’t speak to me at lecture, didn’t post a note in the online forum, didn’t come to office hours. Then he got the penalty, came to ask me to lift it, and got my talk about *doing something* to fix a problem. Then he did it again with the next assignment!

            These kids don’t make it to upper-level classes, and those who do are those who learned to cope. But, it’s the worst problem I have. I spend far more time on students like that than on *teaching*!

    • rom
      Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      How many parents bought their kids cell phones so they could be safer?

      Being a teen in the late sixties and early seventies, there are two chances my parents would have bought me a cell phone [should they have existed].

      If I would have wanted a cell phone I would have gone out to work for one.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 22, 2018 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

        Ah, the good old days. My father grew up on a small farm in Ontario. He tells of milking the cows before dawn, then setting off for the 5 mile walk to school. In winter. He tells of his father, my grandfather, digging the foundation for his house by hand. With a shovel. How did we ever get here? Some say despite the appearance, it’s the same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 22, 2018 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

          Damn it. Now I have that Talking Heads song in my head. I just got rid of Duran Duran. Nope, now it’s back.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      With all due respect I would guess that the view one gets at a major College anywhere is a privileged view and I would be cautious of coming to conclusion from the actions of the students in school. It might be best to hold back the judgement until a couple of decades beyond the school grounds.

    • Posted April 23, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I have two kids (11 and 13) and I have seen first hand how our society is inundated with helicopter attitudes.

      I interview ‘kids’ for Stanford and a few of them have these qualities of being unable to guide themselves: they do not understand what it means to fail.

      This is not about privilege. This is a non-neglible problem in American culture, family, and education systems. That being said, I do think the kids eventually grow up but they are are hindered by being mentally weaker than they could be.

  3. Historian
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    How do we know that there is a marked increase in helicopter parenting from previous decades? Do we have any studies beyond mere impressions? And, assuming that helicopter parenting has indeed increased, how do we know such a phenomenon has negatively affected children when they enter the adult world? Maybe, most kids who have endured helicopter parenting eventually rebel from this psychological suffocation and become more independent than those who were not raised in this situation. In other words, we have a mere hypothesis that needs testing.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Have you never known a spoiled rotten child and then seen the results of that in the adult? Give Donald Trump a look. What do you suppose causes that?

      Where do you think all these snowflakes came from?

      • Historian
        Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        So, Fred Trump was a helicopter parent. Who knew since he shipped Donald off to a private military academy outside of New York City? Maybe Fred used an actual helicopter to frequently swoop in on Donald to keep an eye on him.

        As far as the “snowflakes” go, I have no idea how they were parented. But, maybe you’re right, since you seem to have deep insight into how they were raised.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted April 22, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          I do not have deep insight into anything. However, I do not need to wait for the sociologist to complete studies and give out results to have an opinion on something like this. Perhaps you always wait for the studies before issuing an idea or opinion.

          As for Trump, he was a spoiled child who’s father was very domineering with his children. We know this without any studies – it is part of the history we have on him. His mother was not around much and he saw his older bother become an alcoholic, and may have done himself in.

          • Historian
            Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

            As Pat Moynihan famously said, you are entitled to your opinions but not your facts.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

              Yes and all of us shall comment on our opinions and thoughts while you wait for the facts.

    • Posted April 22, 2018 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Good point.

      Also, “helicopter parenting” is too vague and subjective a term. Where is the line between keeping your kids safe and “helicoptering”? Where is the line between standing up for your kid and “helicoptering”? You can’t very well claim a phenomenon is causal when the phenomenon isn’t defined.

    • Garnetstar
      Posted April 23, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Oh, it’s *much* greater problem than it used to be, and it does, in fact, hinder these kids in the greater world. Yes, some learn to cope, but it’s an increasing problem.

      See my post above.

  4. Filippo
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink


  5. Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    To blame the mother, the parents, with terms like helicopter parents – that has such a long tradition and you can see that it still works today.

    For decades, psychologists have accused mothers of causing:
    – Autism due to lack of love, (the emotional cold mother, Leo Kanner / Bruno Bettelheim)
    – Schizophrenia due to lack or too much love (schizophrenogenic mother /
    refrigerator mother Frieda Fromm-Reichmann)
    – Homosexuality (Oedipal attachment to the mother / Freud)
    and so on and so on …

    “Helicopter parents” … so one can state: Nothing new under the sun.

  6. Posted April 22, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    The reality before us is not “mere impression”. I am a college student, and I am engaging with fellow students(majority) who have, close to, no sense of responsibility. Entitlement is the right word, and their feelings get hurt easily. I will blame ‘helicopter parenting’ as children lose agency and worst of all, they grow self-centred. If children of today should become good leaders tomorrow, then the subject is worth addressing.

    • Posted April 22, 2018 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      There have always been lazy, entitled people.

      I would guess that how lazy a person is due in no small part to genetics.

  7. Posted April 22, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, Jordan Peterson and Bill Maher discuss raising children on Maher’s most recent show. He also starts by blaming the Hard Left on college admins and professors.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      From what I’ve seen so far of Jordan Peterson, he seems to have much to say that’s cogent (in a commonsense kind of way) and much to say that’s original. Unfortunately, what’s cogent isn’t very original, and what’s original isn’t very cogent.

      • Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Jordan B. Peterson is completely overrated; but where a hype is …

      • James Walker
        Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        That’s the best summary of JBP I’ve ever seen.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 22, 2018 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        You need to name that paradox.

  8. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I thought the video one dimensional with no evidence given to support widespread helicoptering & how might we test the effect of it on the college ‘kidz’ of today?

    I do sense that UK college kidz today in the UK are generally more responsible because there’s no automatic local government funded grants any more [except Scotland]. The kidz feel they need a degree [often a mickey mouse degree] for most jobs of value – they know they’re destined for an adult life of substantial debt & unaffordable housing. No fun being young today!

    The dozen young adults [in their 20s] that I know are impressive people. I admire them for their manners, sense of fairness, tolerance & ability to express feelings without embarrassment. Four of them are dads & they’re far more involved in parenting than previous generations.

    I think the weird, alien, overly-PC, kidz I’ve seen on video must be a small faction with loud voices.

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I do not personally think I have seen helicopter parenting. No more than when I was a kid (long, long ago).
    But kids today are taught more about bullying and about accepting people who are different. It has been my impression that they are measurably kinder and more empathetic than when I was young, when unrelenting cruelty was not uncommon.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 22, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Well, they can be nicer now, they have much better weapons.

  10. Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Several comments:

    1. While following another trend of thought on YouTube, I recently saw a series of very young child/parent video interactions in which the parents thought their children arguing with them and, sometimes, acting threatening, was very funny. Also, parents laughing at their children when they
    fell or had minor mishaps. Right or wrong, I was appalled by this. I hope these children
    develop “normally”, without expecting approval for similar behaviors throughout their lives, or learn to treat others in this particular way.

    2. There are so many variations in personality, intellect and behavior of individuals that many of us can’t detect when there is a mental or physical problem or, exactly what it is. I am reminded of Susan Boyle who lived most of her life having been diagnosed as brain damaged due to oxygen deprivation at birth. This affected her whole life until, after appearing on Britain’s Got Talent, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Turns out she is exceptionally bright. With help, she has been able to learn how to better control her anxieties and perform with orchestras before audiences of thousands.

    Labeling people and/or making assumptions about their abilities should not happen. If a child is diagnosed as disabled in some way, he/she is frequently bullied by fellow students and slotted into very restrictive educational and employment opportunities by teachers, counselors and employers.

    3. As has been pointed out, generations of parents (not just mothers), have been demonized for their flaws and perceived failures in parenting. However bad the parenting, or subsequent development of their children, most of us become humane, loving people who are productive in society. There is no one correct way to parent, as parents and children are individuals (perhaps, even considering what I reacted badly to in point 1.) I draw the line at any and all forms of child abuse.

    4. Once, fairly recently, in a time when many parent-child relationships were described as “dysfunctional”, it seemed to me that most such relationships throughout history could be viewed in that light. No set of parents and children have been perfect and, there’s plenty of fault that can be ascribed to each. Also, I hope much love.

    5. As an elder with an interest in, among many other things, genealogy and history, my children have asked me to share memories of my life with them. In review, I have recently learned that, in many ways, the world and life I thought my children and I “shared” was different for each of us, and the memories are different in both emphasis and content. It is enough that we have been able to share and love each other. I’m very proud of my three children.

    (So spake Pollyanna.)

  11. Mark Reaume
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Is that one kid wearing a Fred Flintstone shirt?

  12. aljones909
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I remember how much my parents supervised my play – zero percent. As long as I returned for meals they were quite happy. It was the same for almost all the children in my little town.
    It was the sixties – a different age. The pre-Python Four Yorkshiremen give an accurate account of life in Britain in those days.

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Now there’s a term that is entirely counter-intuitive. I always assumed ‘helicopter parenting’ meant that they virtually abandoned the kids to caregivers, just buzzing in briefly on rare occasions to say “Hi, all OK?, good, see ya” and buzzing off for a few more weeks.

    The exact opposite of what has been described above. But probably far less bad for the kids (he says cynically) and much easier for the poor teachers.


    • Garnetstar
      Posted April 23, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      The term came from “Helicopter parents: they hover.” But it’s worse than that: we now have “Lawnmower parents”, who try to mow down any obstacle in the kid’s way.” Lawnmowers are a subset of helicopters, but a significant one.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 23, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        I was talking to someone who works in administration at a university. They were hiring summer students and the parent actually took over wage discussions. Many parents also build their kids’ university schedules and the students just provide their parents the password.

      • Mark Reaume
        Posted April 23, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        I guess one could say that lawnmower parents are upside down helicopter parents.

    • David Coxill
      Posted April 23, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      I am a full time carer for my twin brother ,i post on a carers forum .
      On there ,helicopter is used to mean other family members who rarely visit/help out/or do anything but criticize the main carer.

      Glad to say my family members are not helicopters .

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Just a brief reminder of the term and when it came into play. Obviously it did not apply to all.

  15. nicky
    Posted April 23, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I fear I’m an no helicopter parent, maybe a drone parent. Yet they turn out so differently. Nr 1 (if I’m allowed to number) is a highly sensitive person with an Impeccable ethic (buch better than my own) with always great plans, but not yet very successful in her ventures. Nr 2 is still in high school, but is an absolute model child, well mannered, interested, top of his school and close to genius. Nr 3 is still young (7) and diagnosed with ADHD. Since taking methylphenidate he’s doing well in school and with his peers. He’s a sports fanatic (and eats weet-bix 🙂 )
    The last one, four years old, is “The Angel of Entropy”. He has great gifts: he looks at a glass from a distance, and it bursts into pieces, commits suicide because it knows there is no escape, I guess.
    My point? Helicopter, drone or other parent, I think your influence as parent is kinda limited.

  16. Posted April 23, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    When I was growing up (1980s-early 1990s), the big deal people were complaining about were so-called “latch-key kids”, where parents were not around enough. Could the “helicopter parent” be an overreaction to this?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 23, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I was reminiscing about being a “latch key kid” while reading this article. I even have actual school photos from elementary school with a key that I wore around by neck. I think it probably is an over reaction to some extent. People were so guilted about both parents working and (gasp) letting kids come home unsupervised. I remember there were horror stories back them of kids watching (gasp) TV a lot.

      • Posted April 23, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        I also wore a key around my neck. Worse, I had a classmate who in 2nd grade was killed by a car on her way back from school.

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