I remember the first time I heard the term “helicopter parent.” It was at my one of my kids’ college freshman orientation, where they separated parents and students into different rooms and gave us each a good talking-to. There they told us, in no uncertain terms, that helicopter parenting would be detrimental to our students’ success in college.
Our children’s generation has seen the rise of helicopter parents more than any other. As they hover, they’re always advising and intervening, enabling and rescuing, offering opinions and sometimes outright manipulating. Why? Generally speaking, the reasons include “to be involved in my child’s life,” to “help,” and to “be an advocate.” Good intentions—but when they start to work against our ultimate parenting objectives, these efforts can actually become counterproductive and downright detrimental.
Our parents’ generation didn’t suffer from “helicoptering” as much. Theirs was more a generation of self-sufficiency—of parents and their adult children living their own lives. This, however, is the generation of highly involved parenting.
These involved parents serve on the committees at the preschool and bring cupcakes to every party, they make their kids’ beds and pick up after them, they sometimes DO their kids’ homework, and they make every personal effort they can to help their kids make the team, earn a 4.0, get the job, etc.
Young children need their parents A LOT. That being said, the parent role is an evolving one. In fact, our goal should be to eventually work ourselves out of a job!
When our kids were little, we put training wheels on their bikes, and then took them off as they demonstrated increased strength, balance, and confidence. That’s how we should be approaching the teen years. We go from holding them on the bike with both hands, to keeping one hand on the seat, to letting them ride alone with training wheels, to taking off the training wheels and cheering like crazy from the sidelines.
Going from director to chief encourager is one of the biggest challenges for parents during the years leading up to and including the launch. And truthfully, it can be a big challenge for teens as well (although they probably won’t admit it). Change isn’t easy for any of us. But if teens are going to be successful, confident adults, they need to be able to operate independently. If you haven’t started operating as your teen’s chief encourager (rather than pilot or director), it’s time to start practicing now! You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how your teen rises to the occasion as you gradually let go.
Arlyn Lawrence is the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a leadership and life skills curriculum for teens in standard and Christian editions). Arlyn is the mother of five grown children and grandmother of two. She and co-author Dennis Trittin speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!