Is it bad to be a helicopter parent?


The expression of helicopter parents emerges from a testimony in the 1969 book Between parents and adolescents by Israeli psychologist Haim Ginott . In it, a teenager expressed feeling constantly supervised by his mother, as if a helicopter was flying over him.

In the 1990s, the term reappeared in the famous best-selling book Parenting with Love and Logic by American popularizers Foster Cline and Jim Fay . It defined an ineffective parenting style that is characterized by constant surveillance of the children’s lives to come as soon as the slightest problem arises.

According to these authors, this parenting style gives rise to adults who are not capable of facing small challenges and lack autonomy. The term has evolved in the academic environment under the name “hyperparenting” or “hyperparenting.”

Relationship with less autonomy

Since the first decade of our century, research has been appearing , mainly in the United States, in which the relationship between hyperparenting and different psychological constructs, such as anxiety, depression, social adjustment or coping strategies, is sought. coping. In these studies, questionnaires are given to families in which they are asked to rate how accurate statements such as:

  1. I make suggestions to my son or daughter to help them get things done.
  2. I do what I can to avoid difficult situations for my son or daughter.
  3. I let my daughter or son take personal responsibilities related to their happiness or their life.

But can we establish a causal relationship between this supposed overprotection and the development of personality characteristics that are less beneficial for the future of the children? Or, on the contrary, do families hover over their children’s lives because they have not developed sufficient coping skills and have specific support needs?

Furthermore, are these caring behaviors really a negative aspect of parental behavior or a logical response to the new challenges that youth face in their transition from adolescence to adulthood?

Historical, social and contextual conditions

The term “hyperparenting” has gained relevance in the media in various countries, including ours, where numerous articles and books have been dedicated to the topic. It is crucial to recognize that media representation and informative content can significantly influence how families approach parenting and education without taking into account social inequalities, cultural diversity and complex social contexts.

From this point of view, this view of hyperparenting lacks what the American psychologist of Russian descent Uri Bronfenbrenner would consider an analysis of the process by which this type of parental behavior arises and the way in which it affects the development of daughters and children. children.

Attributing hyperparental behaviors to the internal and psychological characteristics of fathers and mothers, without analyzing all the historical, social and contextual conditioning that may be influencing its supposed appearance, is a very limited way of analyzing the issue.

The ‘infantilized’ university students

In the 1990s, the term “helicopter parents” acquired social relevance following criticism from Anglo-Saxon university campus administrators , who pointed out the excessive intervention of families in their children’s evaluation and exam review processes.

What was it due to? Canadian journalist Adriana Barton suggests that this active presence of families on university campuses could be motivated by the intensified social pressure that drives them to begin academic preparation for university at increasingly younger ages.

If a family has dedicated resources and effort to their children’s access to higher education, it is understandable that they want to be aware of their academic progress, right?

In Spain, this perspective is legally supported: if parents finance the studies and subsistence of a student, even if they are of legal age, they have the right to know their grades, according to a legal report from the Spanish Data Protection Agency .

Cause or consequence?

In the academic field, numerous studies have associated hyperparenting with deteriorated mental health in children. However, a recent systematic review suggests that there is no conclusive evidence that this parenting style is the root of these problems. The question then arises: is mental health the origin or the result of hyperparenting? Longitudinal research is required to clarify this relationship.

There are studies that suggest that greater parental intervention can be beneficial, especially in the transition to adulthood of young people with disabilities. This leads us to consider that hyperparenting behaviors could have a justified purpose: families could be intensely involved in their children’s lives for valid reasons.

Regarding the socioeconomic bias that this parenting model may have, although it could be assumed that hyperparenting is predominant in white middle-class families, there is research that challenges this idea. One specific study revealed that “helicopter” parenting is more common in lower socioeconomic households and among certain ethnic minorities. However, this study did not find evidence that children raised under this style presented more problems than those of other parenting styles.

Hyperparenting, like any other parenting style (for example, democratic or authoritarian styles), could be more linked to specific cultural patterns than to a specific and universal way of parenting. It would be an adaptive way of educating: it adapts to the demands of the cultural and psychosocial environment.

Is hyperparenting really a problem?

The current perception of hyperparenting lacks solid empirical data to suggest an excessive increase in this style in parenting, or that this form of education is harmful. There are no in-depth analyzes of why conflicts related to hyperparenting arise, and it would be valuable to fully explore these dynamics from a qualitative perspective.

Author Bio: Beatriz Martin del Campo is a University Professor. Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of Castilla-La Mancha