Helicopter parenting: The cost of being micromanaging, overhelpful parents

A typical helicopter parent doesn't believe her child is able to do something and therefore intervenes to prevent failure. —123rf.com

IN 2011, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother became not only documented evidence of stereotypical strict Asian parenting, it also offered a starting point for discussion about parenting styles. Along that same level of ultra-involvement – that of a tiger mum/dad – lies another type of parent: one that, instead of putting the learning experiences on the child, places the responsibility of intervention on parents.

These parents hover around their children to keep the latter from accidents and/or failures, aspects that the parents perceive to be detrimental to the young ones.

When a child is small, helicopter parenting could look like completing a child’s schoolwork or project or dealing with playground politics. However, as the child grows older, this over-protectiveness extends to informing lecturers that the child cannot attend classes, accompanying him or her for a job interview, even calling in sick on behalf of the child.

Consultant neuropsychologist Assoc Prof Dr Nivashinie Mohan says most of the time, over-parenting is not driven by ill-intentions, but rather from genuine concerns.

“But this can have negative effects on children’s development. It hinders autonomy, self-efficacy and ultimately, resilience,” she says.

Sunway University School of Medical and Life Sciences Associate Dean (International) Prof Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon says helicopter parenting usually stems from anxiety that the children are not getting the best or giving their best.

“With a black-and-white order of thinking, it resembles perfectionism. It also comes across as being overprotective and micromanaging children to ensure comfort, ease in life, achievement, acceptance, and most of all – zero failure,” says Ng.

Ng says helicopter parenting is counterintuitive to children learning to be independent. -- Alvin Ng Lai OonNg says helicopter parenting is counterintuitive to children learning to be independent. -- Alvin Ng Lai Oon

The fear to fail

Ng says this overprotectiveness stems from a fear of failure in their children, and perhaps, a reflection of themselves as parents.

“Failure or anything other than the best is seen as catastrophic and unbearable, leading to the heightened anxiety that drives over-parenting.

“This fear of failure could also be a response to personal shame and guilt in being a parent – with many young parents probably overworking to make ends meet, or to live up to their perceived own parents’ expectations,” he says.

Cultural or societal factors can also push people to overparent, Nivashinie says.

“Some cultures place a high emphasis on achievement, success and external validation, leading parents to adopt a controlling and overbearing approach to help their kids meet these expectations.

“Some parents overparent as a result of their own past experiences, such as growing up with neglect, abuse or other challenges. They overcompensate by being overly involved in their children’s lives, in an attempt to provide the support and protection they lacked in their own childhood,” she adds.

Shakuntala with her two sons at home. She says she spends time to play with them on weekends. - S.S.KANESAN/ The Star.Shakuntala with her two sons at home. She says she spends time to play with them on weekends. - S.S.KANESAN/ The Star.

Protective mechanism

Single mother Shakuntala Devi Kumar, 43, agrees wholeheartedly. Having gone through a tough childhood, she now does everything in her power to protect her sons, Sai Keshaav, 9 and Sai Kaeiraav, 5, from the same experience.

“I over-parent a lot. I will get everything ready for my sons and they don’t have to do anything, not even age-appropriate chores,”

On a typical work day, her morning starts at 4am. She wakes up to cook lunch and dinner and sends her sons to school and kindergarten. She says her sons like fast food – typical of young kids – but “I tell them what I cook is balanced and better for them,”

A tutor comes over to teach Keshaav for two hours daily.

On weekends, the children are up by 7.30am, she says. After their shower and prayers, they are allocated some television time followed by school revision.

“They have their lunch at 12noon, followed by an hour’s nap. In late afternoon, they go to the park with their helper and are back by 6pm for dinner,” Shakuntala says, adding that her schedule is clockwork and precise.

On weekends, Keshaav attends swimming and taekwando classes. Shakuntala is thinking of adding more classes, depending on his interest.

“I want my children to develop life skills... that’s why I enroll them in these classes. They should know how to play sports, have a bit of art skills, maybe even play some musical instrument like the piano,” she says.

On top of helping their child with homework, helicopter parents often give correct answers for prevent mistakes. --123rf.comOn top of helping their child with homework, helicopter parents often give correct answers for prevent mistakes. --123rf.com

What hovering does

Ng says studies over the last decade shows that over-parenting has negative effects on children and adolescent as they grow up.

These children develop poorer psychological well-being as they grow into adults, with less effective or adaptive coping skills when faced with problems.

“Some might develop socialised perfectionism and therefore higher anxiety, usually pertaining to social and personal acceptance,”

There is also lower quality parent-child communication and overall family satisfaction – with the collective idea that “we’re never good enough” leading to overall poorer life satisfaction.

“Some children grow up being entitled, narcissistic and socially inflexible – leading to relationship problems,” he says.

Nivashinie adds that helicopter parenting can interfere with a child’s ability to regulate emotions, since he or she may not be given opportunities to experience and manage them in a healthy way.

“This can turn into emotional dependency on their parents and difficulty in managing emotions on their own,” she adds.

“It also may interfere with children’s academic and cognitive development, as they may not be given the opportunity to develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking and independent learning. It eventually impacts their ability to succeed academically and develop a growth mindset,”

“Children may become overly reliant on their parents – all the way into adulthood – for direction and approval. This can result in a lack of intrinsic motivation and initiative in pursuing their own goals,” she says.

Nivashinie says overparenting is not driven by ill-intentions, but rather from genuine concerns. -- IHH HealthcareNivashinie says overparenting is not driven by ill-intentions, but rather from genuine concerns. -- IHH Healthcare

On a platter

Shakuntala says she used to not only help, but provide correct answers for her son’s school work, but she has since stopped.

“I have stopped doing that for the past year or so because I found out how detrimental it would be for him. But there are still a lot of things I need to undo,” she says, admitting that her sons just need to “sit down and everything will be done for them.

“I am overprotective of my kids. I don’t want them to get hurt physically or mentally, so I try to protect them in all ways possible,” she says.

But she also admits that her sons, especially Keshaav, have become complacent with the arrangement so much so that “he won’t do anything extra”.

She says she wants them to have more initiative. She does self-affirmation daily and tells herself that things can be better, but because it is something that’s already ingrained in her, change is hard.

“But I know I need to improve so they become better.

“I do a few jobs to make ends meet, so my time with them is limited. But I make it a point to have game nights and play with them,” she says.

Overparenting looks loving, but it has detrimental effects on the child. -123rf.comOverparenting looks loving, but it has detrimental effects on the child. -123rf.com

Catalyst for improvement

Ng says parents need to understand that failure is hardly catastrophic.

“Changing your belief around failure is one way to stop yourself from being overprotective. Manage your own anxieties about your children being high achieving and perfect.

“Learn about dissatisfactions, frustrations and disappointments together and how to cope with them as they come. You cannot protect your child from problems and negative emotions. All these are part of life and of being human.

“What’s more important is to equip them with the experience on how to solve problems and to understand how emotions can be managed – and for them to be independent so that you no longer need to worry for them,” he says.

Nivashinie suggests parents look after themselves too.

“Make sure you prioritise your own well-being and set aside time for self-care, like hobbies. When you are in a healthy and balanced state, you are better equipped to parent effectively without overdoing it.

“If you think you cannot re-learn on your own, consider seeking support from a qualified professional, such as a psychologist, therapist or parenting coach, who can provide guidance and strategies for managing over-parenting behaviours. They can help you develop a more balanced and healthy approach to parenting,” she says.

Helicopter parenting, Ng adds, is counterintuitive to children learning to be independent. “Research clearly suggests that over-parenting does more harm than good,”

“Changing may not be easy because it’s not part of the behavioural and emotional blueprint of overbearing parents, but it’s important to ensure that a child grows up to be independent, motivated, resilient and emotionally well-regulated,” he says.

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