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Am I a helicopter parent? 5 signs you need to learn to let go a little

POSTED: June 24, 2014 3:00 p.m.
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Are you a hovering parent?

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The term "helicopter parents" first made its way into the lexicon through Dr. Haim Ginott's 1969 book, "Between Parent and Child." In his book, Dr. Ginott interviews a teen who complains: "Mother hovers over me like a helicopter."

According to Wikipedia, the use of the term helicopter parents "gained wide currency when American college administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the Millennial Generation began reaching college age. Their baby-boomer parents earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received. Summer camp officials also reported similar behavior from parents."

The rise of the cell phone is also seen as a contributing factor to helicopter parenting. University of Georgia professor Richard Mullendore called it "the world's longest umbilical cord."

Today's parents of toddlers and teens were raised by baby boomers, so helicopter parenting may come naturally to this generation. Helicopter parenting isn't about protecting children, it's about overprotecting them.

Dr. Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D, who is a licensed psychologist and author of the book, "Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box," calls it overparenting, which she describes as being involved in a child's life in ways that are "in excess of responsible parenting." Dr. Dunnewold continues, "The main problem with helicopter parenting is that it backfires."

When parents anxiously hover over children, they stunt their growing independence. The message unintentionally being conveyed is: You cannot do this without me. That message does not produce confidence and resilience in children. In fact, a study from the University of Mary Washington indicates that overparenting is linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression in children.

How can well-meaning parents strike the right balance between being appropriately engaged with their children, which increases feelings of acceptance and love, while not hovering over them?

Here are 5 signs you may be overdoing it.

1. Doing things for children that they can do for themselves
While a 3 year old cannot be expected to do his own laundry, a 14 year old can be. Doing a child's homework for him is another example of helicopter parenting. Doing homework is the student's job; it is not the parent's. Don't complete school projects for your child, while he sits on the couch playing video games.

2. Saying "No!" but not meaning it
Sometimes parents fear losing the affection of their children. Or perhaps they didn't feel adequately parented themselves, so now they are trying to make up for it. When children realize that their parents don't really mean "no," and will instead work to shield them from life's disappointments, they begin to feel entitled.

3. Not allowing children to make age-appropriate choices
Begin allowing children to make small choices early on, so that, as they grow, it is easier for them to make increasingly important decisions. Within reason, and based on their ages, let them decide what clothes to wear, what foods to eat, and which friends they like.

4. Negotiating your child's conflicts with other children
Teach children how to negotiate conflict with others. Show them the way, point them to techniques for successful negotiation, but don't do it for them.

5. Shielding children from failure
It turns out that a certain amount of failure is good for our children. It helps them learn and grow.
At Da Vinci Science High School in Los Angeles, educators are pointing to the need for "productive failure" — the idea that students benefit from failing and then learning to recover, they try to master ideas they didn't understand. Could Edison have succeeded at inventing the lightbulb if his experiments hadn't failed several times prior to his success?

There's no doubt that it can be a scary and unpredictable world out there. But the goal of every responsible parent is to raise independent, confident and accountable adults. That doesn't happen magically when teens turn 18.

You can reach Susan at: susanswann7@hotmail.com

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