Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Hovering's Not Always Bad

We've all seen them. Maybe we're even one of them. The dreaded "helicopter" parents. You know the ones: Per the stereotype, they hover over every homework assignment. They drive or walk their kids everywhere. They track kids cellphones and put video cams in cars and under couches to watch nannies and babysitters. They monitor every Web site their child visits. They land in the middle of a kids' dispute to solve it.

Some might call themselves involved parents. Others, like Susan Coll, call them "Blackhawks."

And much as "slacker" parents, and even the College Board, have told helicopters to lay off their kids and let them grow up and learn lessons the hard way, a study released earlier this week shows that hovering might actually benefit kids.

"Compared with their counterparts, children of helicopter parents were more satisfied with every aspect of their college experience, gained more in such areas as writing and critical thinking, and were more likely to talk with faculty and peers about substantive topics," said [National Survey of Student Engagement] director George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor.

The downside, according to the study, is that parent involvement doesn't reflect in better grades.

So, is the helicopter parent an overblown stereotype as some people in Jay Mathews's story suggest? Do you think hovering parents do good or cause harm?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  November 7, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
Previous: Support for the Asking | Next: Parent-Teacher Conferences


I wanted to tell the survey takers that I actually wasn't satisfied with my college experience, but my mom was helping me fill out the survey, so I had to say the opposite.

Gotta's laying out my outfit for today's classes...

Posted by: whoosh | November 7, 2007 7:58 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing wrong with being a "helicopter" parent. they are no different than any other involved parent in the respect that they are doing what they think is best for their children. Good for them!

I'll tell you what is doing more harm than good; labeling a parenting style with insulting terms like "helicoptering" and "black Hawk" as if there is something destructive about it. If these so-called overinvolved parents don't raise totally independent kids by age 18, so what? They aren't hurting anybody.

Posted by: DandyLion | November 7, 2007 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to take this study with a grain of salt.

I'm pretty sure that most of the "hovering" parents are interested in ensuring their children receive the best education, and are actively involved in making it happen. I can see how this would naturally lead to a child being more inquisitive in general and interested in learning for its own sake. So I think it has less to do with hovering and more to do with the value the parent(s) place on education.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | November 7, 2007 8:17 AM | Report abuse

I said this at the other article too...there is a difference between being involved and helicoptering. Helicoptering, you rarely ever let your kid fight their own battles and they get so they think that mommy and daddy will solve all their 20 and beyond.

Involved means actively taking an interest, but letting the kid do most of the doing as their age allows them to (for instance, if they get a B instead of an A on an assignment that they worked really hard on, let *them* go talk to the teacher, instead of going in yourself to demand that the grade be changed; from talking to the teachers in my circle of friends, the kid going in is more likely to get it changed than the parent is, anyway).

The way I read it, the study really seemed to praise the "involved" parents, but notsomuch really the "helicopter" types.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 7, 2007 8:34 AM | Report abuse

The problem I have with this issue, whenever it is discussed, is that it lumps together all involved parents as helicopter parents, and others as non-involved. Involved parenting is good! Calling your children's employers and teachers instead of helping your children learn to deal with authority figures is bad. But anyone with any common sense knows this...

Posted by: jan | November 7, 2007 8:36 AM | Report abuse

"Do you think hovering parents do good or cause harm? "

The parrents who chase after their kids with baggies of treats and Purell are a riot.

"If these so-called overinvolved parents don't raise totally independent kids by age 18, so what? They aren't hurting anybody. "

Yah, they are hurting the kids. The kid's emotional and social growth is stunted.

Posted by: chittybangbang | November 7, 2007 8:43 AM | Report abuse

"from talking to the teachers in my circle of friends, the kid going in is more likely to get it changed than the parent is"

Grades are rarely if ever changed, but the parent "going in" is guaranteed to not change it.

Posted by: prof gil | November 7, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Involved parenting is a good thing, helicoptering (which we've all seen, and many have had moments of) is not so much. Helicoptering is BAD for your child, because they don't learn to deal with the real world properly (like not socializing a dog). Involved is good, because it HELPS your child deal with the real world (like housebreaking). Sometimes a hands off approach is what helps your child the most, judging those situations is another thing we never learned in parenting class. But, better a helicopter than completely absent in my opinion.

Posted by: Fred Evil | November 7, 2007 9:05 AM | Report abuse

You had to read the entire article. The implication was that the students whose parents hovered tended to be less talented academically or were learning disabled. Their parents were helping them seek out extra campus help more out of need so that they'd be successful.

Posted by: Olney | November 7, 2007 9:10 AM | Report abuse

There is a difference in being an attentive, involved parent and a "helicopter" parent. They are raising kids who can't function independently in society! I am 30 and many of my friends were raised by helicopter parents and we spent many hours of college talking about how much it sucked not knowing how to do ANYTHING for ourselves. Most of my freshman class at college couldn't handle their own finances, do laundry or clean a bathroom to save our lives! It was pathetic...Parents need to teach their kids how to take care of themselves BEFORE it is time to do it.

Posted by: momof5 | November 7, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

We've got a number of hovering parents in my son's school. They do nothing but cause trouble. For some reason, they are always on the lookout, thinking that their child will be "cheated" in some way. Very paranoid. As a result, if their little Johnny gets a bad grade, they go storming in to complain instead of accepting that he isn't the brightest in the class. This only serves to give the child an undeserved sense of entitlement which will not serve him or her well in the real world.

Posted by: Steve | November 7, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

The essence of the study, that the students were more satisfied with their college experience, is fairly reasonable (despite my dislike of survey based studies).

What I would be interested in is following these same students in approximately 5 years to see how this data correllates outside of the isolated sphere of college life.

I would also like to seem some studies of the impact of "helicoptering" on parents.

Posted by: David S | November 7, 2007 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I think there has some be a line drawn somewhere.

In places where child abductions are reported as often as they are here (I won't say how often, just often enough in my book), I think driving the kids to wherever they wanna go, is very justified. Knowing where they are, who they are going out with, etc, are all basic precautions parents should take regardless.

For me, the world seems a lot less safe these days compared to when I was growing up. I used to be able to go for bike rides in the neighbourhood without question. Now my generation worries about their kids' safety even just outside the doorstep: There are more cars on the roads now & (seemingly) more evil people around.

However, in terms of general development, I think kids ought to be left to their devices when it comes to red-tape stuff. My wife's youngest brother is so sheltered that she has to write his CV for him, my inlaws lining up job interviews for him, shops for him, etc. Even at the age of 20 I honestly doubt he even knows how to change a lightbulb.

An Involved Daddee

Posted by: JLow | November 7, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

It goes both ways. My husband's parents were terminally UN-involved, and he doesn't know how to do a lot of things, because he'd never seen anyone do them before he met me.

My parents let me more or less do my own thing in college, and I'm fairly functional as an adult.

Of course, it would be nice if, when I called my parents last night because I was sick and scared and my husband wasn't helpful, they hadn't responded with "What do you want ME to do about it?"

Posted by: Kat | November 7, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

The problem is, it's really hard to draw the line between good involvement and over-involvement. If the parent offers advice to the kid on a bad grade (go to office hours, ask the professor what went wrong and what you can do better next time), that's great because it helps the kid figure out what to do. If the parent calls the professor to complain... well, that's just embarrasing. But where is the line in between? I don't think this study really dealt with *what* was considered "helicopter" behavior.

And of course, there is also a difference when the kid's physical safety is on the line.

Posted by: reston, va | November 7, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"Of course, it would be nice if, when I called my parents last night because I was sick and scared and my husband wasn't helpful, they hadn't responded with "What do you want ME to do about it?"

---What did you want them to do about it? Call a doctor, go hold your hand, talk to your husband, pick up medicine, lend moral support and encouragement? I'm also curious about the cause of your sickness and why you were scared - that seems to be an unusual reaction.

Posted by: to Kat | November 7, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, if you felt fear, you should be sure to call your doctor. A feeling of dread can be a symptom during some life-threatening conditions.

Do you have a regular doctor? If not, maybe you could go to an urgent care center. I hope it's not lack of insurance/finances keeping you from calling a doctor.

Did you try using a symptom chart?: is another good source of health information.

I'm sorry your parents weren't sympathetic. If you can afford healtcare, something like last night highlights the importance of having a regular physician. Be well.

Posted by: another to Kat | November 7, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

One thing that cracks me up about the concept of more cars on the road is that we as adults can choose the density of the neighborhood we buy a house in. If there are too many cars on the road, consider moving to Frederick or Damascus where there aren't many cars and people can still walk to grocery stores in villages. I live in the City, so I know what I'm in-for and can't complain about the decision I made.

I would also beware of using a symptom chart. When I had anxiety problems those self-diagnoses were entirely negative.

I am not sure that helicopter parents really exist or are new. Growing up in the DC area I knew many parents in the 1970s that my parents called "Shepherds." They would shepherd their kids through scouts, making sure they got all the right merit badges and got to be eagle scouts, paying for everything that took and going on monthly campouts that required. Since my parents never camped out and would just give me the books to do on my own, I earned fewer badges than my friends and eventually quit. My parents derided the shepherds for not giving their kids free choices, but on the other side, I didn't learn self-discipline either. then came parents who got their kids summer jobs and the rest.

So helicoptering is not new and in ways it's not even that bad if the kid gets into the right programs.

But I know some real failures who ended up in college without mommy to correct their work who were always asking me to proofread their work instead of writing it carefully.

Posted by: DCer | November 7, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

DCer- you didn't learn self-discipline because your parents didn't make sure it was easy to attend everything and lay the path out for you?

Involved is definitely good, involved in life skills AND school skills is good. But I think the problem is that most parents suck at teaching. And being a parent is all about teaching someone to become a unique responsible individual.

Posted by: Liz D | November 7, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

DCer- you didn't learn self-discipline because your parents didn't make sure it was easy to attend everything and lay the path out for you?

Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to use an example with such a simplistic ending when the reality is far more complex?

I think my point was that some of the shepherds my parents knew made sure their kids accomplished much more than I did. My parents said that my homework was my business and I ended up with a middling average in high school because I didn't care about homework. Other friends of mine got into programs thanks to mom and pop, think congressional summer internships or jobs with relatives in London or Tokyo (very wealthy people moved into my neighborhood in the 80s) and their life experiences, while controlled by their parents, were special enough for them to write the killer college entrance essay...

Me? I just accepted that I'd work at the video store during junior year, you know?

Posted by: DCer | November 7, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

We recently hired a young engineer who had helicopter parents. He was willing to move to MD to work for us because his dad was here (mom refused to move north and is still in a southern state). The dad was assigned a temporary duty station in California a week after son arrived. Two weeks later the son resigned an moved back to his mother. He couldn't hack living on his own, doing own laundry, and finding his own food. Very sad.
I think involved parenting is good. The helicopter moms I see at my daughter's school frighten me. Their children do not know how to deal with even the smallest issue. At a party last summer my daughter sat down in a chair to chat with a fried. Another girl who had used the same chair a half hour before decided she wanted it back so got her mom to yell at my daughter for stealing the chair. I'm just glad I wasn't there to loose my temper with the other mom. Again, very sad.

Posted by: 21117 | November 7, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I like David S's idea of revisiting the study when those studied are older. DCer -- the advantages you identify are really temporary. One danger of pushing your kids to excel is they don't get to find out what their passions are for themselves. Are they into scouting because they love it or to please their parents? And it's really hard to pick a profession you can stick with and love if you don't know what challenges and excites you!

Posted by: anne. | November 7, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

And it's really hard to pick a profession you can stick with and love if you don't know what challenges and excites you!

I know, but one issue I faced was that I picked a challenging and exciting profession that had no basis in reality... and by the time I was 25 I had to stop trying to "make it" in that world because, in fact, no one "made it" in those kinds of careers and the upper echelon people didn't go to school for it, they went to law school and then bought companies.

Posted by: DCer | November 8, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

It's hard for me to really sympathize. My mother was supportive and encouraging as much as she could be. But we were pretty broke all the time, by the time I was in middle school she couldn't help me with my homework anymore, she had my older sister and my sick grandmother to take care of along with being a single mom so I really had to do it myself.

So I researched and applied on my own for summer programs (which I always had to get carpooled from other parents for), I kicked ass at school, I was Ms. Extra Curricular, I got scholarships for the programs on my own, and talk about no basis in reality- I majored in philosophy.

I suppose I understand your point that having involved parents who share the values of real life consequences and rewards is great. But it's hard for me to understand you saying you didn't care and weren't able to do what you wanted because they didn't push you or open doors for you.

Posted by: Liz D | November 8, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Interesting subject. The Philadelphia Magazine recently had an article called "the Worst Parents Ever" about this generation of parents who do everything for their kids. School projects, talk to coaches about more playing time in a game, fighting their battles, filing out college applications etc. What service is this providing? This type of parenting is different than guiding your child through a project by input and editing, or helping them build skills in a sport, or offering advise their application. It is doing it for them. This is when helicopter parents become dangerous.

Posted by: FormerNoVa Mom | November 9, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company