What Drives Helicopter Parenting? Not Control, But Fear.

Experts say hovering parents set our kids up for failure — but why is that, and what can we do to change?

What Drives Helicopter Parenting? Not Control, But Fear.

Parents have always worried about their kids, but a recent and potentially counter-productive style of parenting is afoot. Former Stanford University Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims explores the implications of our culture's rampant over-parenting in her new book How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success. In a trend started by the Baby Boomers and continued by Gen Xers, helicopter parenting has become not only a part of the lexicon, but also seemingly the preferred method of raising children. Lythcott-Haims feels there are dangerous (and possibly disastrous) consequences of this movement.

Over-involved parents, who often identify their own success and failure with those of their children, do have the right intention. But in a culture that prizes academic achievement and narrowly defines success, it's understandable for parents to want their kids to fit in. The danger comes when they so coddle, protect, and control their children that they grow up to be stunted. When not given the opportunity to figure things out on their own, to fail and learn from failure, to experiment, and to learn independence, young adults go off to college with a handicap.

While my parents weren’t of the helicopter persuasion, per se, I did go to college without knowing how to do laundry. I stood in front of the strange Make Clothes Clean Again machine with fabric softener instead of detergent and stared at the array of knobs and buttons before finally Googling how to make the magic happen. I also lived off Chocolate Lucky Charms, mostly out of fear that I’d have to use a stove someday. If that was my case, I imagine my peers were more clueless, but about homework, making friends, or everyday challenges.

Lythcott-Haims worries about the long-term effects this might have: how my generation, the Millennials, will function in the world we’ve been so protected from. She asks, “Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?” And what about parents, who are as stressed as their kids, with the modern American desire to be more, be the best, attain the ever-elusive idea of how things “should be”? And are any of us happy? Do we even value happiness anymore, and if not, what is all this scrambling for? To what end, she asks. It may be the most poignant question no one is asking.

The solution isn’t simple. This is a nuanced multi-generational problem compounded by modern technology. There are steps we can take, however, to avoid contributing to the problem. Is it possible that moms and dads can take a deep breath and look at their fears? If they were less driven by fear — fear of being a bad parent, having unsuccessful children, etc. — there might be more room for creativity and less space for stress. We can also reframe how we define success. Is it monetary, status-driven, or otherwise external? I wonder how it would change parenting if that type of success were given less attention, and more emphasis were placed on, to borrow a term from the Boomers, following your bliss. Like most cultural issues, it is messy, but Lythcott-Haim’s experiences bring to light points worth discussing and questions worth asking.

For what it’s worth, I did finally overcome my fear of stoves and learned how to boil water. The jury is still out, however, on the death trap known as "the oven."

What does kindness look like? It wears a mask.

Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
  • The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
  • The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Keep reading Show less

Science confirms: Earth has more than one 'moon'

Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.

J. Sliz-Balogh, A. Barta and G. Horvath
Surprising Science
  • Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
  • These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
  • The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists stumble across new organs in the human head

New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.

Credit: Valstar et al., Netherlands Cancer Institute
Surprising Science
  • Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
  • Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
  • Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
Keep reading Show less

Millennials reconsidering finances and future under COVID-19

A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.

Personal Growth
  • Millennials have been labeled the "unluckiest generation in U.S. history" after the one-two financial punch of the Great Recession and the pandemic shutdowns.
  • A recent survey found that about a third of millennials felt financially unprepared for the pandemic and have begun saving.
  • To achieve financial freedom, millennials will need to take control of their finances and reinterpret their relationship with the economy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Personal Growth

    6 easy ways to transition to a plant-based diet

    Your health and the health of the planet are not indistinguishable.

    Scroll down to load more…