Hats off to parents who got their children through eighth grade and ready for high school. The change is exciting and yet scary for both parents and adolescents. Your children will be entering a new chapter in their lives. High school is a different experience and brings trepidation and excitement.
Your children will begin to individuate and make their own decisions, like choosing their course work, becoming involved in sports or clubs, and seeking their identity based on those choices. This is where we as parents need to learn to let go. Micromanaging or helicoptering your children does not help them -- it actually harms them.
The helicopter parent
The term "helicopter parent" was first coined in a 1969 book Between Parent and Child, by Haim Ginott. The teen featured in the book reported that his mother hovered over him like a helicopter. A 2009 New York Times article declared helicopter or over-parenting on its way out, yet the problem has only gotten worse. Today's parents hover during and after the college years, micromanaging their children's apartment choices, retirement planning, mortgage decisions and more.
Remember: experiencing discomfort is a necessary part of life, and as a helicopter parent, you're robbing your children of important life skills. Think back to when you were young. Did your parents drive you all over? Did you play a travel sport in addition to your high school sport because your parents believed that unless you were on two or three teams you would not be a starting player in high school or college? Did your parents talk to coaches when you didn't get playing time or were benched? If so, you too might have had a helicopter parent. If not, you perhaps had an old fashioned, free-range, no-rescue or even slacker parent.
Pitfalls of helicopter parenting
A helicopter parent is a term used to describe those who are over-involved in their child's daily life. Yes, we care and love our children and we want them to feel success and be successful. But sometimes our inability to allow them their own process of natural development can harm them and create young adults who have not been taught how to think for themselves and navigate through life's difficulties.
Helicopter parents often raise children who experience:
• Low self-esteem. Over-doing for your children sends them a message that you don't trust them to handle things on their own.
• Poor coping skills. Parents who "fix" everything create an environment where children never have to deal with disappointment or failure. These kids fear mistakes and lack coping skills when the inevitable happens.
• High anxiety. Children can become paralyzed with fear and unable to move forward if denied their own process of natural development, which includes making mistakes and facing consequences.
• Learned helplessness. When we continually step in and fix and repair everything, we condition our children to be helpless, which can in turn lean to depression. Martin Seligman's Learned Helplessness theory indicates depressed people have learned to become helpless and have feelings of futility and control over their lives.
The reality of life is that it's full of challenges and difficulties. As parents, we need to educate our children and guide them -- not solve their problems. Now is the time to stop organizing their schedules, reminding them where they need to be, and picking them up with food and snacks from practices or summer jobs. As they begin to take ownership of their lives, they will start to take responsibility for themselves and they will expand and grow naturally. They will learn to overcome obstacles by figuring things at for themselves.
Letting go and fostering independence
It's never too late to break the hovering habit, and it's critical to start now, before you're your teen turns into an adult that can't launch.
• Recognize, and then change your behavior. Do you play the blame game, meaning, run to the teacher to complain about grade infractions? Do you know the coaches email address or the band director's phone number? How many three-way conversations have you had with your child and a teacher, coach, tutor?
o All of it has to stop now. This is the time to switch into the role of the advisor. Through doing things on their own, children will learn how to organize their time, plan ahead and learn from mistakes.
• Make room for failure. As children eagerly embrace their freedom, while abiding by rules and expectations, they will sometimes over-reach, choose poorly, make mistakes and need advice.
o As parents, it's your job to guide them like loving sages, not swoop in like super heroes and fix everything.
o Done right, growing up is filled with beautiful, difficult choices, guided by loving adults who are there to gently instruct, dole out consequences, knowing in the end, our children ultimately will be set free.
• Open up communication. The tumultuous years of early adolescence make communication -- let alone, calm discussion -- seem the stuff of television shows. This is where the helicopter parent really needs to change. Instead of telling your child what's best, you'll be asking how he or she will best handle it.
• Forget instant gratification. When the decision-making moves from parent to child, things may move slower than in the past.
Accept it won't be easy
Change is a journey and it's you as the parent who must take the first step. Just as you became a helicopter parent with the best of intentions, you can use that same love to stop hovering. You'll be doing your child a tremendous service and it will be a learning adventure for you both. The key is to listen and stay clam, accept it won't be easy or fast, but do know it will be worth it in the end.