Drive, gumption and resiliency are qualities that almost every successful entrepreneur possesses. These are traits that propel a person forward through difficult and challenging times. Like many traits that make up a well-adjusted, successful adult, they stem from independence and an internal ambition. However, these are traits that are being threatened by a parenting phenomenon known as helicopter parenting. While well intended, the results can certainly be negative, particularly if we are trying to create a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.
Parents want to see their children succeed; it's a deep-seated part of human nature. But in a time filled with hyper-connectivity, it can be easy for parents to be over-involved in the affairs of their children -- like what classes their children will take or choosing their child's field of study. As Chris Segrin and a team of researchers explained, there is a fine line between pushing a child to succeed and doing the work for them to give the illusion of success.
Segrin's research focused heavily on helicopter parenting's effect on adult children, focusing on those in their late-teens to early-twenties. In his study, he found that some of the subjects had parents that not only chose their children's schools, but also wrote their admission essays, filled out their college applications, and often even contacted their admission offices to sing their children's praises straight to the people reviewing the applications.
While this may be an extreme example, parents who handle and fix every ordeal that a child faces deprives that child of not only that difficult experience, but also the subsequent resiliency that develops from being defeated and ultimately overcoming a difficult experience. On paper, this may not seem like much but span it over a lifetime, and it becomes clear how damaging it is.
So how does this affect the next generation of potential entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs are, by nature, over-comers. They conquer problems, deal with failure, and climb ever higher towards the ideals of improvement and success. In short, entrepreneurs know they can always do better. It's an impressive ideology and it can most certainly create success. However, helicopter parenting, well intentioned or not, effectively deprives children of learning opportunities to experience failures, the resiliency of bouncing back and the confidence that comes from overcoming failure. Children of helicopter parents may develop stunted problem-solving skills, if they have them at all. And why would they? Instead of trying to solve problems themselves, their parents resolve the issues. Ultimately, a child that is never pushed down may never learn to get back up.
Children who are over-parented may also develop poor social skills, skills that are increasingly important to the development of productive business relationships. Segrin points out that children who are raised by helicopter parents tend to see themselves as the "center of the universe." This type of narcissism and entitlement stems from a child being excessively catered to, leading them to feel that hard work is something done by others. As an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, I have come to hear too many horror stories from other educators of parents who, angered by their child's failing grade, lashed out at teachers instead of pushing the child to do better and improve.
Helicopter parenting also destroys a component that has been a part of entrepreneurship since its inception -- drawing on constructive criticism and using it to learn and grow a successful business or product. The "everything my child does is perfect" mentality of helicopter parenting creates a praise filled world where there is no need for betterment or striving to improve. Everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. All criticism is perceived as corrosive and damaging. As a result, when a child enters the real world where criticism is a key part of life, they are unprepared to handle it.
If we want to create the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and problem solvers, we need to give our children greater room to fail and recover on their own. Children need to learn to be adults, a journey that comes with all the trials and tribulations it always has. Simply put, children who are denied the difficulty of struggle are also denied the success and maturity of overcoming struggles and solving problems. Parents, it's time to take a step back and help your kids succeed, by letting them fail.