Parenting Through the Storm Blog

Parenting information and support for parents who have a child who is struggling. The official blog for Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between by Ann Douglas (HarperCollins Canada, January 2015 + Guilford Press, September 2016), a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge.

The Truth About Helicopter Parenting

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Note: I discussed the latest research on helicopter parenting in a roundup of interviews for CBC Radio radio stations across the country Monday morning. Here's a link to one of those interviews -- with Susan McReynolds of Ontario Morning. (You want the Monday, July 4, 2016 episode. And the interview begins at the 27 minute mark of the podcast.)

There's a new study about helicopter parenting making the rounds this week, which means we're going to be seeing a lot of over-the-top news headlines for at least the next little while. Because, hey, if there's one thing the media loves, it's a story about helicopter parenting....

Here's the thing that the news headlines typically overlook: helicopter parenting is actually a fairly rare phenomenon (a fact that the authors of this most recent study readily acknowledge, too).

Sure, most of us can think of at least one parent we know who could be described as a helicopter parent (someone who is overly intrusive and/or psychologically controlling; who quashes rather than celebrates their child’s independence, leading him to feel less rather than more competent and confident), but that parent is the exception rather than the rule.

The majority of parents engage in what the researchers describe as autonomy-supportive parenting: parenting that supports and encourages the growing independence of their child, adolescent, or young adult. There's a good reason for that. It makes sense developmentally (parenting is all about preparing your offspring for eventual independence). And it's a style of parenting that leads to healthier outcomes for so-called emerging adults: increased life satisfaction, improved health (including reduced rates of depression), and stronger coping skills.

So if you happen to spot an alarmist news report about helicopter parenting, try to put the research into perspective by reminding yourself that the supposed epidemic of helicopter parenting is anything but. And don't let fear of being perceived as a helicopter parent cause you to take an overly hands-off approach with your kid. Having a parent who is actively involved in your life can be beneficial -- even for an emerging adult.

Ultimately, what this all comes down to is the advantages of parenting intuitively: of observing your child, noting what she is capable of at any given stage, and encouraging her growing independence. That means encouraging her to try new things so that she can develop a strong sense of who she is and what she is capable of -- and it means recognizing and accepting the fact that there will be a few inevitable stumbles along the way. Help her to understand that your love and support are completely unconditional.  She doesn’t have to be perfect. She doesn’t have to be afraid to try new things for fear of failing. It’s okay to take chances because that’s how we learn and grow. And if she hits a rough spot where she needs a bit of extra encouragement and support, that’s okay. That’s why she has you. She may be all grown up now, but you're still in her court. Always have been. Always will be. That's not hovering: that's caring and connecting. And that's what parenting is all about.

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RELATED READ:

Curious about what's behind all the recent parent blaming and parent shaming?

I shared a few thoughts on the phenomenon in this article for the July-August 2016 issue of The Monitor: "Why the media loves to bash parents." You'll find it on page 24. Download your free copy here.