Parents who can’t or won’t let go and allow their young adult children to grow up and become independent might believe they are doing the right thing. While these parents believe they are doing the right thing, they are actually hurting their children by shielding them from life. “Helicopter” parents begin this pattern when their children are young, doing so to protect them from disappointment and mistakes. The hovering continues through the children’s school years, into adulthood.
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Why Parents Helicopter
Parents hover over their children, beginning when the children are toddlers or preschoolers. As the children grow, their parents don’t allow them to try new skills, behaviors or beliefs. Instead, they stick closely to their children as they attempt to shield them from hurt or disappointment.
During the college years, parents may continue hovering, albeit at long distances. When they hear that their child is having a rough time with a professor or a classmate, the parents call or email the dean of students or student services office, demanding that they find a way of relieving the stress on their child. As a result, the child never learns to rely on herself and find ways of dealing with the issues on her own.
Helicopter parents are overly involved in the lives of their children, even when those children are over the age of 21. They aren’t willing to give up control of their children’s lives and hamper their attempts to become their own persons, according to an article entitled "Hovering Parents Hamper Students in Career Goals and Social Skills" for Pepperdine University. These students are less resourceful because their parents do everything for them, according to Dr. Susan Helm, associate professor of nutritional science at Pepperdine.
As a result of the helicopter parenting they have lived under, these students are burned out by the time they start college or they are so fragile, the smallest amount of stress makes them break, says Dr. Kathleen Elliot Vinson of Suffolk Law School in “USA Today.”
Examples of Enmeshed Parenting
The co-dependent parent might be the elderly mother who demands that her married son spend a certain amount of time with her every week, or “You just don’t love your mother.” The parent who becomes depressed as his child grows into adulthood, believing that his son will no longer need him, is co-dependent. The parent who expects her daughter to take dance classes and become the ballerina she never became begins to live vicariously through her daughter’s dance practices and recitals is also an enmeshed parent.
All of these are examples of co-dependent or enmeshed parenting. These parents have allowed their own emotional needs to take over the parent-child relationship as they tried to hold onto their children. In doing so, they run the risk of losing their children.
Unable to Let Go
Some co-dependent parents are unable to let go of their children as they pass through adolescence and enter young adulthood. Beginning earlier in their children’s lives, these parents begin unhealthy parenting patterns that slowly take over the originally healthy parent-child relationship. Examples include intervening with the soccer coach or teacher when their children come home upset about something that happened or not allowing the children to figure out disputes with friends.
To reduce the risk of losing their adult children, these parents need to understand the co-dependent relationship. As their children begin college, they find themselves in the student counseling center, unable to cope with being independent young adults. Chris Meno, a psychologist at Indiana University, likens students who have been over-parented to drug addicts because they are so dependent on their parents and unable to make even small decisions.