The Coming Crash of the "Helicopter Parents"

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The Coming Crash of the "Helicopter Parents"

Last November, an elderly couple in the small Nova Scotia town of Waterside engaged in a dangerous, potentially criminal behavior. Their "offense" was this: When they drove past a child who was riding a bicycle, they extended their hands and waved hello.

An over-zealous parent immediately reported them to the authorities, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested them on suspicion that they had tried to abduct the child. The couple, both in their 70s, were questioned for more than two hours before being released.

While this is an extreme case of overprotective parenting, it's becoming increasingly common for parents to try to safeguard their children from every type of harm, both real and imagined. Time magazine, CBS News, Oprah, CNN, and numerous others have recently weighed in on the phenomenon that's been dubbed "helicopter parenting" — meaning parents who hover over their children and live in fear of every step they take.

Chris Meno, a psychologist at Indiana University, has studied the problem and counsels students who have become anxious or depressed as a result of overprotective parents.1 She said that parents who protect their children too much create people who lack confidence and are unable to achieve things on their own. Children need to struggle in order to become confident in their own abilities. They need to make mistakes and occasionally fail in order to learn.

Or as David Elkind, a child psychologist and professor at Tufts University, put it, "Kids need to feel badly sometimes. We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure, we learn how to cope."2

Stripped of the experience of facing challenges on their own, many of today's children never learn how to adapt creatively to the normal challenges of life. They develop a fear of taking risks and become psychologically fragile. Without a sense of accomplishment, they lack a clear sense of identity. Without a well-defined sense of self, they miss out on real happiness — the very thing that overprotective parents are attempting to guarantee in the first place.

Children who are overprotected through college are less likely to get a job and more likely to come home to mom and dad after graduation. A combination of unrealistically high expectations fostered by helicopter parents, along with too much help from them, has robbed those young "adults" of the vital experience of working things out for themselves...

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