WHO ARE HELICOPTER PARENTS?
The term ‘helicopter parent’ refers to a parent who pays extremely close attention to their children and their children’s problems. They are the micromanagers of their kid’s lives, treating every moment as though it’s an audition and their child deserves the best the world has to offer. They are their children’s number one fans, and their longest and loudest advocates. After researchers, Foster Cline and Jim Fay, coined the term in the 1990s, ‘helicopter parent’ exploded into mainstream consciousness in the early 2000s as parents began being more present in their children’s schools and now college campuses. Helicopter parents mainly include Generation Xers, individuals born between 1965 and 1979, but a small percentage of Baby Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, are also included. It can be argued that Millenial Moms are the next generation to adopt this particular parenting style.
HISTORY OF BABY BOOMERS AND GENERATION XERS
The key to understanding the behavior of helicopter parents is to understand that they are doing for their children what their parents did not do for them. Between the 1960s-1970s, divorces were more common and doubled; thus, 50% of Gen Xers lived in single parent households. They were raised primarily in day cares and 40% were latchkey kids or children who were at home without adult supervision. Believe it or not, but there was once a time when children walked themselves home from school, did chores for no allowance, and were unsupervised for hours at a time. There was a time when parents had no idea where their children were and couldn’t track them via GPS. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers experienced this childhood. When they were younger, they didn’t have cellphones and their parents weren’t calling teachers asking them why their child received a B+ when they deserved an A. Their parents had a more hands-off parenting style than what would be socially acceptable in 2016.
Baby Boomers and Gen Xers weren’t coddled when they were young, so now they over-coddle their children to overcompensate for what they didn’t have. Helicopter parents were unhappy with their upbringing and made sure they were more involved in their children’s lives than their parents were involved in theirs. They changed what it meant to be a parent and created a whole new style shaped from their unhappy upbringing. However, there were also cultural shifts and historical events that stimulated the development of this new parenting style and left lasting psychological issues that damaged Millennial children during important developmental stages of their lives.
CULTURAL SHIFTS INFLUENCE PARENTING STYLES
Gen Xers (more than Baby Boomers) grew up during a time of cultural changes that strongly influenced their ways of thinking and subsequently altered their parenting styles. 1969 marked the beginning of the self-esteem movement, a popular philosophy that encouraged parents to value their children’s personhood rather than their outcomes. With this movement, people started awarding children for simple activities in an attempt to build up confidence (i.e. Participation Awards). Children were told they were intelligent, creative, talented and special to make them feel better about themselves. The self-esteem movement was the foundation that prompted the idea of self-importance and helped foster the sense of entitlement and narcissism most people criticize Millennials for today.
In 1983, there was an increased awareness of child abductions thanks to the upsurge in media coverage. The faces of missing children were plastered on milk cartons, cereal boxes and stared at families as they sat down for breakfast and instilled a fear of strangers. Unlike Baby Boomers, the environment in which Gen Xers were raised fostered widespread skepticism that made them the most suspicious and critical generation. Also in 1983, a publication entitled A Nation At Risk led to local, state and federal education reform efforts, and argued that American children needed to spend more time doing schoolwork because they were not up to par with their peers internationally. Policies like the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top placed an emphasis on memorization rather than understanding in classrooms and teaching to pass tests in order to increase national scores. These policies awarded states with points for satisfying educational policies by administering performance-based evaluations. These publications and policies cultivated a culture based on achievements, or what appeared to be achievements, based on scores and awards.
In 1984, the play date emerged as a practical solution at a time when Baby Boomer mothers were entering the workforce at high rates. With single parent households becoming more popular and no mothers at home, parents increasingly relied on daycares to take care of their children and fewer kids went home immediately after school. It became harder to find both locations and times for children to play together so parents started scheduling it. After parents started scheduling play, they began supervising it, and then they became fully involved in their children’s activities. It soon became taboo to let children be home alone and allow them to do anything unsupervised. The cultural shifts that affected Baby Boomers as emerging adults and Gen Xers during their childhood later influenced how they raised their own children.
ECONOMIC COLLAPSES INCITE WIDESPREAD CYNICISM
Both generations also experienced numerous economic collapses throughout their lives. After graduating from high school, Gen Xers experienced the fall of Wall Street. When they graduated from college, the first Bush recession in 1990 made finding a job nearly impossible and they witnessed their parents and older Baby Boomers being laid off and struggling to find new work. When they got married and started having children, Nasdaq crashed in 2000. To further add to their economic distrust, soon after they purchased their first homes, the housing bubble burst in 2006 and 2007. Due to these economic issues that occurred during their lives, they became highly skeptical of the economy and its instability and wanted their children to be protected from the economic hardships and uncertainty they had to go through.
RISE OF THE HELICOPTER PARENTS
After growing up with the fear of child abductions, the self-esteem movement and experiencing numerous economic crashes, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers had a cause for concern about their children’s safety and future. They were scared of their children struggling and worried about the economy, the job market and the world. In addition, because they felt unloved, neglected or ignored as children, they overcompensated with their own. There were also societal pressures from other parents to adopt a more involved parenting style; soon it became the social norm. Improvements in technology and the wider availability of cellphones and social networks also enabled parents to instantly contact their children. Not only did unsettling historical events and cultural shifts influence the rise in helicopter parents, but technology played small yet importance role in keeping children under their watchful eye.
Helicopter parents made sure they were hyper-involved in their children’s lives. But there’s a thin line between being involved and being overprotective and over-controlling. One is healthy for a child’s development and the other can cause long-term mental health problems. Understanding the historical events, cultural shifts, and technological improvements that affected Baby Boomers lives and how Gen Xers were raised is also a way to learn more about why Millennials are the way they are today. The traits that characterize Millennials stemmed from their home and how their parents raised them and were further propagated by society. The consequences of helicopter parenting followed Millennials to college, graduate school and will continue to follow them into the workforce and their homes as they begin their own families.
CONSEQUENCES OF HELICOPTER PARENTING
1) Need for feedback: Millennials often grew up feeling as though their parents did not trust them to do activities on their own because they were constantly being supervised. This lack of confidence and self-esteem led to an increase in desiring feedback. Growing up, they were so used to parents telling them what to do and when to do it that feedback simply became expected.
2) Inability to cope with fear and disappointment: Helicopter parents were always around to clean up their child’s mess so Millennials were unable to learn to cope with loss, disappointment or failure. Because Millennials weren’t given the opportunity to deal with stress on their own, they now have a hard time dealing with these feelings.
3) Increased anxiety: Having overinvolved parents is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Helicopter parents didn’t give their children the space necessary to struggle on their own so they were incapable of learning how to solve their own problems. Because they never experienced failure, they also developed an overwhelming fear of failure and disappointment.
4) High sense of entitlement: Helicopter parents were highly involved with their children’s social, academic and athletic lives and had them adjusted to fit their children’s needs. Millennials were accustomed to having things go their way and consequently developed a sense of entitlement. Due to the effects of the self-esteem movement and achievement culture that permeated society, Millennials were told they could do and achieve whatever they wanted, and would succeed. When they failed to land their dream job and live their dream life, they were left feeling lost and confused.
5) Undeveloped life skills: Helicopter parents cooked meals, cleaned dishes, washed clothes, packed lunches, and disabled Millennials from mastering these skills on their own and learning how to be independent. Remember the person who lived down the hall your freshman year and didn’t know how to do his own laundry? He probably had a helicopter parent who did everything for him. Now he’s forced to take care of himself and be independent, but he doesn’t know how.
6) Indecision: Growing up, helicopter parents always made decisions for their children. When it’s time for them to do something on their own, Millennials get stuck and feel the need to consult with their parent. They have a hard time balancing reaching out for help and making choices on their own.
Helicopter parents breed narcissism and poor coping skills, and poor coping skills intensify anxiety, stress, and indecision, which are the most common characteristics of Millennials. These parents did not equip their children with the necessary skills to independently handle conflicts, disappointments, or failures. The best way for children to get self-esteem needed to achieve success is to work for it, but helicopter parents were too involved to take a step back and let that happen. So not only were Millennials the most protected generation growing up, they are also the most programmed, by their helicopter parents and by living in a digital age.