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When should parents stop hovering?

Published On: Sep 08 2011 08:04:31 AM CDT   Updated On: Sep 20 2012 09:25:45 AM CDT
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While parental involvement is key to a child's success in school, at what point does a participating parent become a smother mother -- or father?

Dr. Ken Haller, associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, said that being an advocate for a child is a noble thing, but at a certain point, parents need to step back and let their children become advocates for themselves.

"That's the only way kids will be able to learn the skills they'll need to take care of themselves when they become adults," Haller said.

Everyone knows -- or is -- a parent who is overly involved in his or her children's lives.

Popular culture has labeled them "helicopter parents," for their tendency to hover closely overhead. While the term is new, Haller said the phenomenon is not.

"There have always been parents who would fit the definition of helicopter parents. They used to be called 'overprotective parents,' but the idea of parents who hover over their children to shield them from possible distress is as old as parenting," he said.

Societal pressures -- from pregnancy to college graduation -- to raise the perfect child contribute to the problem, Haller said.

Today's parents also feel more empowered to question the authority of other adults whom their child encounters, such as coaches and teachers, he explained.

"Questioning is not bad as long as parents are willing to listen and there is true dialogue," Haller said. "When it results in uncompromising demands, however, it can become a real barrier to the child's maturity and self-reliance."

So what's a parent to do? Haller said that the start of a new school year is a perfect time for parents to evaluate their role in their child's lives and make adjustments that will set their children up to succeed.

Haller offers the following resolutions for helicopter parents:

  1. Encourage children to discuss their problems, but let them come up with their own solutions. Problem solving is a great way for children to learn and grow.

  2. Steer clear of battles such as disputing grades, discipline, placement on a team or squabbles with friends. Instead, parents should enable their children to properly deal with his or her problems by asking him or her what should be done and offering possible solutions.

  3. During homework time, parents should be available to answer questions and clarify instructions. They should avoid giving the answers or doing the work themselves, even if the assignment seems too difficult. Parents should remember their job is to create a situation where a child can succeed by providing the necessary supplies. They should create a quiet and well-lit study area and set aside time for homework.

  4. Respect teachers' schedules by making appointments and using e-mail. A child's teacher is usually happy to meet, but he or she also needs time to teach and prepare for class.

  5. Parents should teach their child to respect the authority of teachers and coaches. While it's OK to question teachers and coaches, parents should not do not bad mouth them, break their rules or make excuses for a child.

  6. Parents should also hold their children accountable and let them suffer the consequences of their actions. Especially by middle school, it is important to make a child responsible for studying, bringing homework home and turning in assignments.

  7. If a parent is concerned that his or her child is the victim of bullies or peer pressure, he or she should discuss concerns with the child. Haller said parents should brainstorm appropriate responses, but they should try not to interfere at school unless a child is in danger.

  8. Parents should remember that their job is to prepare their child to be a responsible and capable adult, so parents should decrease their involvement over time and let their child live his or her own life.
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