Helicopter parenting: Kids could end up crash landing

As the former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University and a mother raising two kids in the surrounding upscale Palo Alto, Calif., community, Julie Lythcott-Haims has seen the Olympics of overparenting: jockeying for spots at preschools, private coaching to snare a place on the middle-school soccer team, and professional counseling to hone college applications.

She details the dangers of such uber parenting in her new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” Lythcott-Haims joins a growing field of experts warning the intense focus of middle-class and affluent parents on their children’s success is fostering a generation of anxious, over-scheduled and overshadowed kids.

Fearful of letting their children stumble in a world that seems intolerant of missteps, today’s helicopter parents raise their kids by checklists designed to create childhoods that are safe and structured and culminate in good colleges and careers. In the narrow script for success, children have to attend the right schools, play sports and join clubs. The problem now, said Lythcott-Haims, is many educated parents consult the same checklist, so kids have to do more to stand out. Kids can no longer just join clubs; they have to start them.

Treating childhood as a résumé builder and packaging kids like products can produce results, said Lythcott-Haims, “if college admissions is all you are about. But when you package your kids, they know it. What you are effectively telling them is, ‘You are incapable of being successful without me.’”

downey0817In one example of extreme parent hovering in the book, a woman whose son landed a job at a prestigious New York bank called his boss to complain about the long hours. When her son arrived at work the next day, security met him at the elevator and handed over his belongings in a box with the note, “Ask your mother.”

Citing research that kids suffer burnout and diminished self-worth when their parents commandeer their choices and their lives, Lythcott-Haims said, “We have to have the guts to ask the bigger-picture question: To what end are we doing all this? We have to take the longer view. Our kids may not get into a certain set of 20 top colleges. That’s OK. There are 2,800 accredited colleges in the United States. There’s a great education to be had at many schools. If they arrive at college or the workplace breathless and brittle, they will not have what it takes in terms of mental health and stamina.”

Lythcott-Haims — who will speak at a public event at Lambert High School in Suwanee on Aug. 25 — doesn’t deny the complicity of elite colleges like Stanford in the narrative of the wunderkind teenager who crowdfunds an orphanage in India, earns perfect SAT and ACT scores and, in her spare time, performs with a Balkan women’s choir.

“I don’t think elite schools are making parents do their kids’ homework,” she said in a telephone interview earlier today. However, she said college admissions offices have raised the stakes by celebrating the rising accomplishments of their applicants each year.

And there is a payoff to colleges in emphasizing higher achieving applicant pools — higher rankings on lists such as the widely revered U.S. News & World Report annual best colleges.

Her advice to students: Figure out what you are good at, what you love and what you value. Plan your life accordingly.

Her advice to parents: Let your kids fail. “When we clap and chirp, ‘Great job, buddy’ at every turn, we aren’t helping our children. We undercut their ability to understand what does it actually take to achieve when the judges and people on the sidelines are not your parents.”

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Reader Comments 0

45 comments
WardinConyers
WardinConyers

I had such a parent come to my office at a University System college in our state of Georgia  years ago as they were inquiring into the college program I supervised and advised.  The mother did most of the talking for the young man, a rather large and tall fellow who dressed thuggishly. The kid apparently did not like many of the requirements I stipulated as parts of the curriculum.  He wanted to go straight to learning how to record rap! While I continued to focus on the program we offered, the young man began to sneer. The mother told me she did not like my attitude and if she were attending this college, she would surely not want me as an advisor.  I interjected to the lady: "pardon me, madame, but are you aware that your son has sneered at me at least three times?"  She continued to repeat herself to the point that I said: "Madame, you have told me the same thing multiple times. Maybe our program's ultimate  goal of a degree is not suitable for your son's goals."  She left in saying that she was going upstairs to complain to my supervisor, the dean.  She never did.  I spoke with the dean later and he said he never saw the lady.  At the college level, it is time for momma to stay home.  FERPA regulations prohibit professors to divulge grades and other instructional matters with parents of kids 18 years of age or older without the signed consent of the student on the proper form, for each and every instance.

Moderate_line
Moderate_line

I am reminded of a line a Billy Joel song. The good ole days weren't always good, Today isn't as bad as it seems."


I see helicopter parents as advocates for their children. One needs to look at the individual action to see if it is a problem and stop generalizing. What if your child has special needs? Is a parent trying to get the school to comply with ADA laws a helicopter parent? I wonder how much of this complaining is educators who do not want to be held accountable.  I am sure they would like to go back to the days when parents never really bother them.


Hover parenting is the same as micromanagement. It usually a reflection of trust. At the same time you have to be realistic with the trust. I remember in my early twenties I worked with a women who had a daughter in high school. She was telling me about how her daughters boyfriend would stay over at the house. I told her that seems a little risky. She told me that here daughter would never do anything like that. Next thing you know the daughter is pregnant. I guess you could say she wasn't helicopter parenting.


Personally, I believe it completely depends on the kid.

Moderate_line
Moderate_line

"In one example of extreme parent hovering in the book, a woman whose son landed a job at a prestigious New York bank called his boss to complain about the long hours. When her son arrived at work the next day, security met him at the elevator and handed over his belongings in a box with the note, “Ask your mother.”"


How many parents actually call their child employer? How big a problem is this? See link below.


This story reflects poorly on the parent and the employer. The employer fired someone without even discussing the issue with the employee.


It is interesting the complaint is coming from educators while business on the other hand is trying to adapt to the recent development.


"To that end, Enterprise is happy to send parents the same recruitment packages it sends their children. And when Enterprise interns present their final projects and are considering full-time positions, parents are invited in."



http://www.npr.org/2012/02/06/146464665/helicopter-parents-hover-in-the-workplace

Starik
Starik

Seriously, get a DNA test.  You might have some advantageous ancestors.  Or not.

BCW1
BCW1

As the principal of a school, a child's happiness is not a high priority of the school. Self esteem comes from within by being encouraged to succeed, don't fear failure, and at the same time being held accountable for choices.  Our students are responsible for their learning with guidance and direction from adults in their lives.

Responsibility...doing what you are supposed to do and following through is the motto throughout our school.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I have taught thousands of students, and my input would be that each child must be handled individually in terms of weaning. Living out generalizations with your child is not the way to go, imo. 

In every family, children will be different and each child will need individualized approaches toward becoming more self-sufficient, just as they do in the school setting.  Generalizations rarely are the best way to go in analyzing specific cases, as I have witnessed in working with multitudes of students, k - 12.

straker
straker

And yet, a constant complaint about today's schools is that they emphasize self esteem and self worth at the expense of risking failure. 

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

Great column. As a father of twin girls I have to keep from getting carried away with activities. I do not coddle though.

The latest issue of Vanderbilt's magazine was on admissions and how difficult it is to get into a top twenty college these days. If you see one take a look.

User777
User777

Good article. Thanks. I do think schools like Stanford share some responsibility in the helicopter culture. A student has to be nearly perfect academically, and even that is no guarantee. I am not encouraging my kids to start their own company or charity just to build the resume. They're kids, for goodness sake. Our youngest is a senior. His test scores have been very high, so he gets literature everyday from top tier schools. I think it's a bit of a racket. Realistically, with their nebulous admissions criteria, his chances of getting into an MIT or Stanford for an undergrad are very low. He hasn't started his own company, applied for a patent, and he's had no great personal struggles. I kind of feel they're looking to make money off kids doing the Common App and applying to multiple schools. But in the process, they're helping to drive some unhealthy hehavior.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady @User777 I agree. Many teenagers tell me they are being "recruited" by prestigious colleges. Their rationale: The school sent them a brochure and encouraged them to come to a recruitment event here in Atlanta. These teens do not realize the colleges, even the top ones, send out thousands of these notices and admit less than 8 percent of applicants. And that percentage is even less when you subtract special admits -- athletes, legacies etc. One expert told me the real acceptance rate -- once these categories are filled -- is probably closer to 4 percent at the very top colleges for regular, high-achieving students.

popacorn
popacorn

@MaureenDowney

If these students are dumb enough to think these brochures are 'recruitment letters', maybe they should be considering Argosy, if any college at all.  

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I wanted to "Like" just about all of these posts. And would only add that when the offspring gets to college, "helicoptering" can really have unfortunate results.

BCW1
BCW1

If you don't allow failure and hardships in your child's life, they WILL NOT become independent or problem solvers. Stop being your child's friend or advocate. If you worry about your child's happiness, guess who is in charge of that relationship!!!

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

I'll have to get a copy of this book.   The author raises many valid concerns.   It is very true that there are parents who do everything to help their kids get ahead, and don't let them fail nor let them go through life on their own.   We have to teach self confidence and grit.   However, there is certainly nothing wrong with a parent using their connections to help open a door.   It then falls on the child to walk through it successfully.


I am not a fan of professional counseling to hone college applications, nor do I like parents who get too involved with their kids' sports teams and try and undermine the coach.  I'm reading a book now called "Early Decision" and a good deal of the content is making my stomach churn.....

jerryeads
jerryeads

I have a good friend who does a dual enrollment program for one of the local higher ed schools. Dual enrollment allows high school kids to take college courses. He interviews hundreds of kids (often with their parents) every year. He tells me that parental helicoptering has increased radically in the (many) years he's been doing this, to the point where frequently the student never gets to say a word during the planning and registration meetings.

Cat, my doctor's question once when I had to go in for a toe I managed to whack while not paying attention was "And, so, what did you learn from that?" - I've adopted that one.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

As a mom, as well as as a teacher, one of the best questions I ever asked was,"What are you going to do about it?"  It gives notice that it is up to the other person to take action, and gives a sense of support for the other person's ability to handle the problem.

BK37
BK37

I've heard stories of people going to job interviews with their parents, or even having their parents try to negotiate a higher salary. My parents wouldn't even dream of doing such nonsense.  These are the kids who grow up to be adults who can't function in life.

heyteacher
heyteacher

One of the best things I've ever done for my kids is to let them ride the bus to school starting in PreK. Many parents in my district won't let them ride the bus ("it's too early" -- "it's too dangerous") and drop them off door to door -- it's the small things you do early on that help kids to be independent. My kids also have learned how to check their own backpacks to see if there is anything in the folder I need to see. If you don't start when they are little, the kiddos never learn how to fend for themselves. 


Catlady - I had a parent e mail me about a job at my school (I'm dept chair). Seriously. 

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Parents look at the failure of their kids as their failure.  They are afraid everyone will know their child is "merely average".


I am reminded of a now retired teacher friend who taught a very rigorous middle school language arts class.  Parents of the successful students held their heads high because they knew their child was prepared for the future.  Indeed, many of those students went on to excel in high school and college. Success in her class was a point of pride for both students and their parents to be successful in her class. 


Of course, on the other hand, there were parents who thought she was unreasonably rigorous and the amount of work she required (overall not just homework) was too much.  These parents blasted her in the neighborhood and said their child would never sit in her class.  Parents say they want rigor but not too much, lest their child's self-esteem be harmed. 


redweather
redweather

@Looking4truth Your screen moniker reminds me that the truth is in the eyes of the beholder, like a lot of things.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Two sadly egregious examples of helicoptering:  A fifth grader got his name on the board for "messy desk."  His mother angrily marched into school at the end of the day to notify the teacher that it made him feel bad to have his name on the board.  Then she wanted to know the rubric for determining a messy desk and what time of day the judgement was made, and proceeded to come in every afternoon to straighten his desk!


A young man was applying to teach, and HIS FATHER CAME WITH HIM TO THE INTERVIEW!

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

@Wascatlady  Both scenarios are not surprising.  Remember the "Everybody Loves Raymond" episode when Marie (the mom) called the FBI on Robert (the son's) behalf?  Parents have to learn to resist the temptation to intervene.


Where are rocket launchers when you need them? 

Jeff A. Taylor
Jeff A. Taylor

 "Figure out what you are good at, what you love and what you value. Plan your life accordingly."

Although not as trite as "follow your passion" that advice can still get you an art history degree, massive debt, and a job at Starbucks. Kids (and parents) need to be brutally honest about what kind of income is required to live the type of life they envision for themselves say 10 years hence, at 25. Most kids (and parents) will have not a clue. The good news is that there is no right answer, but you must have an answer.

Enoch19
Enoch19

I think the banker did the boy a favor.  Time for him to grow up and take responsibility for his life.  Parents who won't let their children stand on their are destroying their confidence and their future.

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@Enoch19 

Who said he wasn't taking responsibility for his life?  It could have been the best job he ever had and maybe he was aiming to be president of the bank one day.  His mother butted in where she shouldn't have.  Complaining to your mother about your long hours shouldn't want to make her automatically reach for the phone and call the boss.  I've been complaining to my mother about issues at work and she's never even thought to call and talk to the boss.  

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

I typically don't give much credence to advice from a woman with a hyphenated last name.  Shows a lack of commitment.

And now, let the hissy fits begin.....

redweather
redweather

@Lee_CPA2 As if names, hyphenated or otherwise, tell us anything about committment.  I'd be willing to bet the majority of philandering husbands are married to women who chose not to hyphenate their names.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@Lee_CPA2 I generally don't give much credence to CPA's. Accountants are the tradesmen of business school.

gapeach101
gapeach101

Let your children fail. Early and often. They need to learn how to pick themselves, dust themselves off, and try again.

bu2
bu2

@gapeach101 

People improve more after failure than continuous success.  Continuous success breeds complacency.  Failure forces coping and improvement.  Not that continuous failure is good, but some is helpful.  People need to be challenged.

bu2
bu2

Sounds like the Mom did the banker son a favor!  If they fire him over that, that's a jerk you don't want to work for.



Gun Toting Liberal
Gun Toting Liberal

@bu2 Totally missed the point. Corporations like to hire adults, not kids whose mommy calls in to complain when she feels that Little Joey isn't being treated fairly. It indicated a lack of maturity in the offspring. Unfortunately, immature "Adults" unable to cope with life are all to common these days.

redweather
redweather

@bu2 The boss fired him "over that" because he/she knew the problems wouldn't stop there.  Some things have to be nipped in the bud.   

bu2
bu2

@Gun Toting Liberal @bu2 

As pointed out above, how do you know "little Joey" wasn't mature and the problem wasn't just a mom butting in.  Since "ask your mother" was what they told him, he apparently had no clue what his mother had done.  Someone's relative ticked off the boss so he fired him without discussion and without warning.  Sounds like a temperamental, immature boss who doesn't treat his employees like human beings.  Maybe he had mother issues of his own.