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Helicopter Parents – Who Are They Really Protecting?

Do you know a helicopter parent?  They tend to hover over their child out of concern that something bad might happen.  While it this may be appropriate when a real threat seems nearby, some parents take it all the way.  They continue the hovering long after the child is in diapers, long after their days of toddling around the living room, and long after they are ready for school.  Who are helicopter parents really protecting?

I’m reminded instantly of Nemo’s dad in the Disney movie, “Finding Nemo”.  Dory insightfully points out that if Nemo’s dad never lets anything happen to him, then nothing would ever happen to him.  Food for thought as we consider how our culture has shaped parenting.

The news seems to be full of warnings about every possible danger in the home and out.  I’m not discounting real hazards, just pointing out that drama sells.  parents already inclined towards anxiety have so much more information about all the possible hazards, they need something to fight back with.  Supervision and worry.

Helicopter parents fret about germs, the hazards of kickball, their child’s self esteem in school, and anything potentially stressful.  They cringe when their child climbs on the monkey bars, gets nervous when their child is upset, and defends their child from criticism.

Do you notice some of the words I used?  Fret, hazards, stressful, cringe, nervous, upset, defend.  Those words distill the emotional base of a helicopter parent.  They overprotect their child to protect themselves from feeling fear and anxiety.  If they can keep their kids totally safe from harm, they can feel safe too.  They can create a cozy box of comfort for themselves and their child.

Helicopter parents translate their anxiety to their child.  Ironically, the anxiety these parents attempt the quell by hovoring can make kids feel less emotionally safe and secure.  A breeze could be bad because it’s too much air for the baby.  Playing in the snow could be bad because you could get really sick from being outside.  Exploring the backyard could be bad because you could fall.  Life is about trying to deal with Mom or Dad being upset or worrying about everything.  Instead of teaching their child to deal with ups and downs, the goal is to eliminate any potential “downs”.

Just one problem with this – a child growing up with a helicopter parent will likely end up just as nervous as the parent, or they may resent the micromanagement and rebel.  Neither outcome is a real healthy one – more about extremes of reaction than learning how to successfully navigate through the risks of life on Earth.

I’ll admit that for a period of time with my first child, I think I was somewhat like this.  I was a first time parent, inexperienced and somewhat naive about the resiliency of children.  As she grew and after I had my second child, I know I relaxed a great deal.  I think that’s kind of a normal parenting progression.

I am concerned about the parents who seem to do this for years, even when their kids are adults.  They push for situations to be the least risky, least conflictual, the least disappointing, the least uncomfortable for everyone.  And then they come unglued when their efforts to control everything fall apart.

What do you think?  Have you been this way, or do you know someone who has?  What have you seen happen in this situation?

Helicopter Parents – Who Are They Really Protecting?

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). Helicopter Parents – Who Are They Really Protecting?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Nov 2009
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