Failure to Launch: An Expected Consequence of Helicopter Parenting
Failure to Launch: An Expected Consequence of Helicopter Parenting
Tony Tramelli, M.A., P.L.P.C.
West County Psychology Associates
Helicopter parenting is a term that describes the way many younger (20-28 year olds) parents were raised, and how many children. “Helicopter parenting” brings up images of smothering, doting, hovering, parental decision making, and parental problem solving. Such parents never let their children experience failure or hardship, always saving them, never letting them fail. But learning how to fail is often the best way for a child to learn how to succeed. When a child feels the natural consequences of his behavior, it leads to development of the resiliency necessary to succeed in life.
Part of this success includes launching into adulthood, a process made exponentially more difficult by having experienced helicopter parenting. It has been said that one of the greatest sources of personal growth is suffering. And although watching your child suffer can be
incredibly painful, it is essential to his growth. Helicopter parenting generally comes from a place of love and concern, but it leaves young people ill-equipped to face the very real challenges and hardships that exist in life.
Children raised by a helicopter parent are at greater risk of developing personality traits such as poor decision making skills, a sense of entitlement, fear of taking chances, low frustration
threshold, emotional dysregulation, codependent relationship patterns as well as learned helplessness.
This is why so often we see the current generation of young adults moving home shortly after graduation, or never leaving at all, and also helps explain why they have higher levels
of depression, anxiety, and decreased satisfaction with life.
There have been several cultural shifts over the past few decades that have influenced this parenting style becoming the norm in so many of families. First, research suggests that many parents are rejecting the parenting style in which they were raised. Often, these individuals had parents who were distant and inattentive. They have decided that they were not going to be anything like their own parents. Instead, they were going to make certain that their children had
everything they wanted and never felt the pain and suffering they felt as children. This is understandable. There are often cultural shifts from one generation to the next, but with the helicopter parents, the swing has gone much too far. Those parents are not raising healthy children who will successfully launch into young adulthood.
Another very obvious change in today’s world is the technology that is available. We can stay connected like never before, and it is so easy for parents to go from being reasonably involved in their children’s lives to micromanaging every aspect of them. This can begin at a very early age. We give our children cell phones in the elementary school years, and then track every step they take throughout the day. We check on their grades daily via programs like PowerSchool, and make sure that they don’t miss even one assignment. If their grades are less than we expected, we email the teachers immediately asking “what can we do.” We often blame the school for our children’s failures or even take responsibility ourselves. We rarely put the responsibility where it rightfully belongs, squarely on the student.
As children get older, parents often become even more intimately involved in their children’s lives, specifically on social media, liking or commenting on every picture or status they post. This is the behavior of a friend, not a parent. Parents should certainly be aware of what their children are doing on social media, but this should be done from a distance. This level of intimate involvement leads parents to believe that their children are extensions of themselves, rather than separate, autonomous individuals responsible for their own lives.
As children begin their transition into adulthood, helicopter parents who have been so intimately involved for so long may have a hard time taking a step back, as they have raised children who are dependent on their over-involvement. Therapists see parents filling out college applications, registering for university classes, filling out roommate requests, even contacting professors and asking for the same updates on grades that were available to them during elementary and high school.
Helicopter parents expect the same level of communication as occurred during childhood during young adulthood as well. Today, the weekly phone call home from college is a thing of the past. Modern parents and college students communicate daily via text, email, social
media, and phone calls. Parents even call to make certain their college students get up for class on time, helping them with projects, and managing conflicts. This makes it literally impossible for a young adult to grow into independence. Their lives are micromanaged from a thousand miles away.
Helicopter parents create the expectation for today’s young adults that they will never have to go it alone, or at the very least that they will have many, many years before they will have to take full responsibility for their lives. Unfortunately, the fact is that this is often the case. Generation Y has more affluent parents than any other generation in the past, and many have become accustomed to a lifestyle that they cannot afford on their own. This partly explains why therapists have seen college graduates moving back to their parents’ home and getting financial support from their parents like never before.
After all, why live independently, but poor, when you can live the good life back at mom and dad’s? The statistics are alarming:
45% percent of college graduates are living with their parents.
Only 25% of parents expect their child to have a full-time job after graduation.
65% of parents expect to support their kids for up to five years after they graduate.
68% of college students expect financial support from parents after leaving school.
Only 2 out of 5 people in their 20’s describe themselves as financially independent.
What can parents do to avoid raising children who are perpetually stuck in the delayed adolescence that has become all too commonplace in our society, and how can they help transition their young adults into full autonomy and independence? Parents can start
by instilling a sense of responsibility in their children at a very young age. They can do this by allowing children to experience the logical and natural consequences that come from their behavior. For example, if a student does not study for a test and then does poorly, the natural inclination of helicopter parents is to call the school and try to force them to provide a way to lessen the impact of the poor grade, such as by providing a make-up test or extra credit opportunity. While this appears to solve the immediate problem, it teaches children that there will always be an opportunity to right a mistake or error in judgment
and that there are no real consequences from the same. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many make-ups or extra credits in the real, grown-up world.
As children get older and begin to transition into adolescence and young adulthood, parents need to slowly but surely take appropriate steps back, allowing their children to take on more and more responsibility for their own lives. It is a huge temptation for parents, especially helicopter parents, to provide for their children in every way, but being a loving parent means teaching responsibility, not taking responsibility. One way to teach responsibility is to insist that high school students have a part time job. Holding a job promotes autonomy, money management skills, time management, and teaches adolescents to get along with people from different walks of life. Parents can also work on resisting the urge to save their children from every hardship. Helicopter parents like to solve every problem and
save their children from every possible mistake. This parenting style has created a generation of young adults who are petrified of failure, who avoid taking risks, and find it impossible to make difficult decisions. Parents of adolescents and young adults are often too quick to
answer questions and make decisions for their children. Parents need to ask questions, not answer them. Ask, “What do you think is the best option?” “What decision will produce the best outcome for you?” “What will make you happiest in the long run?” Allow the
adolescent to figure things out on their own, even if you know better.
Finally, parents must allow their young adult children to be financially independent. Even though parents of Generation Y may have the means to support their adult children, that does not mean that they should. As long as children receive financial support from their parents
they will have no motivation to transition into independence. Growth must be predicated on some level of discomfort. For example, living in a dump of an apartment while struggling to pay bills will certainly motivate a young adult to succeed more so than living in their
parents’ house rent free, with all meals provided. There is no need to change, evolve, or grow when all of our needs are met by someone else.
A change in parenting style may result in a child or young adult who does not like us as much for a while. But it is not the job of a parent to be liked, it is the job of a parent to raise adults who like themselves. Research shows that young adults who are able to financially and
emotionally support themselves have higher levels of self-esteem, independence, and success.
Watching a child struggle, falter, and ultimately fail is one of the most difficult things a parent can go through. But if we think back on our own lives we know that our own struggles and
failures were the most important steps in our path to success. Parents may not always agree with the choices our children make, but our children’s lives are their own to live. Children have to find their own path, they have to make their own decisions, and they have to learn from their own mistakes. This is the only way for them to make it to a place where they feel fulfilled, successful, and happy.