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Spring 2010
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Caution to Parents: Hovering Can Be Harmful to Your Child’s Health


Parents naturally worry about their children and want the best for them, but doing too much can interfere with their development.

VS-Spring2010-CautionToParents“Helicopter parenting” — the term given to mothers and fathers who hover around their children and intervene in their lives at a level that is inappropriate to a child’s level of development — is a growing phenomenon. And while parents may believe they have the best intentions and are being helpful, they are in reality doing a disservice to their children, says a UCLA parenting expert.

“It’s natural for parents to worry about their children and try to ensure the best for them, but when taken too far, the child may grow without experience in decision-making and problem-solving,” says Frederick Frankel, Ph.D., co-director of the UCLA Parenting and Children’s Friendship Program, an outpatient clinic of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior that offers families evidence-based parent-training and social-skills group programs.

Helicopter parenting — whether it is doing a child’s homework, becoming overly involved in his or her social conflicts or even, in the case of young adults, interceding with college professors or employers at the first sign of trouble — tends to evoke two types of responses from children, Dr. Frankel says. Some may simply accept their parents’ over-involvement and grow up feeling stifled and lacking confidence in their self-efficacy. Others rebel by the time they reach their teen years, creating a potentially unhealthy distance. “Sometimes kids don’t know what they’re getting into, and it’s nice to have the parent as a consultant,” Dr. Frankel explains. “But if the parent is ‘hovering,’ teens often close the channels of communication.”

Dr. Frankel acknowledges that it can be extremely difficult for parents to see their teens going down paths that might not be best for them, whether it’s not living up to their academic potential or choosing the wrong friends. Parents can offer advice and warn their teens about consequences, he says, but at some point, they have to allow the children to make their own choices, within reason.

“Parents who don’t allow their children enough room obviously care a great deal or they wouldn’t be so involved,” Dr. Frankel says. “In a sense, though, this is a developmental issue for them — they have to grow up with their children and learn to forge a different relationship for the child’s benefit.”

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