A helicopter parent (also called a cosseting parent or simply a cosseter) is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they "hover overhead", overseeing every aspect of their child's life constantly. A helicopter parent is also known to strictly supervise their children in all aspects of their lives, including in social interactions.
The term "helicopter parent" has been in use since the late 1980s. It subsequently gained wide currency when American academic administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the oldest millennials began reaching college age. Their baby-boomer parents earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received. Summer camp officials have also reported similar behavior from these parents.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that helicopter parents continued advocating for their adult children at the graduate school level as well, such as advocating for their adult child's admission to law school or business school. As this cohort entered the workforce, Human Resource officials reported helicopter parents showing up in the workplace or phoning managers to advocate on their adult child's behalf or to negotiate salaries for their adult children.
Generational demographer Neil Howe describes helicopter parenting as the parenting style of baby boomer parents of millennial children. Howe describes the helicopter parenting of baby-boomers as a distinct parenting style from Generation X parents. He describes the latter as "stealth-fighter parents" due to a tendency of Gen X parents to let minor issues go, while striking without warning and vigorously in the event of serious issues. Howe contrasts this to the sustained participation of Boomer parents of Millennials in the educational setting, describing these parents as "sometimes helpful, sometimes annoying, yet always hovering over their children and making noise." Howe describes baby boomers as incredibly close to their children, saying that in his opinion, this is a good thing.
Helicopter parents attempt to "ensure their children are on a path to success by paving it for them." The rise of helicopter parenting coincided with two social shifts. The first was the comparatively booming economy of the 1990s, with low unemployment and higher disposable income. The second was the public perception of increased child endangerment, a perception which free-range parenting advocate Lenore Skenazy described as "rooted in paranoia".
Tianjin University has been building "love tents" to accommodate parents who have traveled there with their matriculating freshmen, letting them sleep on mats laid out on the gym floor. Commentators on social media have argued that the one-child policy has been an aggravating factor in the rise of helicopter parenting (see little emperor syndrome).
Madeline Levine has written on helicopter parenting. Judith Warner recounts Levine's descriptions of parents who are physically "hyper-present" but psychologically absent. Katie Roiphe, commenting on Levine's work in Slate elaborates on myths about helicopter parenting: "[I]t is about too much presence, but it's also about the wrong kind of presence. In fact, it can be reasonably read by children as absence, as not caring about what is really going on with them ... As Levine points out, it is the confusion of overinvolvement with stability." Similarly, she reminds readers that helicopter parenting is not the product of "bad or pathetic people with deranged values ... It is not necessarily a sign of parents who are ridiculous or unhappy or nastily controlling. It can be a product of good intentions gone awry, the play of culture on natural parental fears."
The Chinese parenting style depicted in the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has been compared to western helicopter parenting. Nancy Gibbs writing for Time magazine described them both as "extreme parenting", although she noted key differences between the two. Gibbs describes tiger mothers as focused on success in precision-oriented fields such as music and math, while helicopter parents are "obsessed with failure and preventing it at all costs". Another difference she described was the Tiger Mother's emphasis on hard work with parents adopting an "extreme, rigid and authoritarian approach" toward their children, which she contrasts to western helicopter parents who she says "enshrine their children and crave their friendship".
Former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, drawing from her experiences seeing students come in academically prepared but not prepared to fend for themselves, wrote a book called How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success  in which she urges parents to avoid "overhelping" their children.
University of Georgia professor Richard Mullendore described the rise of the cell phone as a contributing factor for helicopter parenting—having called cell phones "the world's longest umbilical cord". Some parents, for their part, point to rising college tuition costs, saying they are just protecting their investment or acting like any other consumer. Inter-generational research published in "The Gerontologist" observed educators and popular media lament helicopter parents who hover over their grown children, but reported "complex economic and social demands make it difficult for the Baby Boomers’ children to gain a foothold in adulthood."
Clare Ashton-James, in a cross-national survey of parents, concluded "helicopter parents" reported higher levels of happiness. Some studies suggest overprotective, overbearing, or over-controlling parents cause long-term mental health problems for their offspring. The description of these mental health problems may be lifelong and its impact comparable in scale to individuals who have suffered bereavement, according to the University College London. According to the Medical Research Council "psychological control can limit a child’s independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behaviour".
According to a 2019 national poll on children's health by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, one-quarter of parents surveyed say they are the main barrier to their teen's independence by not taking the time or effort to give their teen more responsibility. The national survey of nearly 900 parents found most of those with kids between 14 and 18 who conceded to helicoptering said they did it because it was just easier to do things themselves.
Although parents or proponents of helicopter parenting claim that such a restrictive and imposing parenting style may instill discipline, other analysts have claimed that there is evidence that such forms of parenting results in teenage rebellion, and may even extend into a vicenarian rebellion.
A study from Beijing Normal University found that overparenting had a detrimental effect on children's leadership skills. Another study from the University of Florida found that helicopter parenting was associated with more emotional problems, struggles with decision-making and worse academic performance in a group of 500 students.
In other languages
- Free-range parenting (parenting that purposely exercises minimal supervision over a child and allows them extended freedom in their activities)
- Monster parents (Japanese equivalent)
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
- Harvard Girl
- Kyoiku mama ("education mother")
- Parenting styles
- Concerted cultivation
- Hong Kong children
- Mother (Pink Floyd song)
- "Father Knows Worst" (an episode of The Simpsons dealing with helicopter parenting)
- "Arkangel" (a Black Mirror episode involving helicopter parenting)
- Stage mother
- Tiger mother
- Turning Red (A Pixar animated film involving helicopter parenting)
- Weber, Jill. "Helicopter Parenting". Healthy Living Magazine. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- Morin, Amy (2018-01-29). "5 Problems Kids With Overprotective Parents Are Likely to Experience in Adulthood, According to Science". Inc.com. Retrieved 2021-03-25.
- Dr. Haim Ginott (1969), Between Parent and Teenager, p. 18, New York, NY: Scribner. ISBN 0-02-543350-4.
- "9 Words for Types of Parenting". www.merriam-webster.com. Merriam Webster. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- Henderson, J. Maureen (7 January 2013). "Why Entitled Millennials And Their Enabling Boomer Parents Just Can't Quit Each Other". Forbes. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Briggs, Sarah; Confessions of a 'Helicopter Parent' (PDF), retrieved May 1, 2006 Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Kelley, Tina (2008-07-26). "Dear Parents: Please Relax, It's Just Camp". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- "Helicopter Parenting—It's Worse Than You Think". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
- Ludden, Jennifer (6 February 2012). "Helicopter Parents Hover In The Workplace". NPR. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Howe, Neil. "Meet Mr. and Mrs. Gen X: A New Parent Generation". AASA - The School Superintendents Association. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
- Kendzior, Sarah (12 November 2014). "Only Baby Boomers Could Afford to Be Helicopter Parents". Yahoo Finance. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Somers, Patricia, and Jim Settle. "The helicopter parent: Research toward a typology." College and University 86.1 (2010): 18.
- Wang, Serenitie; Hunt, Katie (12 September 2016). "Why 'tents of love' are popping up in Chinese colleges". CNN. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
- Warner, Judith (July 27, 2012). "How to Raise a Child". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
- Roiphe, Katie (July 31, 2012). "The Seven Myths of Helicopter Parenting". Slate. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
- Gibbs, Nancy (29 January 2011). "Roaring Tigers, Anxious Choppers". Time. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- Lythcott-Haims, Julie (2015). How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 978-1627791779.
- Brown, Emma (16 October 2015). "Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
- "Mullendore: Cell phone is umbilical cord for helicopter parents". The University of Georgia - College of Education. Archived from the original on 7 January 2019. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
- Alsop, Ron (2008). The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up The Workplace. Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-470-22954-5.
- Fingerman, Karen (April 2012). "The Baby Boomers' Intergenerational Relationships". The Gerontologist. 52 (2): 199–209. doi:10.1093/geront/gnr139. PMC 3304890. PMID 22250130.
- "'Helicopter parents' have more meaningful lives, study finds". Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
- "How overly-controlling your kids could give them lifelong psychological damage". Independent.co.uk. 3 September 2015.
- Schiffrin, Holly H. (2014). "Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students' Well-Being". Journal of Child and Family Studies. 23 (3): 548–557. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3. S2CID 54218169.
- "Helicopter parents: Hovering may have effect as kids transition to adulthood". Science Daily. 28 June 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
- "Mott Poll Report: Parent efforts insufficient to promote teen independence". 22 July 2019.
- "Failure to Launch: Parents are barriers to teen independence". University of Michigan Medicine. 22 July 2019.
- Ebony Bowden (22 July 2019). "A quarter of moms, dads raising teens say they are helicopter parents". NY Post.
- Wallace, Michael, et al. "Over-involved parenting and competition in youth development programs." (2015).
- "What leader are you? It depends on your parents". 5 April 2020.
- Carling, Maria (October 31, 2011). "A Second Take on Swedish Parents". Psychology Today. Retrieved March 8, 2022.