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.
Foster Cline and Jim Fay coined "helicopter parent" in 1990. The term "helicopter parent" gained wide currency when American college 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 of 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, 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".
- Free-range parenting (opposite)
- Monster parents (Japanese equivalent)
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
- Harvard Girl
- Kyoiku mama ("education mother")
- Parenting styles
- Concerted cultivation
- Hong Kong children
- "Father Knows Worst" (an episode of The Simpsons dealing with helicopter parenting)
- "Arkangel" (a Black Mirror episode involving helicopter parenting)
- Stage mother
- Tiger mother
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- Cline and Fay. Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. 1990. 23-25. As quoted by Julie Lythcott-Haims in How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. 2015. 4.
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- "How overly-controlling your kids could give them lifelong psychological damage". 3 September 2015.
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