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11 Characteristics of Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting is the excessive involvement in and overprotectiveness toward a child’s life, often being controlling, intrusive, and possessive. Examples of helicopter parenting include closely overseeing homework, managing daily schedules, monitoring online activities, and intervening in personal choices. This parenting style stems from various factors, including parental anxiety, cultural influences, societal pressures, and personality traits. This type of parenting can hinder a child’s emotional development, self-esteem, academic performance, and mental health and can foster a sense of entitlement.

While often criticized, helicopter parenting can sometimes lead to positive outcomes like better psychological adjustment and academic success in children. The effectiveness of helicopter parenting depends on the child’s perception of parental involvement, with supportive yet non-controlling approaches being more beneficial. Parents should balance attentiveness with allowing autonomy to avoid stifling their child’s development and fostering excessive reliance.

A pair of parents hold their son's hand on either side as he rollerskates.

What is helicopter parenting?

Helicopter parenting is characterized by overprotectiveness and over-involvement in a child’s life. Helicopter parents pay excessive attention to their children’s activities. They want to protect their children from all pain and disappointment but act in an age-inappropriate way. These are overprotective parents. Some helicopter parents are anxious, while others are controlling, intrusive, and possessive.

Why is this parenting style called helicopter parenting?

This overprotective parenting style is called helicopter parenting because, just like a helicopter hovers closely overhead, helicopter parents are metaphorically perceived to do the same in their children’s lives, constantly monitoring and intervening. They are always present and ready to swoop in at the first sign of trouble.

The metaphor appeared as early as 1969 in the book Between Parent & Teenager by Dr. Haim Ginott. The term was later coined in 1990 in the book Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. As millennials reached college age, the term “helicopter parent” gained attention and notoriety when university admission officials and college professors started publicly denouncing these parents’ intrusive behavior. 

The media coverage, academic discussions, visual imagery, and cultural shifts to this style of child-rearing in recent years have helped “helicopter parents” become widely recognized.

Other terms that describe this parenting style include overparenting, overprotective, intensive, and controlling parenting.

What are the characteristics of helicopter parents?

While younger children require parents’ supervision, control, and guidance to learn the world’s rules, helicopter parents do it at a developmentally inappropriate level.

Here are 10 key characteristics of helicopter parents.

  1. Overprotecting: Helicopter parents overprotect their children from all difficulties in life. They shield their children from challenges and risks.
  2. Overinvolving: Parents excessively interfere in their children’s daily lives and education.
  3. Not allowing setbacks: A helicopter parent goes to great lengths to ensure their child avoids the slightest mishap. They rush to the child’s rescue and fix every struggle the child faces.
  4. Micromanaging and low autonomy: Helicopter parents over-control details of their children’s lives. Children are granted very little autonomy.
  5. Deciding for the child: Parents dictate choices from extracurricular activities to college applications to job selection. They don’t trust their children to make any decisions for themselves.
  6. Solving problems for the child: Helicopter parents insert themselves unasked into their children’s problems, taking over situations rather than letting them tackle challenges independently.
  7. Obsessively monitoring: Helicopter parents tirelessly monitor their children’s whereabouts and online activities.
  8. Intrusively Interfering: A helicopter parent meddles in their child’s typical social interactions. They intercede in peer conflicts and over-scrutinize their child’s friendships.
  9. Doing tasks the child can do themselves: Helicopter parents take on tasks that their children can do independently.
  10. Overreacting: Parents show excessive concern or make frequent medical visits over minor ailments of their children.
  11. Not allowing independence: Parents neglect or prevent the development of their child’s independence.

What are helicopter parenting examples?

Here are 15 helicopter parenting examples.

  1. Correct the child’s play.
  2. Decide what the child wears every day.
  3. Oversee homework closely.
  4. Do the child’s homework.
  5. Communicate constantly with the teacher.
  6. Call the teacher to dispute grades.
  7. Research and complete the child’s school project.
  8. Organize and manage the child’s daily schedule.
  9. Insist on attending a gathering of the child’s friends.
  10. Call the parents of the child’s friend about a disagreement.
  11. Check the child’s emails and social media accounts, and track their online activities.
  12. Research which college to apply for.
  13. Complete college applications for the child.
  14. Follow the child into college admission interviews.
  15. Attend job fairs and job interviews with the child.

Why are helicopter parents so controlling?

The reason for helicopter parenting is complex, and there isn’t one single cause. The likely causes of helicopter parenting include parental anxiety and fear, social and cultural influences, personal issues, and personality factors.

Here are 13 potential causes of helicopter parenting.

  1. Anxiety over safety: Some parents are very anxious about their children’s safety and well-being, leading to stricter monitoring and limitations on children’s freedom. Things like news stories about abductions can exacerbate this.
  2. Fear of failure: Some parents have an intense fear of their children failing or having any setbacks, leading them to excessively intervene and control their lives.
  3. Anxiety over the future:  Intense competition in academics, extracurriculars, and even social media can push parents to become more involved in their children’s lives.
  4. Lack of trust: If parents have trouble trusting their kids or others around them, they may constantly monitor activities.
  5. Cultural influence: In some cultures, parenting is seen as fully child-centric and intensive, with kids’ needs far above parents. This enables helicopter habits.
  6. Societal pressure and comparison: Social media and societal norms often add pressure on parents to raise “perfect” children. Seeing other children’s achievements can lead to a competitive mindset, causing parents to become overly involved in their children’s lives.
  7. Changes in society: With kids more supervised and scheduled than past generations, it can seem normal for parents to micromanage their children’s lives.
  8. Shifting parenting norms: What was considered “good parenting” in the past might not be the same today, making it challenging for parents to navigate expectations.
  9. Low self-esteem: Parents who struggle with their self-worth might seek validation through their children’s achievements, fueling controlling behaviors.
  10. Neglected childhood: Parents who felt neglected or unsupported in their own childhood might overcompensate by being overly involved.
  11. Compensation: Parents who feel guilty about lack of time with their kids may smother them when they are together.
  12. Perfectionism: Striving for being flawless can lead to excessive involvement in their children’s lives.
  13. Personality: Controlling, rigid, perfectionist, or competitive personalities are more prone to becoming helicopter parents.

Parents engage in helicopter parenting for various reasons, each leading to common and unique effects on their children.

What are helicopter parenting’s negative effects on children?

Here are 5 negative effects of helicopter parenting on children.​1–6​

  • Emotional development: Parent’s overprotectiveness and overinvolvement can harm a child’s emotional development because the child doesn’t have the chance to tackle failure, its accompanying emotions, and regulating experiences. As a result, these children have poor coping skills to deal with challenges in their everyday lives. Researchers at Miami University conducted a study with 377 emerging adults and found that those who had helicopter parents tended to have poorer emotional functioning.
  • Lower self-esteem: Children with overprotective parents have been shielded from any hardships in life from a young age. Their parents habitually intervene to resolve any issues their children encounter. They signal that they don’t believe in their child’s ability to handle difficulties independently. This repeated pattern leads to a lack of confidence and an overwhelming fear of failure in the child.
  • Poorer academic performance: According to the self-determination theory proposed by Deci and Ryan at the University of Rochester, autonomy is one of human’s basic needs.​ While helicopter parents might think they’re helping their kids do better in school by being highly involved, they’re diminishing their children’s autonomy. Because the parents are the driving force in education, children develop extrinsic motivation to learn and tend to have poorer academic performance.​ In addition, when children don’t have chances to try things with their own abilities, they cannot develop independent problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Mental well-being: Helicopter parenting is detrimental to a child’s mental health in the long term. Teenagers and young adults are especially vulnerable to the drawbacks of this parenting style because they are at a stage of developing self-reliance and independence. Children with over-involved parents tend to have worse mental health. They are more prone to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.​
  • Entitlement: Adult children of helicopter parenting are associated with higher levels of narcissism and a sense of entitlement.​ The constant attention and help that come with overparenting can make kids think they’re extra special and deserve to be the center of everyone’s attention.

What are the pros of helicopter parenting?

Although helicopter parents have earned quite a negative reputation in mainstream media, researchers have not found consistently negative outcomes on children.​7,8​

  • Better psychological adjustment and life satisfaction: Some studies found that this parenting style could produce favorable results in grown children due to the parents’ intense support. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family indicated that grown children who received intense parental support reported better psychological adjustment and life satisfaction than their counterparts.
  • Positive development and health outcomes: Involving in education is one of the benefits of helicopter parenting. Researchers have found that an appropriate level of involvement in education is critical to students’ intellectual development, emotional regulation, and academic success. A parent’s involvement fosters positive attitudes toward school, improves homework habits, reduces absenteeism and dropout, and enhances academic achievement. A 2008 study titled “Understanding Current Trends in Family Involvement” revealed that parental involvement was associated with positive outcomes in student development areas such as decision-making, life skills, physical health, mental health, and career development. Intense support from these parents in financial, advice, and emotional areas has also proven valuable.

Is helicopter parenting good or bad?

Helicopter parenting can be good or bad depending on how helicopter parenting is defined and the type of practices employed.

The inconsistent outcomes in research on helicopter parenting are due to the lack of a clear, universally accepted definition in psychology, unlike Baumrind’s four parenting styles. This ambiguity leads to studies with diverse definitions, revealing both beneficial and detrimental effects of this approach.

By inspecting the different interpretations, researchers have found that it’s not the amount of involvement but the type of involvement perceived by the child that determines whether the “helicoptering” will benefit or harm children.​9​

This is good news for protective parents because they can fine-tune their parenting into the type that helps, and not impedes, their children’s healthy development.

According to the self-determination theory, there are three basic human psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When these needs are met, an individual experiences better health and well-being. They are intrinsically motivated to achieve and able to undergo growth and development.​10,11​

A supportive family environment that provides autonomous support to the child can satisfy those needs. Autonomy-supportive parents allow children to take an active role in making their own decisions and solving their own problems. These children are more competent and feel confident in interacting with their environment. This type of parenting leads to better social and emotional adjustment in children.

On the other hand, a family environment that doesn’t allow autonomy cannot meet those needs. Children with intrusive parents do not perceive to have much control over their own lives. They tend to have worse outcomes.​12​

Being autonomy-supportive doesn’t mean allowing kids to behave however they want. It means the child perceives the parent as non-controlling, and they encourage independence. Helicoptering can be beneficial if the kid experiences it as supportive and not controlling. But if children’s experiences are perceived as being controlled, it doesn’t matter whether the parent is supportive because, without autonomy, the child won’t flourish in their development.

Are you a helicopter parent?

Parents naturally want to protect their children from harm. Good parents are generally attentive and responsive to their children’s needs.

On the one hand, research has shown that responsive parenting can help children develop high self-esteem and secure attachments. On the other hand, an overbearing parenting style can stunt a child’s development into an independent adult. Therefore, paying attention and being responsive to your child’s needs is necessary, but a balance must be struck to avoid excessive hovering over them.

You may be an overprotective parent if your child begins to show the following signs.

  • Your child struggles to face and overcome age-appropriate challenges.
  • Your child shows higher levels of anxiety when not assisted by you.
  • Your child lacks confidence in making small decisions on their own.
  • Your child avoids taking risks or exploring new opportunities.
  • Your child lacks resilience and gives up quickly when faced with age-appropriate obstacles.
  • Your child has low self-esteem and constantly seeks your validation.
  • Your child has trouble coping with stress or developing emotion regulation skills.

How to stop being a helicopter parent

Most protective parents have good intentions. They want their children to be healthy, happy, and successful. They want to help and support their kids in their parenting journey. 

However, such parents are often perfectionists and prioritize their children’s success, resulting in excessive involvement. As a result, their help or support becomes controlling.

To break free from overparenting, draw the line between helping and controlling. It’s great to be a helpful and supportive parent as long as we don’t cross the line and start directing, or worse, dictating our children’s every move.

A low grade, a wrong college, rejection from a sports team, or a botched job interview will not ruin our kids’ future. On the contrary, they are great lessons for our children to learn from with our guidance and support. Being a controlling parent not only impacts the child’s well-being negatively but also causes a rift in the parent-child relationship.

A warm, caring, and happy childhood best predicts a child’s future success.

What is the difference between helicopter parents and controlling parents?

The main difference between helicopter and controlling parents is that helicopter parents combine high involvement and warmth with limited autonomy granting, whereas controlling parenting tends to involve less warmth and support and more behavioral and psychological control.

A 2012 study from Brigham Young University found that helicopter parenting is a distinct parenting style different from other controlling parenting styles. Researchers noticed that helicopter parents may inhibit emerging adults’ development by limiting their chances to practice independence. However, the overprotective approach often stems from parental concern, different from the more destructive forms of control seen in controlling or strict parents.

AspectProtection from harm, failure, or hardshipControlling parents
Main FocusDeep concern and anxiety for the child’s safety, well-being, and successDomination, control, obedience, and discipline
MotivationDeep concern and anxiety for child’s safety, well-being, and successMaintain authority, power, and control
PracticeIntrusive and overly involvedBehavioral and psychological control
OutcomeLimits independence, emotional development, and coping skillsEmotional distress and strained relationships


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