Giving Your Child Breathing Room: A Helicopter Parent Reflection
Nobody wants to be known as a helicopter parent. The phrase has developed a negative connotation over the years, and applies to parents who don’t give their children enough space to be themselves, constantly hovering over their decisions.
There is perhaps no bigger breeding ground for helicopter parents than in youth sports. Parents ensuring their children are being treated nicely by teammates and coaches, or even trying to protect them from any sort of adversity they may face.
The Evolution of Helicopter Parents
“I see these parents creating little hot-house plants. Here we call it ‘Helicopter’, in the U.K. they call it ‘Snowplow parents’, in Scandinavia they call it ‘Curling parents’– sweeping the ice in front of the child,” says Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor and member of the Positive Coaching Alliance National Advisory Board.
Even though helicopter parents often mean well, Dr. Dweck says that their behavior is actually stifling the growth of their children by not properly preparing them for life after youth sports.
“They are not helping. And talk about not getting kids ready for the world ahead, nobody’s going to sweep the ice in front of them,” Dr. Dweck says. “They’re building kids who know how to take tests and get grades, but they aren’t going to know how to cope and be resilient in today’s world.”
“I teach at a seminar of freshman every year at Stanford. My job is to get them into a place of loving a challenge, sticking to things that are really, really hard, and working towards their contribution. We need parents to do that more,” says Dr. Dweck.
Protection from Resilience
How has helicopter parenting become so prevalent that they now teach classes about resilience and perseverance in colleges and universities across the country? Anne Walker, the director of Women’s Golf at Stanford described her theory here:
“We went from helicopter parents– that was the big term, to velcro parents, and now, there’s bulldozer parents. They are out in front, with their kids behind saying, ‘I’m coming first, and I’m going to deal with any problems, because my kid shouldn’t have to deal with a problem.’”
That is a major focus of a lot of helicopter/bulldozer parents. They are trying to shield their children from any sort of negative emotion or feeling.
Although these parents may be well-intentioned, just as Dr. Dweck said, Walker agrees that the parents are in fact doing their children a disservice by going through such extreme lengths to protect their children.
“That is one of the biggest problems we see in golf, or in all sports I’m sure,” said Walker.
“They don’t have the built in, ‘Oh gosh I didn’t make the lineup, but I have built-in skills for how I deal with perseverance,’ and all the things you’re supposed to learn as an adult,” Walker said. “‘I know if I work hard and do these things, this is what gets me where I want to be.’ They just go, ‘Oh this is a big problem and I don’t know how to deal with it, so I’ll just call my dad and he’ll call coach and tell coach I should be in the lineup, and off we’ll go.’”
The Winning Edge
Though, not all helicopter parents are concerned with making sure their children never encounter hardships. A different kind of over-involved parent exists as well, and they focus more on winning than anything.
Former NFL and CFL player Albert Johnson points out that this sort of parenting philosophy can manifest itself negatively in the same way that helicopter parenting does.
“Another thing that bothers me a little bit about our society, as parents sometimes, and just as coaches sometimes unfortunately, we always think there’s a better way. So, ‘I’m going to go take this kid and put him on another team,’ or, ‘I’m taking my child from this team over here, because this team won a lot last year.’, Johnson said. “Well, trophies sort of collect dust. But, we aren’t teaching kids what it means to be committed to a program.”
This kind of mentality, where chasing winning by ditching teams that may not be very good teaches kids that they may always be able to escape a bad situation by attaching themselves to something they perceive is better.
This is not the case in the real world, and by teaching them this in their formative years, it becomes more difficult to learn how to handle a tough situation.
“When they get older, they aren’t going to be able to switch jobs, every semester or every season because they don’t like it. It’s just not practical– it’s not realistic. So, we have to let our youth go through some things in order to produce productive citizens in the world,” Johnson said.
Not only do parents shuffle kids around from team to team to avoid losing situations, they also micromanage. Parents may think their young athlete isn’t approaching the game the right way, or may be blowing their opportunities to win or succeed.
As Johnson says, this style of parenting damages the enjoyment the kids should be having when playing youth sports.
“The kid doesn’t go up there trying to strike out. He’s not getting in that batters box and saying, ‘Man, I’m going to miss all three balls. The first three they throw to me, I’m going to miss them all,” Johnson explained. “They don’t do that! But, if we’re sitting up there yelling, ‘Hey! Elbows up, sit back– wait on it!’ It’s already hard enough, you know?”
Keep it Fun
For young people playing sports, while improvement and development are obviously huge parts of the program, having fun and making friends should still be the top priority, especially in the earliest stages.
“The kid doesn’t try to go and miss the free throw with two seconds left. So, let your child develop– it’s okay. As long as they are having fun. They should be excited about going to practice, they get excited about gameday. Talk to them about that, don’t make it harder than it is,” said Johnson.
Trying to keep sports fun for young athletes is extremely important. Helicopter parenting can cause problems if you’re being overprotective, or pushing your child too hard.
“At the end of the day, they have so many other pressures. You got social media, you have all kinds of things they’re worried about. Just enjoy them being able to compete, because one day it’s going to be over,” You don’t want to have any regrets on what you maybe influenced them in the wrong way during their adolescent years.”
“That’s what this is about. We’re trying to create different culture in the world, through sports. There is no other way to do that then letting those kids experience these life lessons as they are going to as they go along in their journey. It’s already difficult enough.”