Avoid the Helicopter

I have recently heard some stories of parents who continue to be helicopter parents even after their children have graduated high school.

-A mom who was actively involved in registering her college-age son for classes – deciding which classes were needed and the best schedule.

-Parents who were actively trying to control the decisions made for their child’s wedding.

-Parents who insisted that their daughter, son-in-law, and their grandchild continue to go to their church.

I was thinking about how I could avoid becoming such a parent. I love my kids and desperately want to protect them, so I understand how a parent becomes a helicopter. I spent some time thinking about how I could prepare my kids to be independent and trustworthy to make their own decisions.

Here is the phrase that I came up with: “That sounds like a really tough decision, your mom and I will support whatever decision you make.”

Or a related shorter way of saying this: “I trust you to make the right decision.”

Helicopter parents unknowingly convey a message that their child is not capable of making good decisions on their own. The child learns to depend on the parent for decision making and does not grow in confidence. Even a 20-year-old can still believe he/she “needs”  help to make decisions because that is how decisions have always been made. (And many helicopter parents need to be needed.)

The statement I gave above builds into the child a sense of self-confidence. I used this statement recently with my 6-year-old daughter. She asked me if she could jump off a piece of playground equipment or if it was too high. I could have easily said “yes” or “no” and she would have submitted to my decision. However, I told her that I trusted her to make the right decision. She ended up jumping and told me that it hurt her feet. So she learned that she could make a decision and she would live with the consequences of that decision.

Obviously, there is a time for parents to step in and prevent their children from making decisions which are dangerous to themselves or others. However, there are many times where we should sit back and let our children experience the consequences of their actions. Allowing children to experience the joy of good decisions and the pain of bad decisions prepares them to be adults qualified to make real-world adult decisions.

A friend of mine told the story of when he graduated 8th grade and his parents gave him luggage as a gift. The parents were clear that that when he graduated high school he would be an adult and they expected he would be moving out shortly after graduation. My friend graduated from high school 20 years ago, but today, that parent’s approach sounds like something out of a different era. However, we can see his parents were clearly setting their son on a track towards independence.

As parents, we need to give our children the skills and confidence to be independent. Look for every opportunity to allow your child to develop the decision making skills that are crucial to life as an adult.

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