Overseeing your child's academic life is essential, but if you find yourself constantly hovering over him or her at homework time, recalculating every math problem and editing every essay, you might be what educational and psychological experts call a "helicopter parent." Being overfocused on your child's performance and behavior can stem from a few things: anxiety, compensation, fear of consequences or peer pressure, as Kate Bayless writes in Parents magazine. Surely, behind that is a commitment to your child succeeding and being taken care of, though it can have consequences. But how do you be an involved parent without smothering your kids?
Dr. Bill Moredock, a longtime licensed psychologist who is also an elementary school principal, says helicopter parenting isn't good, but neither is total uninvolvement. Parents should be involved with their children's academic life but need to act within reason, he says. In other words, constant hovering isn't necessary, and some involvement is important.
"Parents should monitor their children's progress in school starting from day one," he says. "From preschool through graduate school parents should have a stake in how their children are progressing at every level. Of course, the degree of involvement should vary depending on factors such as age, grade, special circumstances, transitions, and the specific needs of the child."
"It is an empirically proven fact that children with parental support have a higher probability for success in school than children who lack support," he says. "Parents who are completely uninvolved set their children up for academic failure. Parents need to set the expectation and standard (for school work) -- for example, 'I expect you to work hard and do your best,' -- and then support their children in meeting their academic goals."
But when it comes to monitoring schoolwork and overseeing homework time, parents also need to consider their child's personality and learning style. "Each child is different," he says. "Ask any parent who has had more than one child. Each child has his or her own set of inherited traits. Some children need a lot of support on school-related endeavors. Others seem to need very little." Take the time to observe what kind of support would benefit them before just jumping in.
Dr. George S. Glass, who co-authored the book "The Overparenting Epidemic" with David Tabatsky, says helicopter parents are often invasive, overly attentive and competitive and have trouble separating themselves from their offspring. "Our children are not extensions of ourselves," he says. "Each of them is his or her own person, no matter what stage of development the individual is at."
"Children need to be given the space to try things out and experience failure as well as success," Glass says. "That should begin at an early age and certainly by the time they go to school." Allow your child to explore different study techniques, hobbies, etc., rather than imposing your own or interfering so they don't fail, as failure is one of life's greatest teachers.
Moredock adds that no matter what the grade level, having some down time is also important. "Kids do need breaks -- time to exercise and have some fun," he says. And even when children are under extreme pressure to get homework finished and out of the way, parents should not do the work for them. "Parents who do their children's homework are fostering dependency and perhaps even encouraging cheating," he says.
In short, Moredock says helicopter parents foster dependency and lack of resiliency. "Overinvolved parenting might achieve short-term success -- such as an 'A' on a volcano project -- but sets a student up for failure when the parent cannot follow the student to college," he says. "Also, helicopter parenting increases the risk for anxiety and anger in the child. Parents should step back when they sense that their involvement is producing these negative side effects -- a disgruntled unhappy child. That is the time for a really open discussion. If there is an impasse or if there are significant arguments that last more than several weeks, parents should contact their pediatrician of psychologists who work with children and adolescents."
Parents want their children to thrive, be happy and succeed. If you feel you've been hovering a bit too much, look for opportunities to take a step back from solving problems. Then your children will be one step closer to building self-confidence and important life skills.