The Effects of Helicopter Parents

As a member of the millennial generation, I grew up with a lot of friends who had helicopter parents. I don’t just mean overbearing or overprotective parents, but parents who took everything one step further. My first memory of this was my third grade science fair. I had spent weeks on my project on the effects of soda on the human body. I conducted my own experiments, decided which pictures were going to go on my poster board, and typed up my own report. The most my mom did was to oversee everything and drive me to buy supplies. I was beyond proud of it until Timmy Olsen rolled up with a magnificent miniaHelicopter Parentsture version of Mount Etna. It was obvious by looking at the quality of the project and the poster board that Timmy had a little help with the project from his mother. When the first place winner was announced, I crossed my fingers hoping for the best but was heartbroken when Timmy’s name was called out. I felt jipped, and my mom told me that sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

Well into college I saw the trend of helicopter parenting continue. Outside of the classroom, I had friends whose parents would drive 45 minutes to pick up their laundry, drive home, do it, fold it, iron it, and drive it back to them. This was a weekly occurrence. Since graduating, I’ve witnessed, firsthand, parents call companies that they don’t work for and advocate for their child to be considered for a job. All this over-parenting leaves me wondering: when is the umbilical cord going to be cut?

The Rise of Helicopter Parents

The trend of helicopter parents is not diminishing with time. If anything, there are more students like Timmy Olsen than ever, especially in the ultracompetitive Washington, DC area. As a result, many researchers and psychologists have done studies on the long-term results of over-parenting. What they have found is that there are numerous issues with this parenting methodology. The first being that the child is never really able to develop what are defined as soft skills: skills such as resiliency, organization, accountability, time management, and sometimes even social skills. These keys are crucial to success in college and in the workplace and recent studies have shown that a lack of soft skills is one of the top reasons why students flunk out of college.

The president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, Dan Jones, stated, “Millennials have had helicopter parents who have protected them. They haven’t had the opportunity to struggle. When they come to college and bad things happen, they haven’t developed resiliency and self-soothing skills.” Studies have shown a direct correlation between children who were raised with parents who have the tendency to over-parent and a weak set of soft skills.

The Importance of Soft Skills

This has become such a widespread problem that the U.S. Department of Labor recently published a curriculum program entitled “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills”, which targets developing students’ communication, enthusiasm, teamwork, networking, problem solving, and professionalism to make them more successful in the work place.

A recent poll asked employers to rank the most heavily weighed factors when considering a candidate for employment. Technical training or what is known as hard skills (degree, GPA, honors, etc.) ranked eighth on the list. Before it were work ethic, positive attitude, strong communication skills, time management skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to learn from constructive criticism: all soft skills.

The Long-Term Effects of Helicopter Parents

Another issue is the long-term effect of helicopter parenting. Overparenting has all the characteristics of an enabling relationship, and like most enabling relationships, it’s hard to stop without going cold turkey. This means that, frequently, children who have had helicopter parents their entire lives find themselves at 26 not knowing how to separate their whites from their colors, not knowing how to balance their checkbook, or more importantly, without any of the soft skills crucial to success in the workplace.

I’m sure that Mrs. Olsen believed that she was helping Timmy when she was up to her elbows in papier-mâché, and I’m sure she was proud when Timmy’s name was announced at that third grade science fair. It’s likely that she continued this behavior into Timmy’s high school years and possibly college. She believed that she was doing what was best for her son and ensuring his longterm success. But in reality, she was doing the opposite. She was preventing him from experiencing failure, communicating effectively, and developing a strong work ethic. I haven’t stayed in touch with Timmy, so I can’t speak for where he is in life. However, it’s likely that he finds himself with poorly developed soft skills. At least he’ll always have that third grade science trophy.