In today’s lingo a thing to be avoided is helicopter parenting. Psychologist Linda Sapadin‘s definition: “Helicopter parents are so named because they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their kids need them or not. These parents rush in to prevent any harm from befalling their children – not just physical harm but ‘unfair’ treatment at school, on the athletic field or in extra-curricular activities.”
Further elaboration: “Helicopter parents ‘do’ for their kids when their kids have trouble doing for themselves. The reason they ‘do’ always seems reasonable. A child with a filled social calendar is too busy, too distracted or too forgetful to take responsibility for his own stuff. So, a caring parent picks up an application, drops off an assignment, fixes a fight between friends or ‘helps’ him do his homework.”
Spoiling is driven by the demands of the child. For any number of reasons, a parent gives in to a child’s demand for something–say, a toy. A child gets his or her way.
Overparenting is driven by the demands of the adult. And it isn’t necessarily focused on things (like toys) or on rules. A parent consumed by anxiety for a child’s achievement calls a teacher to protest a grade given to the student. Or sends a kid off to ballet camp with an eye to developing an array of extracurricular skills that will ultimately impress college admissions officers. It isn’t necessarily something the child has asked for. It is something that soothes the parental anxiety. It may have the effect of spoiling a child, giving a child a sense that any demand will be met, but that is not preordained, and it has many other negative effects as well.
Effects on the kids? Whereas spoiling may lead to kids who are “self-centered, throw frequent temper tantrums, have a low tolerance for frustration, and grow up having problems controlling anger,” the overparented kids don’t develop a sense of self, for one. Also: “They grow up overly compliant. They lack coping skills because everything has been done for them by anxious parents. They’re weak from within, and it’s a pervasive weakness. The grow up risk-averse and unable to make decisions on their own. They, too, have a low tolerance for frustration.”
Clinician Madeline Levine, in a New York Times piece, contrasts helicopter parenting with the more effective “authoritative” parenting, which mixes having a certain level of expectations with allowing a child to be his or her own person. “The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality. If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality. Ditto nightly ‘reviews’ of homework, repetitive phone calls to ‘just check if you’re O.K.’ and ‘editing’ (read: writing) your child’s college application essay.”