By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about the FBI sting operation that uncovered an alleged college admissions scam where wealthy parents, including some high profile actresses and CEOs, paid up to $6 million in bribes to ensure their kids were accepted into top schools like Yale and Georgetown.

Not surprisingly, the backlash against the parents was swift and harsh. It also prompted a lot of conversations about privilege and the negative effects of helicopter parenting.

The term “helicopter parenting” has become part of our everyday vocabulary and refers to parents who hover or swoop in to rescue their kids whenever they get into trouble.

And when we hear extreme over-parenting stories like this one, another more recent term “lawnmower parenting” can also come into play.

Lawnmower parents act more aggressively than helicopter parents. They don’t even wait for their child to get into trouble before stepping in.

As the name implies, a lawnmower parent will “mow” down any obstacle their child might face in order to save them from inconvenience or discomfort.

While most of us can agree that the college bribery scandal was “bad”, it’s also a case that pertains to wealthy elites.

Many parents probably read the story, shrugged and thought “yea, that’s how the rich do it”. And then went on about their day without giving it another thought.


But in reality the college bribery case highlights a very real problem for almost ALL parents, the pressure and stress we feel to see our children succeed.


It’s not just the wealthy elite who want their kids to get ahead, most parents want to protect their kids from disappointment. It’s a natural inclination.

But in resorting to helicopter or lawnmower tactics, parents end up cheating their kids out of one of the most important lessons in life: how to fail and recover.

And that can be a big problem.


“If you say, ‘Oh, I took care of this for you’, it inadvertently gives the message of  ‘you can’t do this yourself, you can’t succeed’.” – Stephanie Samar, clinical psychologist at the Mood Disorders Center of the Child Mind Institute


The long term negative effects of helicopter parenting can include things like low self-esteem, anxiety, and reduced independence.

Pretty much the opposite of the success you want your children to achieve!

That’s why we wanted to take a closer look at not only the failures of helicopter parenting, but also how you can teach your child to fail in a constructive way that encourages their development.

Negative Effects Of Helicopter Parenting

The parents caught up in the college bribery sting probably thought they were doing their kids a helpful favor. But the truth is, we can’t just plow every obstacle out of our children’s way. That only sets them up for failure.

By making things too easy, helicopter parents are robbing kids of the chance to learn from their own mistakes.

One of the effects of helicopter parenting is that it creates kids who are not equipped to solve problems. Mostly because they’ve never had to!

Mom and dad always step in to handle issues for them.

Over time this kind of overprotection erodes a child’s sense of self-esteem and confidence.

Eventually, these kids grow up and enter the real world, unprepared to handle the many challenges they will inevitably have to face.


So ironically, by removing struggles in childhood, we’re creating adults who will struggle even more.


This is another one of the effects of helicopter parenting; it can produce fearful and anxious young adults who are so risk-averse they miss out on opportunities for advancement and growth.

A recent research study of more than 300 college students found that children of hovering parents had lower scores for psychological well-being.

These students were also more likely than their peers to use prescription medication for anxiety or depression. In addition, they were more likely to use pain medication recreationally, without a prescription.

Related: If You Want To Raise Resilient Kids Don’t Make These Mistakes

So how do you know if and when you’ve crossed the line from being an involved, supportive parent into helicopter parenting territory?

The key is whether the situation warrants a parent being actively involved or not. Which ultimately depends on the specific scenario and the age of your child.


effects of helicopter parenting
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What Triggers Helicopter Parenting?

One trigger that often contributes to a parent crossing the line into overprotectiveness is our innate need to know we’re doing a good job.

Just like you would do in your profession, parents tend to look for tangible indicators of progress and success in their child-rearing.

But guess what? Momming doesn’t come with a performance evaluation.

So what ends up happening is parents look at their child’s achievements and use them as a yardstick to measure their parenting performance.

Psychology professor Wendy Grolnick coined a term for this type of behavior, “the pressured parent phenomenon”.

Some parents think that if their child gets a spot on the football team or wins the spelling bee they get a gold star for parenting.

This kind of thinking can inadvertently push parents to remove any challenges to success their kids might face. Thereby depriving them of the opportunity to make mistakes, problem solve, and demonstrate resilience.


“One of the best ways to help a child build their sense of self-esteem is to separate your own self-worth as a parent from your children’s accomplishments.” – Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift Of Failure


Helicopter parents don’t always realize that they’re hovering over their kids. Therefore, they don’t recognize that their children may be experiencing the negative effects of helicopter parenting.

If you’re unsure, here are a 10 signs you might be a helicopter parent.

So if we find ourselves guilty of stepping in and rescuing too often…what’s the fix?

Ending the negative cycle of helicopter and lawnmower parenting starts by learning to react to failure in a constructive way.

It also means learning to support your child, while letting them work through challenges on their own.


How To Teach Constructive Failure

Parents can incorporate lessons of failure and resilience for their kids into their daily routine.

It starts by letting kids do things like chores by themselves, without help.

Yes…they will likely do something wrong, and that’s okay. It becomes a teachable moment.


“Failure is part of life. If our children don’t have the opportunity to fail or make mistakes, they’ll never realize they can bounce back. That’s what resilience is all about.” – Michelle Borba, psychologist and author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World


Let’s say your child doesn’t separate their laundry. They wash a red sock with a white t-shirt, which is now pink. You can explain why taking the time to separate is so important and tell them that next time they need to remember not to skip this step.

Or if your child doesn’t get an answer right on their homework, ask them to go back and try solving the problem again…before you step in to help.

To really benefit from facing challenges and making mistakes, kids need to learn how to feel frustration. Then redirect themselves, and try again.

This stick-to-itness is called grit. It’s an incredibly valuable skill that teaches kids to be resilient and to feel a sense of competence when they finally work through a problem.


Encouraging A Growth Mindset

Kids with a growth mindset believe they have the ability to improve their performance through practice and hard work. They see mistakes as learning opportunities, not a reason to give up.

Books can be a great way to teach children, especially younger kids, about how to bounce back from a mistake.

Reading stories about characters who fail in their first attempt, but press and ultimately learn something in the process helps kids see that mistakes are okay.

Related: Fun Books That Encourage A Growth Mindset For Kids

Mistakes become a normal part of everyday life. You’ve shifted the focus to what happens after the mistake, which is what matters.

And yes, allowing for these types of learning experiences takes more time and planning, but it’s worth it.

Because as your kids get older, the lessons they’ll learn through problem-solving will lead them to rely on you less and less.

You’re actually saving yourself time in the long run as your kids mature into independent, competent young adults.

And isn’t that the ultimate end-game in parenting? To raise strong, self-sufficient human beings that are equipped to handle the challenges life will inevitably send their way?

Related: Growth Mindset Parenting: Raising Kids Who Won’t Quit


The Takeaway For Overprotective Parents

The biggest takeaway here is that in order to prevent the negative effects of helicopter parenting, take a minute to think before you rush in to help or save your child from a challenging situation.

Do they really need me to get through this? Or is this something they can work out on their own?

If you think it might be the latter, take a step back and at least let them try.

We know it’s hard. The urge to “fix it”, “make it better” or “do it right” can be strong.

But letting your child try to solve their own problems will go a long way towards developing a growth mindset.

You can even encourage the process by asking supportive questions like, “What else could you try?” or “How might you do this differently?”

And if after trying they still get stuck, it’s perfectly fine to lend a helping hand and show them other options.

By holding back your initial urge to jump in, you’ve allowed your child to realize they have the ability to think of alternatives. This promotes an open-minded approach to problem solving.

You’ll be raising a human who will be comfortable trying new things. An individual who can face obstacles and overcome challenges.


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