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Are You a Great Parent, or Are You Overparenting?

Helicopter parenting seems like it keeps kids safe, but it actually creates issues down the line. Here’s how to find a balance so they’re safe AND successful.
Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
December 17, 2016
Minute Read

I have great news for exhausted parents: stop doing so much and start being. I mean it. And I’m not alone. The former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, says so too.

In her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, she all but begs parents to back off from helicopter parenting. The book is a response to serious problems she saw with incoming freshman: depression, anxiety, lack of ability to solve problems and poor high executive functioning.

“Why were these epidemics arising in such bright, young students?” Lythcott-Haims asked herself. As she did some studying, she uncovered the problem: their parents.

These great, freshman kids with the smarts and credentials to get into Stanford grew up with parents who over-managed them in order to help their children “succeed.” Because of this, Lythcott-Haimes encountered kids who didn’t know how to solve problems, who texted their mothers when in a bind and who felt so uncomfortable with adults, they refused to make eye contact. They looked fabulous on an application, but when it came down to it, these kids didn’t know how to problem solve, love well or handle life, in general. Ouch.

Parents can want their kids to grow up to be successful so bad, they, ironically, can prevent it.

I have long said that great parenting is profoundly simple: love your kids and spend more time with them. But we parents so desperately want our kids to grow up to be successful and happy that we, ironically, prevent them from being either – because we are hell-bent on doing too much for them.

We keep them from hurting. We keep them from struggling. We keep them from figuring out how to stand back up after falling down. We, instead, either prevent them from falling in the first place or pick them up and straighten their paths for them. Ultimately, we can unknowingly impede their development into reliable, emotionally healthy, self-sufficient adults.

We don’t do this because we’re terrible people. We do this out of love and good intentions. But it’s high time to reevaluate what we’re doing because it’s not fair to kids to get them to Stanford, help them find the right job or even the right spouse only to have them depressed after they arrive.

Parents, listen, please. Quit doing so much for your kids. Love them. Don’t finish their homework or cook only organic food or call your son’s employer and tell them Johnny’s sick today. That’s OK when he’s in fourth grade, but not when he’s 19.

Parents, listen, please. If you really want your kids to be successful, stop doing so much for them. 

We have made parenting miserable for our kids and ourselves because we overthink every aspect of parenting. And that doesn’t make you a great parent; that simply means you’re overparenting.

Quit spending hours researching the right car seats, vitamins, preschools, and nursing bras. Stop losing sleep over which of Annie’s talents you should “explore” (read: push)—gymnastics or dance—because if you pick the wrong one, OMG! her chances of getting to the Olympics are gone.

I agree with Julie Lythcott-Haims wholeheartedly. If you really want your kids to be happy, play with them more. Love them and teach them to love. Give them more hugs and time at the park. And, make them work. Yup. Make them feed the dog, empty the dishwasher and sweep the garage.

Great parenting—that creates truly happy kids—is more about letting go than holding on too tightly. When you stop performing for them (by flying your helicopter over them), they’ll be happier. I promise.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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