Are you a helicopter parent?

Back off! The constant hovering could be detrimental to your child’s growth


We see them everywhere. They are the Moms stalling their child to eat an unwashed fruit at the grocer to protect them from the lurking germs. They are spotted in gardens resolving toy feuds for their 8-year-olds. They are disputing with their kid’s school teacher if their kid did not score a distinction. They are even setting their children’s hostel room and constantly staying in touch with them over the phone.

These aren’t our typical parents, yet some communities may label them as ‘perfect parents’. However, experts suggest that perfect parenting isn’t after all perfect or even existent for that matter. Because parenting is not a science; it is more of an art. It is an art which cannot be taught at any college or University. It is an art that every parent learns instinctively only after they become a parent. And while some of the results of parenting are visible almost immediately, most effects are seen much later in life, when the child becomes an adult of 40 or 50, when he or she enjoys or suffers the effects of parenting in childhood.

First, the basics

Though there is no one definition for ideal parenting, every parent has three or four basic functions to perform. One is that they have to provide for the child’s material and emotional needs. Two, they have to act as shock absorbers and be there for the child, when he goes through the ups and downs of the growing years. Three, they need to set boundaries which are good enough to prevent the child from getting hurt while not being so narrow that his growth suffers. And lastly, they need to teach the child some basics of life, inculcate good values, good manners and good behaviour, but more by example than by talking or lecturing them. In totality, good parenting is all about being available, whenever and wherever your child needs you and it is about loving your child, unconditionally, at all times, irrespective of how the child behaves or what he does.

Insecurity breeds obsession

With the change in the structure of our society in the last few decades, joint families have given way to nuclear families, and most couples now opt for one or two children, as opposed to three or four which was the norm earlier. As a result, parents are now able to spend their time, energy and money more effectively in bringing up one or two children, rather than spreading their resources over three or four. But this also has a flip side. The focus and attention of the parents has also got concentrated on these children, often leading to parental obsession. The fear that something might happen to their only child, or that he might not do well in life, is at the root of many of the obsessions shown by parents. When there were many children and resources were less, parents were not so bothered about how their children turned out. They were more accepting of the child. Today, however, things have changed considerably.

The many shades of obsession

In many families, it is observed that children are smothered by their parents. They are constantly under the parent’s vision and supervision, are rarely left alone and seldom given a chance to think or act independently. Sometimes, the degree of concern and worry that parents show for their children’s welfare reaches unimaginable heights. Here is a case in point. A couple of years ago, there was an epidemic of swine flu, with media acting as a catalyst to the panic, the scenario was blown out of proportion. While all parents were worried for their children’s health, some went to extremes. I know of a couple who was so scared that they shut their eight-year-old son inside the house and did not let him out for a month. He was forced to miss school, and was prevented from going out to play. All the doors and windows of the house were shut and he was put under house arrest. In another case, parents took their children and went away to the grandparent’s house in another city and returned only after two months, when the swine flu scare was over. They also risked losing their jobs and made the children miss school. While this is one example of extreme parental obsession, there is yet another where parents pick up and drop their children to and from school and also accompany them to their tuitions, dance classes, music classes, karate classes and to all the classes that the child takes. So much so that except for the time the child spends sleeping or in one of these classes, he is never out of the sight of his parents.


Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here