The term "helicopter parent" is a relatively new one in our culture, but the practice is quite prevalent. When a child leaves home (for college, for instance, or even overnight camp) the helicopter parent does exactly what the term implies -- hovers. Helicopter parents usually have the best intentions -- to protect their children from life's hardships and prepare them for adulthood -- but as with many other aspects of parenting, the results don't always match the intentions. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself "hovering," here are a few common mistakes to be aware of and what you might want to consider instead:
Mistake 1: Being in constant communication. Children get their own cell phones at younger ages every year. While cell phones are great for safety purposes, they make it possible for parents to be in continual contact with their child. Psychologist Dr. Steven Sussman has even referred to the cell phone as "the world's longest umbilical cord." When your young adult child goes off to college, it's easier than ever for you to stay in touch -- all the time. But is this a good thing? And it may certainly take on a life of its on when your child calls you to discuss what to eat at the next meal or even uses you as a surrogate alarm clock, with a daily wake-up call. Instead, limit routine communication to a specific time of day. Maybe you and your son or daughter can schedule a time to speak on the phone each evening or a few specified evenings each week. This way, he or she can have the opportunity to try to solve problems on his or her own instead of immediately reaching out to you for the answers.
Mistake 2: Maintaining full financial control. It's quite common for parents to continue to pay for things into adulthood that they began paying for when their child was much younger. For example, many young adults are still on their family cell phone plans and car insurance, and usually let their parents foot the bill for meals out and family vacations. However, while remaining a safety net, you also may want to allow them to have some "skin in the game," in order to learn financial responsibility. This means setting firm limits and establishing a clear policy concerning credit cards and other financial matters. As an invaluable preparation for adulthood, gradually hand over small financial obligations, in order to transition him or her to become a financially responsible adult.
Mistake 3: Parenting in a way that's not age-appropriate Intuitively, it makes sense that adolescents need different parenting than infants or toddlers and young adults require different parenting than adolescents, but this change doesn't always happen automatically. For example, it's no longer necessary to punish and reward your children in the same way you did when they were younger. The best parenting is about giving guidance that's age-appropriate and that speaks to your child's unique needs and stage of development. I offer several examples of what this might look like in my new book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential. As your child becomes an adult your role as a parent will shift. For example, you can now become much less of a micromanager and disciplinarian, and more of a role model. Your child will now receive consequences from his or her own environment when poor choices are made, rather than you. This is a good thing. So relish your new role!
The bottom line is that as a parent your greatest responsibility to your young adult children is to help them develop the skills to make it on their own. By avoiding these mistakes, you've taken a giant step in the right direction toward enjoying the stage of life where you can savor your child functioning successfully as an independent adult!
Follow Michael S. Broder, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrMichaelBroder