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Helicopter Parents: 5 Lessons to Learn From Parental Overreach

helicopter parents

We see it often… helicopter parents who try to pursue success for their children at all costs, sometimes ultimately and sadly, costing them and their children more than anyone else.

This year revealed yet another example of this as many well-known parents, including Lori Loughlin and others, were exposed as part of a scandal of bribery to get their children into elite colleges, as well as paying off professors and administrators to get unfair advantages for their children.

While this specific situation is new and fresh, this scenario is not. In fact, it’s as age-old as the book of Genesis, dating back to the story of Rebekah trying to manipulate an unfair advantage for Jacob. And we would do well to notice that the most common pattern is that of mothers trying to manipulate things for their kids (although it can go both ways). It’s easy for parents to want to overstep their rights to give their children an upper hand in life, but it’s also wrong.

5 Timely Tips for Helicopter Parents

In light of this recent situation, here are some timely reminders and warnings for all of us as parents:

  1. Don’t make excuses for your child.  No parent has ever truly helped their child by making excuses for their behavior, their shortcomings, or their failures. You or I will not be the first. If your child cannot pass the test, allow them to fail it. If they deserve to be punished for their actions or choices, allow them to face those realities. If they can’t make the cut or the team, be their biggest encourager, not their biggest manipulator.
  2. Don’t manipulate things to your child’s advantage.  While the temptation is there for every parent, so are the consequences. Your child needs you to allow them to face the realities of life while they are still under your guidance. If you will help them learn to honestly succeed by working hard while under your care, they won’t need a manipulator someday once they are out from under your care. Manipulation is never a good parenting strategy, no matter your child’s age.
  3. Don’t overprotect your child from failure.  Don’t fight all their battles. Allow them to fight and win their own battles. It’s natural for us to hate to see our children face the heartache of failure, but it’s potentially disastrous if we try to overprotect them from it. Yes, life is hard, school is hard, relationships are hard. But failure will not hurt your child. However, if you are not careful, your desire to help them succeed could just be the very thing that actually sets them up for failureParental overprotection fails to prepare children for real life. Consider what is going to happen to the children involved in last week’s scandal. Will their parent’s overreach in any way help their future… or more likely hinder it? No doubt, their futures will be negatively affected because their parents tried to overprotect them, rather than intentionally prepare them.
  4. Don’t make your child’s success about you.  Be proud, but don’t be driven by your pride. Many parents allow their pride to drive them to do unthinkable things to make sure their children (and themselves) look good. This doesn’t help anyone involved, but rather makes a fool of everyone when the truth is exposed. Consider the current events of the last week once again… There are a lot of “well-meaning” parents who now have not only egg on their faces, but a boatload of legal trouble on their hands as well. Be a proud parent, but don’t be a prideful parent, because there’s a big difference. (Prov. 16:18  Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.)
  5.  Trust God, not yourself.  Why do parents end up being guilty of overreaching into their children’s lives? Well, for the same reason Rebekah overreached in Jacob’s life, and for the same reason Sarah took matters into her own hands when she hadn’t born a child for Abraham. Sometimes, it’s easier for us to take matters into our own hands than it is for us to simply trust God with our children and the outcomes in their lives (Prov. 22:6). We think we can do a better job than God can, and so we trust ourselves rather than simply resting in Him. God can be trusted with the outcome, so trust Him.

Hopefully, the college admissions scandal will serve as a warning to us as parents that it can happen to anyone. May we be willing to recognize areas where we may be helicopter parents who are over-parenting our children rather than intentionally preparing them to lead a healthy and successful adult life someday.

This article about helicopter parents originally appeared here.

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Andrew is a husband, the father of four awesome kids, and a children's pastor at a thriving church. He is passionate about intentional parenting and helping other parents and leaders effectively reach the next generation. He blogs about kids and family at AndrewScottLinder.com, and provides proven resources for VBS and children's ministry at KidzBlast.com.