With the best intentions are we making our children weaker?

by Alexandria M.

Being involved in sports growing up, I saw all parenting styles in and outside the pool. I watched many peers in school and sport be stressed out to obtain a specific goal that their parents set for them. My peers are not the only ones being affected by this parenting style as a study by Odenweller, Butterfield, and Weber (2014) states that approximately 60-70% of university students report having parent(s) who exhibit hovering behaviour at one point or another. These levels are increasing do to the ever changing technology and the aging Millennials. The term coined for parents that exhibit these characteristics is “helicopter parent”. The helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions, and in sport. (‘‘Liftoff for ‘helicopter’ parents,’’ 2007)

It is often observed that children with parents who are highly involved in their children’s  sport and education lack internal assets such as achievement motivation, learning engagement, planning and decision making, conflict resolution. Such children are prevented to learn “common” life skills as their parents do everything for them. But the issues these children have with helicopter parents is more than not being able to cope with common life skills. For example, research has empirically linked helicopter parenting practices with adolescent’s use of recreational painkillers and anxiety and depression medications (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011). This parent style also leads to diminished self-confidence, school engagement, and adult identity development (Padilla-Walker & Nelson, 2012); and a heightened sense of entitlement (Segrin et al., 2012).

Helicopter parents not only influence their own children ,but they also affect the people around them. I have been personally affected by a parent as she became involved in my synchronized swimming training to make sure I wasn’t getting more attention from coaches than her daughter at practices. Not only did she come to the pool just to watch me train, she also preceded to email, text, and snapchat the coach or my parents about any issue whenever she felt necessary.  Although I now see she had the best intentions for her daughter, she is not the only parent acting in such a manner.

While we all joke about “dance- moms” and “hockey- parents,” this has become a serious issue, in school and sport. The former Dean of Freshman at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, states that students lack basic life skills when attending university because of over-parenting. She lists many examples from the minimal level to the most extreme; from first year students not having the ability to ask for help from strangers to the most outrageous examples of parents calling professors or employers for working their child too hard. (CBS News, July 16th 2015)

As parents and/or coaches where do we place guidelines to limit the parental involvement in sports or education?  “Coaches, referees, principals and teachers were once respected adults and authority figures in our children’s lives and in the life of our community. But now parents seem to think that they need to go and argue with that adult on behalf of their kid”( Julie Lythcott-Haims CBS News, July 16th 2015)  This sad realization, that sport can see the involvement of overbearing parents,  has resulted in many rules and regulation changes in the world of sport and education. I have observed some sports not allowing parents in ear shot of the practices in order to keep their comments to themselves while others take more extreme measures by banning parent all together.  Even sports on a provincial level have placed rules and a consent forms for parents to sign about their own behaviour. During tryouts for Synchro New Brunswick there is a rule in place that prevents parents from speaking to the coaches in regards to any decisions being made (of course the mother previously mentioned broke that rule).While some universities and schools have also adapted do to the overwhelming parental involvement that now some have put in place scheduled family days to limit the amount of parents visit campus.

Perhaps, I have a pre-determined bias based on helicopter parents but I think it is time we loosen the reigns on children.  The affects on children are much worse than them acting out and misbehaving, these are long lasting mental and physical issues that can be avoided.


How to Raise an adult: break free of the overparenting trap and prepare your kid for success – Julie Lythcott-Haims



Odenweller, K. G., Booth-Butterfield, M., & Weber, K. (2014). Investigating Helicopter Parenting, Family Environments, and Relational Outcomes for Millennials. Communication Studies, 65, 4, 407-425.

Personal experience thanks to a very annoying parent

This entry was posted in Parents, Positive Youth Development, Sport and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to With the best intentions are we making our children weaker?

  1. laurjohn says:

    The topic of overbearing parents is a topic that I have great interest in. How it affects the productivity of physical activity and extra-curricular activities along with the use of “free-time” and play. In the movie we are watching in class, it touches on the over-scheduled kid and overbearing/overwhelming parents. Kids are getting less and less play time or “free-time” to do what they want. Many parents in today’s society do not understand that play time is just as beneficial as participating in organized sport. Parents constantly being there, watching like a hawk does not let the children relax, take risks or have fun in that environment. They are too concerned with the watching eye of the parents with performing to their full potential. There are benefits of both organized sport/physical activity and play, but there needs to be a balance to have a positive youth development.

  2. davidgillis25 says:

    Excellent post on a very interesting topic. The helicopter parent is becoming more of a force in the sport and recreation world and its affecting our children. For the first time in history parents have the technology and the time to monitor their children at all times. This combined with the increased access to information means we now can hear about all the bad things that happen in the world. Parents are living in a state of paranoia that their children will be injured or abducted. I have seen the results of helicopter parenting by attending university. Teenagers who had every choice made for them since an early age get a rush off the freedom of living away from their parents. Being unadjusted for adult life these teens can not cope with the responsibility and choice.

    Great post

    David G

  3. sthorne95 says:

    Great post Alexandria!
    We tend to talk a lot about how children are spending too much time practicing sedentary behaviors and that childhood obesity continues to be on the rise. We continue to preach that children need to participate in more physical activity and lead healthier lifestyles, but can there ever be too much? This is where the helicopter parent comes in. These types of parents are forcing their child(ren) into too much physical activity at once. As mentioned by one little girl in the “Lost Adventures of Childhood” documentary, she has to do her homework in the car on the way to her extracurricular activities because she is on the go 24/7. It was stated in this documentary that 70% of kids drop out of organized sport by the age of 13 due to exhaustion, burnout, etc. Worldwide prescriptions for drugs, such as Ritalin, has tripled, and 41% of children in the U.S. reported that they are stressed all the time.
    Yes, physical activity is important in a child’s life in order to help them develop certain skills and maintain a healthier life, but stress, burnout, anxiety, and so on, are very unhealthy components of wellness. Participating in 4 different organized sports a week may be beneficial to a child’s physical wellness, but stress, anxiety, and exhaustions are all components of poor mental and emotional health. Parents who put their child into a tremendous amount of activity at once can also negatively impact their child(ren)’s social well-being as well because kids become so focused on the competitive aspect of their sports that they do not engage in developing social relationships with their peers and teammates.
    You only get to be a child for a short amount of time in your life. This time should be spent engaging in free-play with their friends. Parents should not force their kids to participate in as many activities as they can possibly handle at once, but rather let their child make the decision on which sport(s) they want to participate in. Helicopter parents believe that they are being supportive and encouraging and helpful in developing the physical aspect of their child, but in reality this goes to show that their way of parenting when it comes to extracurricular activities can harm their child in the future, even though it may be benefiting them now. Helicopter parents have the highest expectations of their children in sport expecting them to achieve the absolute best that they can (i.e. scholarships to university), but what about their ability to be an adult. They have had all their decisions made for them their entire lives so they don’t know what to do when it comes time for them to take on the real world alone.

Comments are closed.