Are You a Helicopter Parent? Signs and Characteristics to Avoid

Published June 21, 2021
Mother homeschooling her kids

The term "helicopter parent" has become popular in recent years. Typically, discussion of helicopter parents isn't positive, due to the negative effects that can stem from this parenting practice. Learn what a helicopter parent is, the pros and cons of this style of parenting, and why some moms and dads feel the need to hover over their kids.

What Is a Helicopter Parent?

The term helicopter parent was derived from some parents' literal and continuous hovering over their children's every move. It is a fitting term for moms and dads who choose to oversee every detail of their children's lives. Even when kids are more than capable of doing things independently, helicopter parents can't help but swoop in and take matters into their own hands. Helicopter parents often maintain a sense of fear regarding the world and their children. They see great danger at every turn, and believe their constant presence and involvement will keep their offspring protected from the emotional and physical dangers of the outside world.

Characteristics of a Helicopter Parent

Helicopter parenting might look slightly different from household to household, but generally speaking, helicopter parents tend to:

  • Worry about safety
  • Place heavy restrictions on what children can and cannot do
  • Swoop in to solve problems for children who can likely solve the problem themselves
  • Impose constant supervision and correction
  • Make decisions for their children without any input from them
  • Overly involve themselves with children's teachers and coaches
  • Keep lines of communication with the child constant, zero independence from one another
  • Have some level of anxiety or fear
  • Refuse to allow failure as part of the learning process
Caring single father assisting his daughter to walk along a tree trunk

What Helicopter Parenting Looks Like With Young Children

Helicopter parents of toddlers see danger everywhere. When kids are climbing on a structure, parents are literally inches away from them. When they learn to socialize, parents are in the mix, making sure everything comes up sunshine and roses for their sweet darling. All moves the tot makes are directed by the parent, who presides over all of the toddler's activities.

As children grow a bit older, helicopter parents take their parenting style into the world, enforcing their thoughts onto teachers, their children's friends, and coaches. If they think that something could be done better for their kid, they will see to it that things get done their way. Children with helicopter parents walk a red carpet, as their parents live to ensure no harm or discomfort ever comes their way. Heaven forbid little Joey gets a C on a test! A helicopter parent couldn't bear the thought of Joey becoming sad or frustrated over a mediocre test grade.

What Helicopter Parenting Looks Like With Older Children & Teenagers

Helicopter parents of teens take hovering to new heights as they oversee budding relationships, continue to control academic and athletic paths, and take on the tasks and chores that teens and older children could typically handle themselves. A helicopter parent would see nothing wrong with managing the completion of their child's college application, or having a heavy hand in their kid's science project to ensure they get the very best grade. At a stage in life where more independence should be occurring, helicopter parents continue to hold onto the parenting reigns with all of their might.

Helicopter Parent vs. Snowplow Parent

Helicopter parenting and snowplow parenting are similar in nature, but there are a few distinct differences between the two styles. Both types of parents need to be in constant control of just about every aspect of their child's life. Still, where helicopter parents hover about with their input, thoughts, and reflection, snowplow parents do mostly everything for their child. Snowplow parents let nothing stand in the way between their kid and great achievement. They go to extreme lengths to ensure their child is the best and receives the best, clearing their path to success by remove obstacles for them, like a snowplow removes snow blockages.

The motivation behind the styles might differ as well. Helicopter parents tend to feel anxiety and fear, propelling them into constant supervision of their kids. Snowplow parents are not scared, they are determined. They want to have the highest achieving children in all the land, and they stop at nothing to see this dream realized.

Pros & Cons of Helicopter Parenting

Like any defined parenting style, it can be argued that helicopter parenting has both pros and cons.

Pros of Helicopter Parenting:

The pros of being an overly watchful, hovering parent are not ample, but they do exist.

  • Helicopter parents get things done because they are productive human beings.
  • Children feel a sense of love and importance in their parents' eyes.
  • Children can feel secure in their parents' care.
  • Kids do well academically, as parents oversee all aspects of education.
  • Increased involvement in their children's lives creates contentment for the helicopter parent.

Cons of Helicopter Parenting:

As would be expected, helicopter parenting has some negative effects on kids.

  • Decrease in self-confidence for children who grow up believing they can't accomplish much without mom or dad
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Development of entitlement
  • Anxiety and depression as a result of possible low confidence and low self-esteem
  • Children develop hostility towards parents for maintaining extreme control over their lives and their decisions

Why Parents Go Full-On Helicopter Mode

Why do parents go full-on helicopter mode? Various reasons serve as the root of helicopter parenting, but oftentimes, there are four primary areas that serve as catalysts for the development of helicopter parenting tendencies.

Fear of Natural Consequences

Parents are legit scared that their kids might not get an A or make the baseball team and will then have to endure any slew of negative emotions. The mere thought of envisioning any ill-befalling their child thrusts them into helicopter parent mode.


Parents worry, but helicopter parents take worrying to whole new levels. They stress over so many elements of life, and how those elements might impact their children. Their fears and anxieties sometimes force them to have a controlling nature, where they feel a strong compulsion to oversee all that their children do and experience.

Young mother holding crying little daughter on lap


Parents who experienced an emotional void during their own formative childhood years can sometimes overcompensate once they have kids. Where their own parents were very hands-off, they swing in the opposite direction fast and furiously.

Pressure From the Outside World

Moms and dads who are surrounded by other helicopter parents will often also engage in this parenting style. When other moms and dads are deeply involved in everything their children do, parents feel the need to do the same.

Helicopter Parenting: Stopping the Cycle of Fear

Recognizing that you're exhibiting helicopter parenting tendencies and knowing the pros and cons will help you determine if this is a parenting style that you want to continue or stop. Should you decide to halt helicopter parenting, the following actions might make that more feasible.

  • Ask yourself, "Can my child do this on their own?"
  • Remember that some failings and missteps are all a part of the growing process and help kids in the long run.
  • Learn the language to help your kids fix their own problems, instead of fixing problems for your kids.
  • Give kids smaller decisions to begin with, to ease into the transition process of total decision-making control as they grow.
  • If allowing large risks feels daunting, start with allowing small risks that seem more manageable.

Your Parenting Style Is Your Decision

Whether you choose to be a helicopter parent, a free-range parent, a snowplow parent, or something entirely different, this is your parenting journey, and you get to choose how to navigate these years. Choose a style that speaks to you, and know that regardless of parenting style, the majority of parents have one thing in common: they are just trying to do their best for the little humans who they love so dearly.

Are You a Helicopter Parent? Signs and Characteristics to Avoid