Helicopter Mothers Take A Hit


MOTHERS member Jennifer Minear picked up the Sunday paper two weeks ago and received an unexpected jolt from an article on parenting styles and their alleged consequences. She felt a lot better after writing this post as a guest blogger, and we’re happy to bring it to you.

On July 4, 2010, The Washington Post ran Margaret K. Nelson’s article “Helicopter moms, Heading for a Crash”, which claims that mothers who hover are setting themselves, their marriages, their friendships and their communities up for disaster.

I find so many problems with this piece. It marginalizes parents, most particularly mothers, of all walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds, styles, and income levels. The author draws unfair conclusions on the negative impact of this parenting style without offering proof. Nelson writes, “When people turn inward to their families, their communities also pay a high price.” This is blanket statement, discriminatory towards involved parents, regardless of whether they hover or not.

In September 2009, David Kerr, of Oregon State University’s psychology department, Deborah Capaldi, Katherine Pears and Lee Owen of the Oregon Social Learning Center, published the results of over 20 years of research on the impact of parenting styles on three generations of families and their communities. “Positive parenting”, defined as “warmth, monitoring (of) children’s activities, involvement, and consistency of discipline”, was found to extend benefits to the children, their children, and their communities. Delinquency levels, and drug and alcohol abuse were lower as a result of these practices; self-esteem, close personal relationships, and engagement with society were higher. Although Nelson cites sources and studies, they seemed to point nowhere definitive in the discussion of helicopter parenting. Robin Wilson’s study on the divorce rate of women with higher-level degrees suggests nothing about the effects of helicopter parenting. Absent is any mention of whether or not these women are in fact mothers.

“Erica” is vilified for her decision to monitor the programs her children watch, also for discussing the material with them. I’m still trying to figure out, after reading over this article 10 times, why this is a bad thing. A mother dialoguing with her children about things that they’ve seen and heard is “hovering” – a practice that will carry negative implications for Erica, her marriage, her friendships, and her community, according to Nelson.

Conversations with one’s children are windows of opportunity – to teach, to imprint, to shape their character, to gain insight into their minds, and simply to spend time with them.

Children today are inundated with an onslaught of information, mainly delivered through screens. Is it not the duty of an engaged, involved parent to filter the material and talk it over with their children, rather than leaving them to navigate it on their own?

Nelson writes, “Erica’s TV policy is not just exhaustive; it sounds exhausting.” News flash: parenting is exhausting. Parenting is a full-time, “totally consuming” job, regardless of your parenting style and choices. It just is, and there’s no way around it.

Jennifer L.G. Minear is a freelance writer living in Rockville, MD. Although NOT a “helicopter parent”, she is a very involved mother of 3 children who felt compelled to speak up in defense of all parents implicated in this article.


  • LindaJ

    I think the author of the article cited here lumps all kinds of attention parents may pay to their children and their activities into the same category. Monitoring a child’s TV, movie and internet activities seems very different from over-involvement in doing their homework and science projects for them. My understanding is that the term helicopter mom denoted more extreme involvement at an age and stage of development that could be seen as inappropriate (your over-involvement in your college-aged son’s application or class schedule) not the kinds of activities mentioned in the article. As an organization the National Association of Mothers' Centers has informed people about Common Sense Media and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood which both encourage parents to monitor their children’s media exposure. While that is not 100% possible, it is vital to have conversations with them about what they are seeing. We cannot expect children to process all the images and (mis)information they are fed on a daily basis. We have to help them develop their critical thinking skills and see through the marketing messages. This ties in to body image and self esteem issues, violence, bullying, sexism, and much much more.

  • rosanne

    I am amazed that this post has not been flooded with comments. Once again, parents (read mothers) are being warned that a particular parenting style (one that is extremely ill-defined, as Linda notes) will lead to damaged children, wrecked marriages, neglected communities and probably the ill-treatment of the family pets and the planet to boot. Why is it not acknowledged that we all parent from who we are — and we are all hardwired differently from very early on. The parent who stresses out easily or remains relaxed through most storms, who is patient or impatient, who remains calm in the midst of chaos or who has a great need for organization and order — these parents most likely exhibited similar traits when they were children in the playground. Over time we learn to tweak our behaviors,at least a little — to relax when too tense, tighten up when too lax, and generally end up not creating catastrophe wherever we go. But what is needed for most people to parent optimally (for them) is support, information delivered kindly, a good ear and a strong shoulder on which they can lean from time to time. What is not needed are warnings about the danger they can inflict when all most of us are doing or have done is parent with the best of intentions. Incredible.