Twice a year, I look forward to intensely examining my friends’ Facebook feeds. See, every December and May when college semesters end, I get to read about some of the funniest encounters between my colleagues and their students’ parents. The first time I read a post about a parent emailing their child’s professor about an unsatisfactory grade, I thought it was a funny, once-in-a-lifetime act of a parent refusing to cut the umbilical cord. As each semester passes, however, I have come to realize that many parents cross the line when it comes to involvement in their children’s lives. In fact, I have seen many parents of adult children swan dive across the line of appropriateness.
The term “helicopter mom” is so prevalent in our culture that the expression even has its own entry in the infamous online Urban Dictionary. The helicopter parent is, “a hovering and controlling, but well-meaning, parent who gets way too involved in her child’s life to the point of doing things that are completely inappropriate,” but according to George Sachs, Psy. D, the Drone Parent takes things even further and is silent in their movement, limiting the child’s awareness to their presence.
How to Spot a Drone
While calling a child’s professor to discuss grades or calling their employer to ask for a day off on behalf of an adult may be an obvious clue that you are a drone parent, there are many other signs of a controlling parent. According to Baton Rouge and Ascension family counselor John Hall, LPC, a major sign of spotting a drone parent is when “your child has minimal ability to handle disappointment, and you find yourself handling your child’s problems for them.” This can mean intervening when your child has a conflict with a friend, buying them presents or treats as consolation prizes, or even completing school projects for them to ensure a good grade.
Besides intervening on behalf of your child, another hallmark of a drone parent is when you put a friendship with your child ahead of a parent-child relationship. Says Hall, “when you are more concerned with being their friend than being a parent, or when your child feels entitled to his or her expectations” then it may be time to reassess your parenting style.
Checking your child’s every move whether it be on social media or the physical locations that they visit is also an indicator that you’re looking at a drone parent, notes counselor Stacey Moreau, LPC. While real threats exist for children online, parents can find a healthy way to know what’s happening in their kid’s life without turning into Big Brother. For social media, parents and their young children should come to an agreement. The child writes down all username and password info for his accounts and puts them in a sealed envelope. The envelope stays in a common area of the home, and the parents agree to only open the envelope in case of an emergency. This should lessen parental fear without the child feeling smothered.
Why Do They Hover?
Being a drone mom—or dad—may be born from a desire to do what’s best for your child, but according to Moreau, more harm than good comes from this parenting style. “Drone parents may fear the child doing wrong things that could embarrass them.” Hall adds that “the desire to protect your child is a natural instinct in parenting, yet overprotecting can rob them of valuable opportunities to learn how to overcome adversity and what healing from pain looks like.” It’s a natural instinct to want to shelter the ones we love from pain and hardship, but learning how to deal with negative feelings, situations, and consequences is necessary to raise a well-adjusted adult. When parents hover over their child’s every decision, the child loses the precious chance to learn independence and resiliency. “Parents become overprotective often because of their own anxiety of what their child will experience due to consequences or pain,” Hall adds.
In addition to shielding children from the realities of life, drone parents also hover out of fear of being replaced. As Moreau notes, “drone parents fear losing their child to peers.” Children of all ages need to have friends in their own age group. When parents act like friends to their children, they may find that their child acts out in rebellion to the perceived smothering; they may even suffer difficulty in developing their own identity.
Black Hawk Down
Maybe after reading this, you’re starting to worry that your protective instinct as a parent has tread into inappropriate intervention in your child’s life. What do you do now? Moreau implores you to “release the child! Let the child make mistakes and suffer natural consequences. If the parent has a say in every decision a child makes, the child cannot grow.” And that really is what all of us want for our children—for them to grow into productive adults capable of dealing with anything life throws their way. We just need to give them the opportunity to practice doing so.
Parents can also take a timeout when they feel the need to intervene. If you’re tempted to call Little Suzie’s mom because she didn’t want to play with your Little Jane at recess, ask yourself if your intervention is to support your child through an uncomfortable life lesson or rather to soothe your own apprehension with unpleasant emotions. Parents will do everyone a service if they can accept that their desire to intervene is often an attempt to calm their own anxiety. Hall notes that learning how to handle disappointment is far more important than learning how to avoid it.
“Parents have a precious small window to be involved in the development of their child. It is important that we not only protect our kids from certain dangers but also that we show them how to overcome adversities in this world. Pain is going to be a part of their lives, and it’s better for them to start dealing with this pain while you are still in a position to guide them through it.” ■
Quiz: Are You a Drone Parent?
Worried that your interventions are going a bit too far? Take this quick quiz to see if you might be a drone parent.
Your son is a freshman in college. How often do you call to check in?
B. A few times a week
Your daughter comes home from middle school and tells you that she wasn’t invited to a friend’s sleepover. What do you do?
A. Ask her about how being excluded makes her feel
B. Tell her, “That’s life!”
C. Call the friend’s mother to discuss the situation
Your teenage son is sick and can’t make it to practice after school. What’s your course of action?
A. Have your son contact the coach and notify him of his absence
B. Tell your son he’s going to practice anyway
C. Call the coach yourself to let them know your son can’t make it and to please excuse him
Your sixth grader has a science project due tomorrow. It’s not done, and you know she’ll get a poor grade on it. Besides, she needs sleep! What do you do?
A. Help her work on the project until bedtime
B. Let her suffer the consequences of waiting until the last minute
C. Let her get her sleep and stay up finishing the project to make sure she gets an A
Your six-year-old is hungry, but it’s not dinner time. What’s your solution?
A. Tell her to tough it out until dinner time
B. Tell her to fix herself a snack
C. Fix a snack for her
Take a look at your responses. If you answered “C” to three or more of these questions, you may want to examine your parenting behaviors further to determine if you’re a drone parent.