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Are you a 'helicopter' parent?
Kanchan Maleskar
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February 22, 2007

7-year old Kiara longs to play with friends -- without her mother constantly watching her every step of the way. She has two swimming coaches, one in the pool, the other outside. Kiara's mother could be called a helicopter parent -- one who constantly hovers protectively around her child in case he or she needs her. And, although the intentions behind this may be good, some parents go too far, says Jyoti Parchure, a facilitator of 'challenge opportunities', an organisation working in experiential learning methods in Pune.

As you are unwilling to let your child do anything by himself or herself, your child is unable to learn from mistakes. The February cover story of TIME magazine, What Teachers Hate About Parents, called such parents 'pushy dads' and 'hovering moms' who insist on intervening in their children's lives long after they are old enough to take care of things on their own.

In other words, helicopter parents are simply unable or unwilling to let their children grow up.

Are you a helicopter parent?

Ironically, helicopter parents start out as effective parents. The problem arises only when they don't allow their children to make independent decisions of their own. For instance, Kiara's mother insists her daughter draw and colour only pictures she wants her to. All parents want what is best for their children, but some fail to draw the line between love and smothering, which often leads to dependency.

Do these signs describe you?

If your answer to these questions is yes, you need to stop and rethink your parenting habits.

Jyoti Modak, who runs a weekend club for kids aged 4-10 believes that parents' involvement is good, but it can be detrimental when taken too far.

The impact on your child

~ The most obvious effect is on the mental capacity of your child. Such parenting makes the child unable to fend for himself or herself, resulting in over-dependency on the parents.

~ Children of overprotective parents are unable to make even small decisions for themselves, like what to wear or what to eat. "As children become accustomed to having their parents take care of every aspect of their lives, they feel that this absolves them of all responsibility and expect their parents to continue taking care of them," says Modak. Radhika Bansal, a teacher in Bangalore, says she knows of a 60-year old woman who still irons her son's clothes. "She practically runs the house from grocery shopping to school admissions for her grandchildren," she says.

~ Chlildren of such parents are also likely to be dysfunctional in the workplace and have difficulty in parenting.

Striking a balance

According to Parchure, there is no uniform rule for parenting or a formula for letting go. The degree to which you leave your child on his or her own will depend on his age, maturity and the kind of lifestyle (working/non working, nuclear/joint family). However, parents can imbibe in their children qualities and traits that will equip them to take independent decisions. This can be done by slowly letting the child make small independent decisions of his or her own, like choosing what colours to paint or what book to read.

Slowly wean your child by allowing him or her to think for himself or herself. Let them make their own friends, though you could screen them for yourself later. Let the child have fun on his or her own in a safe, controlled environment. You can check on your child every now and then, but don't hover around.

Get a life

Most stay-at-home moms are more likely to hover around their children simply because they have the time. However, working moms 'hover' too by calling on an hourly basis to check on their children. Geeta Bakshi, a gold medalist in economics, gave up her job when she had a son. "As I was at home, I constantly nagged my son," she says. "One day, when my 4-year old refused to play with a toy I had insisted on, I yelled at him saying I had given up my job to spend 'quality time' with him," she recalls. Her son then innocently looked at her, and said, "Mama, let me start working, then we won't have to spend so much time together."

It was an eye opener for Geeta. "I realised I was spending all my time around my son, expecting him to behave in a certain way, not allowing him to grow on his own." After six months of introspection, Geeta finally took up a part-time job.

Experts say a hobby, an assignment or anything not related to parenting can help to curb the 'helicopter' tendencies.

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