This post was originally written for the website Summit Series for Families.
A Google search of the phrase “helicopter parents” will lead you to Wikipedia, which defines helicopter parents as those who pay “…extremely close attention to his or her child’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.” You will even find the term “lawnmower parents”, who “…attempt to smooth down and mow down all obstacles…” their children encounter. What’s the difference between being a caring, concerned, and involved parent, and one who hovers and interferes? It’s a pretty thin line to tread. It is instinctual for a mom to want to protect her child, but when is it okay to do and how should it be done? If you decide to intervene in your daughter’s social problems, here are some suggestions that will make your involvement helpful instead of hurtful, thus putting you in the category of helicopter parent.
• DO be realistic. When there is a problem between two girls, rarely is one blameless and the other completely at fault. There is usually plenty of give and take going on. Ask plenty of questions of your daughter about how she reacted to nasty texts or comments. Ask to see the texts or her Facebook page. Get the facts you need to really determine how involved you need to be.
• DO plan what to say if you intend to confront another parent. It is wise to avoid confronting a child. It is too easy to misconstrue the intentions of an adult when dealing with a child. The adult WILL come off looking like a bully. Instead, confront a parent but ONLY when absolutely necessary! Plan what to say so that you don’t ramble. You will be better understood if you can be concise.
• DO bring evidence. If your daughter has received texts, emails, voice mails, Facebook comments, or Tweets that are problematic, bring them as proof that you are not making things up. Be careful not to take things out of context, though, to make them look like something they are not. Also be sure that you don’t accuse the other girl of something your own daughter has done. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter who started it. If they are both doing it, they are both at fault.
• DO have a goal in mind. If you are going to offer advice to your daughter or speak to a parent, start with the end in mind. What do you want to happen as a result? Do you want the problem to stop? Do you want the guilty party to be punished? Are you just trying to get even? If you’re honest with yourself, you might be surprised by your answer. But that answer will drive what you say and what you do.
• DON’T blindside anyone. The element of surprise will not work in your favor. If you feel the need to confront another parent on behalf of your child, showing up at the person’s house unannounced will only put that person on the defensive and jeopardize any chance of reconciliation. Call or email first and ask to talk. I have found that a very effective approach is to simply say, “I need your help.” It is friendly and implies that you don’t want to argue; rather, you’d like to work together.
• DON’T use the word “you” more than you use the word “I”. Using the word “you” will only come off as accusatory and hostile and make the other person extremely defensive.
• DON’T be vague about what you expect from your child to end the conflict. It is not good enough to simply say, “Just stay away from her,” or, “You just need to leave each other alone.” Instead, use very specific language: “Don’t talk to her when you see her in the hall at school. Delete her from your friends list on Facebook and block her. Don’t send her any more text messages. Don’t talk about her to anyone, not even your best friends. If someone asks what’s going on, simply tell him or her that you don’t want to talk about it.” These directives are clear and will make your daughter’s life easier in the long run because the expectations are so precise.
• DON’T involve anyone else. This can be a tough one for your daughter. Her friends will be eager to circle the wagons in defense of their friend. While the sentiment is touching, it will only escalate the problems and quickly spiral out of control. As a parent, you can only offer instructions and reprimands to your own child, and if another child is acting on behalf of your daughter, you have no control over those words or actions. This is why it is so important to be sure to tell your daughter, “Don’t talk to anyone about this issue.”
• DO contact the proper authorities. If your daughter is being called names, it might be a bullying situation and therefore proper to contact the dean or principal at your daughter’s school. If she is being threatened, then contacting the police is not out of line. But contacting the police because one girl called your daughter fat is way out of proportion. In the long run, over-reacting will only hurt your credibility and make it more difficult for you to report real issues to the people in charge when you need them.
As difficult as it may be to stand by and watch your daughter in the midst of conflict, you will do her more service by allowing her to problem solve on her own with a subtle guiding hand from you. If you step in and deal with the issue, she may learn a little about how to handle conflict from watching you, but there is a great risk that she will continue to come to you every time she needs a battle fought. In the long run, she will be weak and dependent when what you really want is a daughter is strong and independent.
Here are some resources for learning about helicopter parenting:
Are You a Helicopter Parent? Quiz
Effects of Helicopter Parenting