When we started having kids, I never gave much thought to the type of parent I would be. I had great parents, and I assumed I would be the perfect parent. How much time and energy have you put into what kind of mom or dad you want to be? Have you taken those quizzes – Am I a good parent? I know I have and sometimes the questions scared me. I wanted to answer truthfully, but I was afraid of my score!
I’m not here to discuss how to be a perfect parent. What I want to look at is helicopter parenting and bulldozer parenting – two trends in parenting that can have serious repercussions. Have you heard of them?
Helicopter vs Bulldozer Parents
In 1990, child psychiatrist Foster Cline and educator Jim Fay described helicopter parenting in their book Parenting with Love and Logic. On Parents.com, helicopter parenting is described as an overprotective parent who controls most aspects of their child’s life. They intervene and obsess about success and failure. “The risk-assessing tendencies of helicopter parents are often driven by fear and anxiety that can hinder a child’s ability to learn integral life skills, confidence, and self-sufficiency.”
Bulldozer parents (sometimes called lawnmower or snowplow) are basically worse than a helicopter parent in that they overprotect and try to solve all of their kid’s confrontations; they clear all obstacles from their child’s path. David McCullough coined the term in his book You Are Not Special. Remember the college admissions scandal in 2019? That is an extreme example of bulldozer parenting.
Does one of these categories hit home with you? Don’t be scared! I want to show you some examples of each style, see how they can impact our kids, and how we can make some changes.
Examples of helicopter parenting:
- In any given situation you want your kiddo to be safe whether it’s training wheels past the age they’re needed, to constantly following them around the playground so they don’t fall. You will do anything to keep them from coming to any kind of harm.
- If your kiddo has a problem with a friend, you sort it out. Making the decisions on who they can be friends with.
- You do your child’s homework.
- Picking their hobbies
- You refuse to let them learn life skills like cooking, cleaning, or auto repair because they might get hurt.
Unfortunately, helicopter parenting can extend into an adult child’s life. I’ve heard of parents who go collect their kid’s laundry from college, wash, dry, and fold it, and return it to them. Some parents even interfere with college professors.
Bulldozer parenting examples:
- Do you argue with the teacher about your child’s grade and pressure to have it changed?
- Do you call your adult child to wake them for class or work?
- Have you bribed a coach to get your kiddo on a specific team or play a particular position?
- Basically, do you bulldoze (roll over, remove) all obstacles your child might face?
Helicopter and bulldozing parenting are real. So, what can we do if we either see ourselves in those examples or want to avoid becoming them?
How it influences the kids
I think it’s important to understand how either of these types of parenting can impact our kids. I don’t think we as parents go into this thinking we want to hurt our children but knowing how it can be a problem down the road is vital to avoiding the situation altogether. Here are some repercussions for our kids:
- Children don’t grow up with the independent nature they need. They don’t know how to live on their own.
- Bulldozer parenting especially breeds a sense of entitlement in kids. I spoke with a couple teachers I know, and this is a huge problem. That feeling of entitlement leads to major disrespect of teachers and any authority figure.
- Kids feel a lack of confidence.
- Because of a lack of confidence, they may have more depression and anxiety issues.
- Children who don’t face sadness or rejection become adults who can’t face those things and have no skills to do so.
What we can do to change or avoid becoming a helicopter or bulldozer parent
It’s not too late if you find that you fall into one of these parenting styles! I’ve found a number of ways to step back and change our ways.
First, be realistic. Are you truly a helicopter or bulldozer parent? If so, write down the ways you think you are and ask a close family member or friend what they think. Don’t get mad at them if they say you are. Remember, you’re looking for truth and are willing to change.
Second, if you do fall into one of those categories, what kind of parent do you want to be? Do some research. There are many different parenting styles including free-range, gentle parenting, lighthouse, and satellite. You have the opportunity to make a choice and a change.
Breaking the helicopter parent habit
In Malinda Carlson’s article, 10 Warning Signs That You Might Be a Helicopter Parent (And How to Stop), she listed eight ways she broke the habit of being a helicopter parent. One of the things she stressed was stepping back in increments. It’s kind of like quitting smoking – we know it’s bad for our health, but going cold turkey is rough!
Fourth, if something comes up and you feel yourself about to jump in and rescue, take a moment and talk to your child. Do they truly need your help (think toddler running into traffic), or can they learn from this situation even if it hurts a bit (friendship issue or bad grade)? You might be surprised to learn that they want to try and work things out themselves!
I’ll be honest and admit I’ve (a) called or texted a kid to wake them up for class or work and (b) “suggested” ways to email or text a professor. I stopped waking kids up a few years ago, and I’m going to try very hard to ask, “How did you handle that?” before I offer my advice.
It’s not all bad
There are some pretty serious cons for our kids if we are, or choose to stay, helicopter or bulldozer parents. However, I think we can take some of the good intentions and use them wisely. Helicopter parents are overprotective, but they might save their kiddo from future problems. How can you make this a positive without causing issues?
Bulldozer parents might think their child is the smartest and bulldoze anything standing in the way of their child’s success leading to an entitlement issue. On the positive side though, their kids might have a strong sense of safety or security. I think there can be a healthy balance in there.
I was talking to a friend once about our adult kids and she made a statement that is so profound and definitely applies to helicopter and bulldozer parenting. This is what she said: unsolicited advice is often seen as criticism.
I don’t know about you, but that hit me hard. And I think it can be applied to our younger kids as well. What do they truly need us to help them with? What do they need training in and then the freedom to do it their way? In many, many things our way is not always the best way, and it’s never the only way.
So, from one parent who is still learning and growing after 32 years – we’ve got this! Find out what you need to do and make a choice and a change! Your kid and many other people in his/her life will thank you.
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