Helicopter Parents Following Children into Their 20s?

helicopter parents

My Parents are Still Hovering! When does this Helicopter Parenting stop?

Boy oh Boy. Anytime I post something on helicopter parenting, the comment box goes nuts. Usually those who are commenting are the children themselves—the ones trying to get out from under their parents’ thumbs when it comes to school, new situations, going out, dating, and more. But get this—these children are hardly children anymore—they’re in their late teens, their 20s, or their 30s! When does this helicopter parenting stop?

Young adults are being treated like they’re still children:

Like Dee:

I am 18 years old, and I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t have a license and I don’t have a job. I am totally dependent on my parents. My dad is extremely overprotective. Sometimes I feel that he is deliberately holding me back from getting my license, because he hates it when I go out of the house and he prefers driving me to places himself. He wouldn’t let me ride with my friend who already has hers. Lately I feel that I would rather not go out at all than have him drive me everywhere, because he still makes me feel guilty for going out, as if I am letting him down or betraying him. –Dee

Or Christina–

I think I’m also a child of a pathologically overprotective parent. I am, however, in my early 20s. I live with my mother as my parents are divorced and things have got really bad lately. My sister and I are treated like 13 year olds. When we go out our mother calls us every 30 minutes to check up on us. Recently I had 96 missed calls on my cell when I didn’t reply. She has also threatened to send the police to the club we go to and has slapped and shouted at a guy (friend) who brought my sister and I home. Could you please give some suggestions about what we should do? We have already tried talking but she doesn’t want to understand. She thinks that what she does is right. –Christina

Of course, if I called my daughter 96 times and she didn’t answer, I would probably be panicked too. But I think there are 2 main problems here: (1) Parents wanting to know their children are safe and (2) the need for adult children to individuate and separate from their parents. It’s a control issue—but probably enforced out of live (not that love makes it any better or easier to deal with). There is also likely a trust issue– either parents are not trusting their children or they are not trusting who their children are with at any given time. Some of this we can understand– we want our children to be safe, warm, dry, happy, and loved– but some of it seems excessive. Some of it can be helpful– and some, detrimental.

Where it gets complicated is the living situation and in Dee’s situation, the lack of good transportation. The young adults still live in their parents’ house so the parents have made the assumption that the rules and the level of protection stay the same. Of course, this is a ridiculous idea. Children grow and change into adults and therefore, rules must change as well. Rules still should apply—but they should be commensurate with the developmental age of the people who live there. We all have rules—even spouses have rules for one another—even if they are unspoken (i.e. call when you’ll be late, don’t track mud into the house, clean up your own mess). Clearly everyone in the household should be respectful of one another and that means both giving people space and freedom and being respectful of feelings and the need to know that everyone is safe.

There are consequences of helicopter parenting. As we know from previous articles, helicopter parenting can lead to:
(1) Undermining children’s confidence

(2) Instilling fear of failure

(3) Stunting growth and development

(4) Raising anxiety levels

(5) Anger and resentment

But even our commentors had some consequences to add. Be forewarned—it’s not pretty.

Complete breaking of the ties:

I am an adopted child, and my adoptive mother is.. er was… extremely over-protective. We even lived in a very small town simply so she knew where we were at all times. Thankfully, I like to say that I”m “Grown-up”. I may only be 21 years old, but I am married, have two children, and even own my own home! Sadly, I’ve had to cut most of my ties with my parents, simply so I could live my life, the way I wanted to. Although it hurts to know that I’ve hurt them, the feeling of being my own person, after the 13 years I lived with them, for the first time! –Mikki

Stunted Growth, rebellion, frustration:

Well as I read over on what you wrote and what the topic points out I have to agree fully that they do exist. I’d say I might be the youngest person whose commented on this site. Truth be told I’m only a 14year old girl. I don’t really like the fact that there are overprotective parents out there, but I do know that they could be doing this because they love us and want to see us grow up in a safe environment. Though of course nothing goes as exactly planned. I have over protective parents and they both can be pretty annoying at times. I also have an older sister who’s about 20 years old and they won’t even let her date guys! /=o They said to me that I can’t date until I’m 24 and that’s only on a double date. Though the thing that really backfires on parents who are overprotective is that the child might feel a lack of faith from the parents, or it might cause a spark of rebellion in the child causing the child or teen to commit crimes or go to drugs and friends for relief. For me, well I just look up sites on the internet to see what the professionals have to say about this topic. I mean I’m not really allowed to go outside my own house unless it something that’s related with school or church. So to put this in a simple sentence. I got to the internet or television to blow off steam, but right now I really want to at least go out and exercise. Well thats about it. Man I feel better after writing this!

Parents—we must move forward to meet our children where they are. As they grow, new rules must develop and change with them. We don’t want to push our children so far away that they find it unpleasant to spend time with us or talk to us! We also don’t want our adult children to believe they are incapable of taking care of themselves. You can still be a great parent without being a hyper-overprotective one.

I’d love to hear your comments on the topic. Let’s hammer this out. As previously discussed, I am planning to lead a teleconference on the topic as it’s become a very important and popular issue on our blog. Let me know of your interest through Facebook or here on our blog.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Facebook comments:

3 replies
  1. Aaron Y.
    Aaron Y. says:

    My mom had two kids from a previous marriage, but both are grown up and out of the house. I am my father’s only child, however. I am 16 and going to be going off to college in 2 years. I believe that my father is finally realizing that and apparently wants to be around me as much as possible. He follows me everywhere around the house, comes into my room to make sure that I am there (not that I run away), constantly asks other people where I am, and actually follows me closely around stores (I saw him looking around for me at Blockbuster as I hid behind a shelf). I recently spent a week with many members of my family on vacation. We stayed in a condo, which makes it easy for him to keep an eye on me. This makes me feel extremely smothered and I can’t help but talking back every now and then, and since he quit smoking 5 years ago, he has been in a bad mood ever since, basically, which never helps in these situations. I’m not sure if this is helicopter parenting, empty nest syndrome, or a combination, but if any help can be given, it would be greatly appreciated.

  2. bh
    bh says:

    I have a friend whose mother has not cut the apron strings for over 59 years. The parent can not bear to see the adult-child even go from one room to the next without asking “where’s Susie”. I really don’t know how the mother has been able to maintain the apron-strings but she has and very well. I guess, it was the everyday phone call, sometimes several times a day (this has happened for decades). Moreover, the helicopter hovering that the mother did over the adult-child was out-of-this-world. This short narative falls very short of telling the extent of this situation of a helicopter parent. Sad to say.

  3. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    I think helicopter parenting is often times about the parent wanting to feel accepted by their children and refusing to let go. I’ve had problems with a helicopter parent as well. Mine is probably an extreme case: In my 20′s I decided to go abroad for graduate school, and I woke up one morning to find that I had a new neighbor – my dad. At first I was happy to see him, but over the next few months, my dad would be sneaking by my apartment ever 5 minutes to see what I was doing.

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