How helicopter parents can do more harm than good with their children

By Sandra Ali - Anchor/Reporter, Dane Sager Kelly - Web Producer

It's an important distinction that is often difficult for parents to figure out.



An expert weighed in on when parents should back off and let your children figure it out, because too much assistance can hurt in the long run.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit recently did a study on social services in the community. One of the things they found was a real crisis among teenagers. 

Stacey Ptak admits she's a helicopter parent.

"I don't think it's a negative thing," Ptak said. "Especially in this world that we are in right now."

Ptak has a say in everything her children do. Her first time mom anxieties were multiplied when she had triplets. Jacob, Benjamin and Sarah are 10-years-old.

"They will be downstairs watching TV and Jacob will ask for ice cream and I will literally come in the kitchen and dish it out, put the whip cream on it and the chocolate syrup exactly the way he likes it and walk downstairs and give it to him," Ptak said.

Julie Lythcott-Haims is a former dean at Stanford University and she's written a book on the dangers of helicopter parents. 

"Even though act with the best of intentions by doing every little thing for our kids, we end up undercutting their chances for striving out in the real world," Lythcott-Haims said.  

Working at Stanford, Julie started to see a trend among incoming freshmen students.

"A lot of parental involvement students are less familiar with their own self," Lythcott-Haims said. "Less confident in their ability to make a choice or solve a problem."

She said it's never too late to start changing things, but the older the child -- the harder it will be to change these habbits. 

"First you do it for them, then you do it with them, then you turn the tables and you watch them do it," Lythcott-Haims said. "Finally they can do it themselves."

She said it applies to everything, from making a meal, packing their bag and even crossing the street. 

If you are having a hard time backing off or wondering if you are this type of parent, Lythcott-Haims said to look for three clues.

  1. "Do you say, 'we' when you mean your kid? 'We are on the soccer team. We're applying to college early.' No you aren't. Your kid is," Lythcott-Haims said. "You should be saying, 'My child, my son, my daughter.'"
  2. "Are you arguing with the adults in their life? Teachers, principals, coaches, referees? Stop. Your kid needs to learn to advocate for themselves with respect."
  3. "Are you doing your kid's homework? Nobody wants to admit to doing this, but everywhere I go, parents are doing this."

Ptak said she's slowly trying to back off and give Jacob, Benjamin and Sarah more responsibilities.

"We are all a work in progress, I think," Ptak said. 

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