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Definition: helicopter parent from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1989) : a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child


Summary Article: Helicopter Parents from The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World

The term helicopter parents became popular in both media and institutions of higher education in the early 2000s, even though it was coined in 1990 by Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay in their book, Parenting With Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Indeed, Cline and Fay were the first to suggest that “some parents think that love means rotating their lives around their children. They are helicopter parents. They hover over and rescue their children whenever trouble arises.” As a result, the term helicopter parents is a metaphor for parents who “hover” over their children, constantly micromanaging their children's lives, making decisions for their children, and/or trying to prevent any failures or mistakes by their children.

Although the term is applied to parents of all children, it is used most often in the context of parents of college-age children who plan their children's class schedules, manage their children's dorm lives, and/or even help write their children's papers. Many people see technology as a key factor in the development of helicopter parenting because parents can stay in constant contact with their children via cell phones, e-mail, and instant messaging. In response to helicopter parents’ demand for “two-way” communication between themselves and the schools they send their children to, many colleges and universities have expanded their parent programs, increased the number of parent liaisons, and now have “parent-only” talks or orientation sessions designed to encourage parents to separate from and allow their children to make their own decisions.

While many experts and educators perceive helicopter parenting as problematic because children are too dependent on their parents, some believe that helicopter parenting may benefit children because children report that they feel closer and more connected to their parents than previous generations.

Baby Boom Parents

Helicopter parents are of the baby boom generation, while their children are considered millennials because they were born between the early 1980s and 2000. The millennial generation is unlike any other because they have been raised within an intensive parenting approach and are considered the most protected children in history: from bike helmets to mandatory child-safety laws and regulations, scheduled play dates by parents, and, finally, constant supervision by parents, teachers, or other caregivers. Consequently, millennials have been intensely protected and under the constant scrutiny of their parents.

Moreover, because millennials have grown up with technology, it allows them to be in constant contact with their parents in ways that are unlike previous generations. As a result, while previous generations celebrated their independence from their parents and left home for college as a way to “get away from the parents,” millennials tend to feel close to their parents, often referring to parents as their “best friends,” and are used to and expect to have the constant connection that technology affords them with their parents, even when they leave for college.

While helicopter parenting is the opposite of neglectful parenting, many view helicopter parenting as negative and problematic for both parents and children. For parents, helicopter parenting is thought of as indicative of parents’ inability to foster independence in their children or the inability to “let go” when their children leave home for the first time to attend college. For children, while the intentions of helicopter parents are to help their children, the message communicated to children when their parents are constantly hovering is that they are incapable of managing their own lives.

Because helicopter parents also try to protect their children from negative feelings and/or experiences, children also come to believe that both are problematic and should be avoided. Thus, rather than learn that mistakes and failures, while difficult, are some of the most important learning experiences and opportunities to take responsibility for their own choices and behavior, children of hovering parents come to fear or even avoid any negative feelings and/or experiences and fail to learn how to take responsibility for their own lives and behavior.

See Also:

Childcare, Educational Administrators, College and University, Internet.

Further Readings
  • Cline, F. W. and Fay, J. Parenting With Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press, 1990.
  • Colavecchio-Van Sickler, S “Mommy, Tell My Professor He's Not Nice!: (Over)involved Baby Boomer Parentsand Cell PhonesRedefine Adulthood.” http://www.sptimes.com/2006/06/19/State/Mommy__tell_my _profes.shtml (accessed January 2010).
  • Fortin, J “Hovering Parents Need to Step Back.” http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/family/02/04/hm.heli copter.parents/index.html (accessed January 2010).
  • Gibbs, N Time. “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.” http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1940395-4,00.html (accessed January 2010).
  • Howe, N. and Strauss, W. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.
  • Hallstein, D. Lynn O'Brien
    © SAGE Publications, Inc

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