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How to Move From Helicopter Parents to Lighthouse Leaders | Part One

I want your feedback on this issue. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, employer, coach or youth pastor—you have to admit, we’re hearing more stories these days about how helicopter parents are “hovering” over their kids.

Just a few weeks ago, a report was released that Aubrey Ireland, a 21-year old student at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, got a restraining order on her parents for “stalking her.”


photo credit: The U.S. Army via photopin cc

Aubrey told the court that despite making the dean’s list, her parents routinely drove the 600 miles from Leawood, KS to Cincinnati, OH to make unannounced visits to her at school. In addition, they installed software on her phone and computer to track her every move. The student even reported her mother wanted to stay on Skype all night with her, basically to watch her sleep.

Hmm. Sometimes parents just don’t know when to let go. The student told the court, “I was a dog with a collar on.”

David and Judy Ireland now cannot get within 500 feet of their daughter, and due to this order, they’re requesting the school pay back the tuition they’ve spent on their daughter. They accused her of drug abuse, promiscuity, mental illness, and believe she needs them to watch her. It won’t surprise you that Aubrey is an only child.

Helicopter parents aren’t new. For years now they’ve ignored boundaries, neglected boundaries and embarrassed their kids. Sometimes they even do this at their child’s workplace. This past year, researchers at the University of West Virginia conducted a study of 340 students and discovered that many just get used to parent’s constant involvement. My research tells me the average college student is in touch with mom or dad eleven times a day. Almost 70% say it is “somewhat or very appropriate” to receive help from parents on papers, resumes or letters. One fifth of students believe its fine to have their parents contact a prospective employer. Wow.

Why Do Parent’s Hover Over Their Kids?

As a dad, I understand the desire to want the best for my kids, to want them safe and to have all the advantage possible as they leave home. But “hovering” is too much. Why do we do this?  Let me speculate. Could it be…

  1. We are control freaks.  We don’t trust things will work out without our help.
  2. We fear they’re unready. We feel we’ve not prepared them to be on their own.
  3. We have our own emotional needs. Our baggage makes us need to be needed.

But what do you think? Let’s converse about why we adults obsess this way and become helicopter parents.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to be a caregiver without hovering. See you then.


  1. Rob Cooksey on January 7, 2013 at 7:11 am

    The only explanation for why a parent would continue screaming, “you can’t make it without me” is because their personal identity is fused with the identity of the child; which is very dangerous. Nickelodeon research says that the generation gap is gone. Parents are raising kids in homes where they play together, stay together, earn together, spend together, listen to music together, play video games together….and we already know that more and more parents have less parenting value passed on from their previous generation. How sad to think that these parents may be doing the best they know how! This is a call out to our schools and social agencies. Parenting skills: Teach them.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      Great reminder, Rob. Parenting skills are essential and we can’t assume that parents have this knowledge.

  2. Steve Coleman on January 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

    As a Minister to Youth and Family, I have seen for years, this self esteem issue on the rise and it’s not in the students, but the mom’s and dad’s of those children. The parents freak out if their child messes up and makes a mistake because it ‘may’ be a reflection of their parenting style. The parent’s self esteem is so wrapped up in their children that the parents became divorce statistics when the now young adults go off to college, the parents don’t have a relationship with each other so they walk away.

    I am all for being involved in the student’s lives but not to the place of smothering them, or allowing them to fail so they can learn from their mistakes; we did. Sure we need to be there so they are not taken advantage of, or abused by an authourity figure, but getting back up when we fall down is what makes us stronger! Parents that hover are trying to help their child by protecting them but in reality they are doing them a disservice. This keeps them from thinking on their own, from learning to move in a world full of adversity, or being a contributing part of society and life.

    I have seen this to the degree that once they graduate from college and go to the Real world to work and the job gets hard, the boss yells at them, or the job has hard expecations, the young adult moves back home and reverts to children. This is Wrong and sad! Help them grow up by allowing them to fail, mess up, make mistakes, and skin their knees while at home. Be there for them as a safety net, but nets have holes and it looks like falling will hurt. Also give your children responsibilities NOW at home and stick to it. If they fail to complete the task then there are true and real consequences for this actions. Stay the course!

    I tell our parents that this is important to do so. The United States Government has a firm date every April 15th! Trust me I know. They will give an extension but it will cost you something. Parents have to give firm guidance and hold the date, firm.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Great points, Steve. Thanks for sharing examples from real families you’ve worked with. Keep up the good work!

  3. Nikki Bowers on January 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I am a Christian school principal and I see this all of the time. So much that I have been cursed out about grades, a child not receiving a first place in a declamation speech, and for just simply getting in trouble. “My child deserves more, they are the best.” This sets them up for failure as we all know. Parenting is very much like teaching. I believe in the gradual release model in everything I do, whether it is working with adults as an instructional leader, with students in a classroom, or my own children ages 9 and 11. The gradual release model is I do, you watch. You and I will do it together. You do, I watch/coach. You do it on your own. My goal is to make everyone independent. I do not do many things that kids can do for themselves.
    What is it going to take to get parents to see this? I am saddened by this and burnt out not by kids, but by parents. We used to be preparing kids for the path, but now we are preparing the path for the kids. It has to stop, but I must say, where do you begin? Teach them we say. How? Where? What does it look like? We have parenting seminars and the only ones that come are the ones already doing what they should be doing. I would love to hear input.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      Great questions, Nikki. There are unfortunately no easy answers. I think you are on the right track with your gradual release model. Offering parenting seminars is a great step but I know it’s got to be frustrating when the parents that need to be there don’t show up. Sometimes it can feel like you’re parenting the students and the parents 🙂 Keep pushing both groups forward!

  4. Roger on January 7, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Alot of times parents don’t want their children to fall into and get involved in things they were.
    Sometimes they know that they haven’t set up their children for success or haven’t been successful themselves and try to make them.
    And then there are those who have issues with trust that can’t let go because of their own insecurities.

    • Tim Elmore on January 10, 2013 at 12:00 am

      Great analysis – all those reasons definitely contribute to the problems we see with some parents today.

  5. Sandra25 on January 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    First let me preface my comment by stating that I am a Christian and operate from a Christian worldview, and I do not apologize for that.

    I think what we see with parents hovering over their children is symptomatic of a society moving ever further from the Biblical model for relating to God. Parents who hover over their children evidence a lack of trust in the Creator, due in part to superficial to non-existent relationships with God. Also, hovering is a type of idolatry, where parents place their children (and in truth, themselves and their “ability” to parent) in the place that rightfully should be occupied by our Sovereign God. Hovering parents trade the eternal perspective of an infinite, omniscient God for their own temporal, finite, and limited perspective; yet, they are oblivious to the consequences of such a trade. The Bible provides instruction and guidance regarding parent-child relationships, including properly raising, teaching, disciplining, and interacting with our children. The further our society moves from the Biblical model and as people know and trust God less and less, the more we will
    witness the outcome, which includes hovering parents, of such behavior.

    • Tim Elmore on January 10, 2013 at 12:01 am

      Great point, Sandra. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  6. Vipin Ramdas on November 28, 2013 at 2:48 am

    One of the primary reasons is our insecurity. We do not want our kids to make the same mistakes as we did. We are afraid to see them fail. We want them to become who we perhaps could not become. So while the intentions are good, the results seldom turn out the way we want them to be. We have to remember that our kids are individuals themselves and our job as parents is to provide them the support they need. When they fail give them the motivation to keep going, help them make decisions but not make them for them and so on. The key is to learn to be “detached” from them. Being detached does not mean we don’t care. It just means we separate ourselves from the emotions so that we can provide a practical and unbiased view.

    • Tim Elmore on December 5, 2013 at 6:29 am

      Beautifully said. Thank you, Vipin, for commenting and sharing your thoughts!

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How to Move From Helicopter Parents to Lighthouse Leaders | Part One