With all the cases of child tragedies shown in the media, it’s no wonder that parents can’t help but be overprotective of their children. It’s common to hover anxiously and, at the first hint of a problem, zone in and parachute your child away. This is called being a helicopter parent and is actually linked to the inception and maintenance of addiction in children. The child grows up without necessary self-reliance skills and becomes increasingly trapped and helpless. Eventually, he or she turns to addiction as a coping mechanism. The parent’s answer then is often further protection, which unfortunately solidifies the addiction even more.
The Helicopter Parent in Action
The helicopter parent stands guard over all aspects of the child’s life. When the child makes a mistake, rather than letting him or her face the unwelcome consequences of this action, the parent comes charging in to advocate and negotiate solutions and clear away the hurdles so the child’s life can become peachy again. The following are ways a typical helicopter parent enacts this intervention:
- Contacts a teacher, college professor or the education administrators to challenge a grade
- Gets involved in playground disputes or arguments with college roommates
- Covers for the child when there are problems with law and order
- Does written assignments for the child
Implications for the Child
Studies have shown that some children feel disempowered when parents fight all their battles. They feel dependent and incompetent when it comes to managing challenging situations on their own. As a result, during college or at a new job, they’re unable to multitask without parental supervision. For instance, a child may have difficulty doing two tasks on the same day – writing an assignment and keeping his or her room clean. He or she will need daily phone calls from the helicopter parent to provide direction. Frustration at their helplessness may lead children to drugs and alcohol. Faced with an addicted child, the helicopter parent in turn unconsciously enables the addiction by making excuses for it or covering it up to prevent the user from suffering legal consequences. The addiction continues unchecked for several years. According to a study, about 20 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 18 and 25 are on drugs. Many are believed to have started in their teens. Protecting an addiction means the child receives no addiction treatment and therefore no recovery. The children themselves do not take the initiative in their own recovery. They feel no sense of responsibility and accountability. Typically, they see themselves as victims and blame others.
Undoing the Damage
Ironically, successful recovery rests with the power of the helicopter parent. Since the parent played a significant role in the onset of the addiction it follows that the parent has a significant role to play in the reversal of the addiction. The first thing would be to inquire about professional help for the addicted child and then encourage enrollment for treatment. The parent should get a commitment to a recovery program that the child maps out individually. There should also be a strict “no drugs or alcohol” policy in the house with penalties for breaching the rule – penalties that are actually enforced such as throwing the child out of the house or stopping financial assistance. Once the therapy starts, the helicopter parent should expect to be put under a microscope so the child can get the right help during recovery.
Much of the recovery will depend on how the helicopter parent reverses the overprotective tendencies. Rather than play fixer, the parent should allow the child to face the consequences of all the negative choices taken. For example, if a child is caught in possession of drugs or doesn’t do school assignments, he or she should face the music. There are many instances in which the parent can still play the role of listener and consultant, talking the child through the different solutions that the child has planned and thought through already on an individual level. It’s a learning process for both parent and child but with practice and patience, there should be progress.
The helicopter parent has a significant role to play in the user’s long-term sobriety program because of the tremendous influence the parent has on the child. However, the parent needs to loosen his or her grip to allow the child to acquire necessary coping mechanisms or the child will not be able to cope without his or her assistance and could easily slide back into addiction.