Taking Risks is Good For Your Kids: The Danger of Helicopter Parenting

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What is helicopter parenting?

I am a pretty free-range-ish parent, and I know it’s the popular thing to do right now; to judge people who parent differently. So, I want to start off this post by saying that I can’t stand the term “helicopter parent”. I think it’s mean spirited and does nothing but further divide parents (mothers, specifically). Labeling a woman as an object dehumanizes her, relieving other women of their guilt for judging.

But, for lack of a better term, I’m going to use it here and there. So, sorry for that. 14691065_10154669833206912_8273134538868436470_n

I see it a lot when I take my kids to the playground or to the park. Parents mere inches away from their child for the entire duration of their stay, warning them, explaining things to them, and helping them. Not only does it look like its way more work than they need to be doing, the kids don’t really look like they are getting a lot of choice in the activities or having as much fun as they could be having. (Like the fun we used to have at the playground when we were kids.) If my mom parented me this way, I would have been absolutely miserable, but I am guessing a lot of kids these days are just used to it.

I’m not the mom staring at her phone or reading a book while her kids are playing…yet. But, as soon as my youngest can climb and slide, I will be that mom staring at her phone or reading a book.

Because you know those benches at the playgrounds? They are for us. The play equipment is for our kids. We sit, they play. That’s the design.

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Photo by: Josh Grenier

Anxiety and helicopter parenting


If you’ve ever experienced anxiety or had an unreasonable fear that something bad was going to happen, multiply that by 1,000 and apply it to your child…that’s what some mothers are feeling. That’s why they hover and warn and instruct. It’s hard for me to imagine how it must feel to dread an injury or worse for your child. I admit, I had a bit of anxiety when my first child was a young toddler and I was guilty of a little hovering sometimes.

Is the world really more dangerous than ever?

I think the over-protective, hovering style of parenting is fueled by a mixture of, not only anxiety, but access to endless information on the internet. In the age of social media, we are ever more aware of crimes against children and tragic accidents involving children.
The fact, though, is that child abductions are less common than they have ever been. (Also, it’s important to note that a child is more likely to be abducted or harmed by a family member or close acquaintance than a stranger.) We just hear about these things more, thanks to social media sites and the sensationalist media.

As far as those freak accidents with tragic consequences are concerned, some things just can’t be foreseen and prepared for. These things have always happened. Again, they just seem more common than they really are thanks to social media.

I don’t know if I’ll change any minds or hearts with this article, but I’d like parents to hear me out.

Is it good to let my child climb and jump from high places?

Taking risks is good for kids and hovering is doing them no favors. In fact, you may be negatively impacting them in some major ways.

Risk has been defined as “a foreseen occurrence that combines the probability of occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm as perceived by the intended user (of playground equipment)”.

What is risky outdoor play?

Playing at heights – Climbing, jumping, balancing, hanging
High speeds – Swinging, sliding, running, bikes, skating
Using dangerous tools – Cutting, poking, whipping, sawing, lashing, tying
Dangerous elements– Elevation change, water, fire
Playing aggressively – Wrestling, fencing, play fighting, rough and tumble play
Wandering and disappearing – Exploring unknown environments

Studies show the benefits of letting kids take risks while playing outside are numerous and some even lifelong. So, what are these benefits?

  • Increased reasoning skills
  • Better risk management skills
  • Better coping with stress
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved motor skills

Helicopter parenting can have negative effects on kids

Inversely, the lack of risky play is associated with:

  • Risk-aversion
  • Danger-seeking behaviors

Not only does the lack of risky play have negative effects, but the cause of it (“helicopter parenting”) has been linked to anxiety in children. Yep. All that fear and anxiety you feel; they have a high potential of growing up to feel just like that.

Other reasons parents don’t want their kids to take risks

There are certain risks that parents avoid due to legality issues, like letting their child wander free and explore. Unfortunately, this day in age people don’t delight to see children, independent and free to play where they please. If you let your children be seen without you, it’s always a risk that a concerned person is either going to think your child is in trouble or is going to cause trouble.

Also, particularly in America, healthcare costs are often a factor in how much risk parents let their kids take while playing. In countries like Germany and Sweden, a fractured wrist isn’t going to put a family into financial crisis. Here, in America, not everyone has health insurance and many of the people who are insured have extremely high ER deductibles and/or co-pays. The irony lies in the fact that children in Germany and Sweden are less likely to injure themselves during risky play. Why?  Because risky play is associated with an increased ability to navigate risks and avoid injury.

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Photo by: Virginia State Parks

That’s right! Letting kids climb and take take tumbles can actually reduce their risk of incurring major injury during outdoor play.

So, give the leash a little slack, resist your inner helicopter parent, and let your kids take some risks! Not only will they probably be just fine, they’ll be better for it!

What degree of risky play do you let your kids experience? What are your fears for your child when it comes to outdoor play? Do you you think you might be a helicopter parent?

Agree or disagree, I’d love some feedback!

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Cheers!

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