How helicopter parenting creates equity issues

Some teachers may do special favors for children of helicopter parents who volunteer at school, says a new study
By: | March 5, 2020
Inadequate and uneven school funding has raised equity issues around the activity of wealthy “helicopter parents,” a new Council on Contemporary Families report says. (gettyimages.com: damircudic)Inadequate and uneven school funding has raised equity issues around the activity of wealthy “helicopter parents,” a new Council on Contemporary Families report says. (gettyimages.com: damircudic)

Inadequate and uneven school funding has raised equity issues around the activity of wealthy “helicopter parents,” a new Council on Contemporary Families report says.

These helicopter parents provide volunteer hours, donations and other resources. In exchange, educators, sometimes inadvertently, grant favors or bend the rules for these families and their children, according to “When “Helicopters” Go to School: Who Gets Rescued and Who Gets Left Behind?’

“Meanwhile, when less-privileged students and students with less-involved parents break the rules, teachers regularly keep them in for recess, reprimand them in front of their peers, take off points on their assignments, and evaluate them less favorably,” said the study’s author, Jessica Calarco, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University.

Adequate and equitably distributed school funding—along with a redistribution of PTO funds—would lessen school’s dependence on these parents, the study found.


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“Those resources would allow schools to offer high-quality opportunities and amenities for students without the need for support from privileged parents,” Calarco wrote. “They would also alleviate pressure on parents (especially mothers) to provide “helicopter”-like support for students both at home and in school.”

More extreme than a helicopter parent?

Even more extreme forms of helicopter parenting have been labeled “lawnmower,” “bulldozer,” and “snowplow” parenting. These adults, who try to clear every potential obstacle out their children’s way, have good intentions but could be raising less resilient children, NorthJersey.com reported.

“Parents have a lot of resources and a lot of education and are trying to protect their kids from experiencing hardship or stress,” therapist Lauren Muriello told NorthJersey.com. “But of course what we see then are adolescents and adults who are not capable of dealing with stress because they didn’t have to face all those little challenges when they were in middle school and high school.”

A 2018 study found that helicopter-style parenting stunted the ability of younger children to regulate their emotions, which, in turn, made the transition to school more difficult.


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“Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school,” University of Minnesota researcher Nicole B. Perry wrote in the report.

High-achieving students

A nonprofit group called Authentic Connections has stepped in to help high-achieving public schools better care for students suffering from anxiety and similar issues.

Students in high-achieving middle schools and high schools grapple with intense pressures to reach the top of class rankings and to gain acceptance to elite colleges, Suniya Luthar, founder and executive director of Authentic Connections, told District Administration last summer.

“People ask ‘Where does all of this pressure come from?’ and I respond ‘Where does it not come from?’” Luthar said.

These students will begin to struggle if they don’t communicate well with their parents or feel criticized by them, if they feel rejected or bullied by peers, or if they have been ridiculed or alienated by teachers, Luthar says.

“These kids need to learn when enough is enough, when they are exhausted and when to say ‘no,’” Luthar said. “Saying ‘Just try a little harder’ can be tantamount to pouring gasoline over a fire because these kids are hell-bent to pick up every point they can.”


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