Helicopter Parenting

Anyone who has had a child or been the guardian of a child knows what it is like to worry about that child's physical safety. It starts with baby proofing and moves on to teaching a child how to cross the street and then on to how to drive a car.

But what happens when that worry and involvement extend across all aspects of the child's life from playground through college? How involved are Moms in their children's decisions? Do Moms see themselves as helpmates or are they the harmful hovercraft often characterized in the media?

Authors Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay coined the phrase "helicopter parent" in their 1990 book, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. The general press picked up the phrase in early 2000 as college admission officers and deans complained of over-involved parents calling them to check on the status of an application or to complain about a student's grade.

At our agency, we wanted to know more about how Mom views her parenting style and how she links this parenting style to beliefs about her child's success.



In December 2009, we interviewed 795 Moms to assess their views of their parenting styles and behaviors. Some highlights from this report:

  • Moms feel anxious and worried for their child's well-being, health and overall success in life.
  • Moms closely link their personal successes or failures as a parent to their child's future success.
  • Most Moms, regardless of age of child or life-stage, experience "helicopter parenting" moments, yet only 17% consider themselves a "helicopter mom."

Moms' Beliefs

While 89% of Moms say failure is healthy for their child, 40% would use a magic wand to keep their child from failing.

Worries about safety extend well beyond the playground and backyard, and 47% of Moms indicated they spy on their children's electronic accounts (mobile texting, email, Facebook) to make sure everything is okay.

One out of every four Moms states she needs to be involved in everything her child does. Among Moms of older, college-bound or college-age kids, 48% feel anxious about their children making decisions on their own and 27% worry that their child will not make the right decisions unless Mom is there to help every step of the way. This involvement continues well into the college years with 33% of Moms helping college-age kids pick their classes.

Implications for Marketers

Mom's influence in family decision-making extends over a broad range of products and services, positioning her as key problem-solver within the family. Though being involved in every decision her child makes may seem to her a natural extension of that position, it instead transforms her from "helpmate" to "helicopter parent."

Fueled by feelings of anxiety and worry, Mom believes she must be constantly connected and "in-control" of her children, in order to be considered a "good parent" and keep her children safe. Marketers who consider this important family dynamic when marketing to Moms may find Moms more receptive to the brand.

Marketers need to consider what is missing. Some common thought-starter questions:

  • Are you missing Mom insights that better inform your decision-making?
  • What is missing in your product channel?
  • Are you asking Moms to innovate with you?
  • So, now you have the product. What is missing in your messaging? Is it contextually relevant to Moms?
  • And in the case of the helicopter parenting style, what about how you interact with Moms might work with this unique parent /child connectivity?
  • How would you shift how you communicate with Moms to alleviate some of the stress Moms feel while empowering kids to gain more confidence?

We're not suggesting that marketers teach parenting skills. Just be attuned to what is going on in a consumer's life. Provide a context for how the product may fit into Moms' and kids' busy lives and demonstrate value.

When marketing to older kids, provide tools that enable the child to gain insight and information that help the child participate in the decision-making process. Don't know what these tools might be? Ask a Mom. Ask her child. Ask your customers to innovate with you.

2 comments about "Helicopter Parenting".
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  1. Carrie Vawter-yousfi from Crowd Science, March 10, 2010 at 12:43 p.m.

    Love the article, definitely parenting is a balancing act of safety and letting go.

  2. Julie Koppman from Bent Media, March 10, 2010 at 12:57 p.m.

    Read "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee", and you'll learn to let go a little. I've found it very helpful and anxiety-reducing.

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