Helicopter Parenting

Why We Do It and Why It Needs To Stop

In a lot of Muslim cultures, it’s common that parents (especially mothers) are expected to do as much as they can for their children and clear obstacles out of their way (Helicopter Parenting). It’s a sign of being a ‘Good Mother’ when you run around after your children, anticipating their every need. This may be true when your children are tiny infants, but as they grow, children need to learn how to do things for themselves – for the sake of their personal growth and feelings of capability, and for the sake of our sanity.

Our natural instinct when we become parents is to raise our children the way our parents raised us. Our upbringing serves as the foundation of our parenting skill-set, and then we add to it, making it our own. We played outside, so our children will play outside…we spent the weekends doing chores with our parents, so our kids will do the same and learn the same values. 

How it starts

Once we start socializing with other parents however, this bubble bursts quite quickly. We soon learn that other parents are already planning out full schedules for their kids, from a very early age, with the hope of providing them with a wealth of skills that can benefit them later on in life.

Many parents already have an idea as to which colleges and universities their child will attend, and have already established a hectic schedule of extra curricular activities to give their kids the best shot at admission. They select activities for their very young children early on so that they will have the best chances to succeed in their academic careers.

Understandably, this brings about a sense of panic among you and your spouse, as you had assumed that your child would organically select their own interests and you would navigate their chosen course together.

Am I a ‘Helicopter Parent?’

In reality however, no one wants to be left behind, and no parent wants their child to not have academic success. In an effort to help their children keep up and even overtake their peers, parents often become over-involved (excessively) in their child’s day to day life. You’ve heard of the term Helicopter Parenting? It is no longer a phenomenon but now a huge part (and problem) of today’s parenting culture.

Children are now raised in an environment where they are taking a back seat in their own lives and their parents are running the show. Questions directed to children are being answered by parents, frustrating teachers, doctors and career counselors, among others.

This has been going on for so long that there is now a whole generation who are unable to ‘adult’ effectively and still need their parents input and advice, while struggling to be independent.

College is where kids suffer the most

The best-selling New York Times book, How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Dean at Stanford University, succinctly describes the impact that over-parenting has had on college students who are unable to function outside of the classroom. Over-bearing parents, wanting to ‘help’ their children have instead rendered them incapable of taking risks and growing into their own person.

It’s an eye-opening read for parents. The intention of well-meaning parents was good – to help their child and do whatever it took to ensure their success. However, instead of teaching and guiding children, and allowing them to learn from making mistakes, parents have become personal assistants, anticipating their child’s every need and doing everything in their power to make sure their child does not fail at ANYTHING. 

What can WE do differently?

What parenting advice did the Prophet (pbuh) give us to teach our children responsibility?

Read on to learn how you can break this cycle and encourage independence from your kids now, so they really can become successful adults insh’Allah.

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How does Over Parenting affect children?


Lack of basic life skills

Parents who take over their children’s responsibilities are enabling them. If this is a pattern that continues throughout a child’s life, he or she will be unable to manage their own life once they reach adulthood. Instead, parents need to learn the tools necessary to empower their children, by shifting responsibilities to them.

Sadly many in the millennial generation have been raised this way, and we see this reflected in today’s culture. Adults who are unable to think and plan ahead to cook a meal are now able to subscribe to a cooking club that mails a box with ingredients and detailed instructions. The same concept has been applied to clothes, grooming, beauty, and kids activities. Teenagers particularly will see no need to learn these skills when the market caters to incompetence.

Psychologically harmed

Kids are anxious and afraid to take risks, and they grow up lacking confidence in their own skills. The message that they have received over their lives has been that they are not competent enough. This feeling of inadequacy has far-reaching complications that can spill over into every aspect of a child’s life.

Hurting their job prospects

Lythcott-Haims discusses the outcome of a 2014 study conducted by California State University, Fresno on how over-parented kids fared in the workplace.

The biggest takeaway from this study was that students with helicopter parents didn’t believe in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals.

Those students whose parents were continuing to hover over them during college were found to be more likely to be dependent on others, engage in poor coping strategies and lack the soft-skills (responsibility and conscientiousness) that employers value.


What can I do to break the cycle?

Give unstructured time

The importance of time to ‘play‘ is well known to improve brain function in children through imagination, artistic intelligence, logical reasoning, problem solving and memory. Don’t dismiss this as an option for older kids. It can be an important source of relaxation and stimulation for teenagers as well as adults. Playing together as a family is a good way to fuel these brain functions and ensure emotional well-being.

Teach life skills

Parents may feel that to show their love towards their children, they need to do as much as they can for them. From waking them up to keeping track of assignment due dates and grades. By focusing instead on transitioning the responsibility from parent to child, it is possible to gently send the message that only by failing do we learn.

Through a process summarized in Lythcott-Haines’ book, parents are shown how to put their child on the path to independence:

  • first, we do it for you
  • then we do it with you
  • then we watch you do it
  • then you do it completely independently

Teach them how to think

In an age where it is more important than ever to be able to think critically, it is vital that kids are able to learn how to figure things out for themselves.

Lythcott-Haims lays out examples of dialog that can be used to engage kids of different stages that foster critical thinking skills. Once these skills are learned, encourage your child to debate and try to understand an issue from a different point of view.

Prepare them for hard work

Primarily, parents serve as role models to their children, teaching and guiding them, understanding that they learn more from watching and observing habits and behavior. 

By including kids in the running of the house, with washing dishes, taking out the trash, sweeping the floor, etc…, they are more inclined to join in and contribute to the running of the home, giving them a sense of worth. 

Let them chart their own path

Why would we live our own unfulfilled hopes and dreams through our children?

Talk to your child and try to understand their strengths. Ask them what they would like to achieve or accomplish in their lives and give advice on how you think is the best way to get there. Introduce them to experts in the field that they are interested in, so you can both learn more about it.

There is nothing wrong in helping your child discover their interests and passions, and helping them learn as much as possible about possible career choices.  The issue of over-parenting arises when the parent decides what profession the child should study without regard for their child’s interests.

Normalize struggle

It’s all too common for kids to quit when the going gets tough. Being able to cope with adversity is a key indicator of success in later life.

But how do we teach our kids to be resilient?

There is a wealth of information out there, but a good place to start is by thinking about mindset. Carol Dweck (Stanford Psychology professor who pioneered the concept and practice of the Growth Mindset) teaches parents, employers, and educators that kids should be praised for their effort, not their inherent smartness.

The focus of the person with a growth mindset is that you keep going, keep trying, and attain success through effort. Resilience.

Stop running interference with the adults in your child’s life

Teachers, principals, and coaches are under siege from over-involved parents. Empower your kids by teaching them how to raise any concerns that they have ON THEIR OWN.

Many schools (typically middle and high schools) now require that all students self-advocate.

Give your child the confidence to be able to do that by showing them how to:

  • approach teachers and ask for time to discuss any issues that they may be having
  • email their teachers and peers in a respectful way
  • engage with their teachers or coaches in a polite way, practicing with them if needed.

Let them do their own homework

It becomes difficult for teachers to understand how much knowledge a child has, if their parents are constantly doing their homework for them. Not only does it teach kids that it’s OK to cheat, but that they are not capable of doing any of this on their own. If your child is truly struggling with their homework load or is having difficulty understanding concepts, find a tutor who can help them by teaching them effective learning strategies that will serve them well in life, instead of again depending and relying on you.

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The Importance of Teaching Responsibility in Islam

The Prophet (pbuh) would stress the importance of building trust and self-esteem in children by assigning them tasks. Similar to how parents today assign chores, trusting children with an important job builds their sense of purpose and responsibility.

Your children should feel capable

Children feel valued and respected and encouraged to continue down the path of competence. The more they do, the better they feel about themselves, and the more they learn. The cycle is positive and so it continues. The focus need not be on completing each chore perfectly, more than they have done it, giving the child a sense of satisfaction and growing confidence. 

Raising children primarily revolves around educating and caring for them. It is a process through which parents are able to help their children grow from dependent babies to independent adults. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

إِنَّمَآ أَمْوَلُكُمْ وَأَوْلَـدُكُمْ فِتْنَةٌ وَاللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ

Your riches and your children may be but a trial: but in the Presence of Allah, is the highest, reward. (64-15)

Your children should know their rights

Children are a great test from Allah (swt). They are to be shown mercy and love, and they have rights to education and guidance. Parents must first educate themselves as to the rights of children and then do their best to impart knowledge and wisdom upon them.

It is a difficult task that requires many years of patience and dedication, with no guarantee of success. But if you have taqwa, and believe and trust in Allah swt, then insh’Allah your prayers will not go unanswered.

There is a reason that Jannah is accessed through the parents – because of the sincere efforts and sacrifice made by them for the sake of their children. 


All success come from Allah – just put in the effort

One of the first duas that children learn is:

رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِىْ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِىْ الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَّقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

Oh, Lord! Grant us good in this world and in the hereafter. And save us from the penalty of the fire (2:201)


It is important to remember this dua when parents are frantically trying to guarantee success to their children in this life. There is no guarantee. It serves to remind us that this life is temporary, that all rizq comes from Allah swt.

Equal importance should be given to nurturing a connection with Allah swt and helping children understand that life is a balance.

If they seek the best of both worlds, then they should strive to give their best to live their lives within the Islamic framework. 


Allah ﷻ is in charge.

He decides what path each person will take. There should be no heartache when junior doesn’t get into their desired college or study program. Where one door closes, another opens.

The Rahma or Mercy of Allah swt is such that He gives us what is better for us, and He tests us to bring us closer to Him.

Make the best intention with Allah swt to try to teach your child independence, and make plenty of dua that He leads your children to succeed in this life and the next. Ameen.

Your efforts to do the best job you can as a parent do not go unnoticed by Allah swt. Take the necessary steps to ensure your child has the skill-set to be capable and independent and put your trust in Allah swt. That is all we can do, and that is all that He expects of us.