British Columbia·Point of View

Helicopter parenting: Does it work? And at what cost?

Helicopter parenting and Tiger Moms and Dads have gotten a bad rap — but what if they're the key to successful kids?

Hyper-involved parenting can lead to successful kids. But is it worth it?

Helicopter parenting can help your kids be financially successful. But is it worth it? (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column that airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

We've all heard horror stories of coddled kids who grow up to be thoroughly unprepared to navigate adult life. Would any parent willingly raise a child who needs their hand held at a job interview? 


But as much as we've spent the better part of the last decade making fun of helicopter parenting and Tiger Moms and Dads, is a hyper-involved parenting style the way to give your kid a fighting chance at success? Especially when it comes money? 

Unfortunately for you free-range parents, that's exactly what some researchers are proposing. 

Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti are both economists and the co-authors of Love, Money and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids

Using data from national and international studies and tests, the authors found that in areas with increasing economic inequality, including North America, parents push harder to ensure their children have a path to security and success.

Economics have transformed the free wheeling parenting style of the 1960s and '70s into a frantic, overscheduled activity. And while this can lead to frazzled and stressed parents and children, it can also lead to what many parents consider the grand prize — a post-secondary education that leads to a financially rewarding career for their kids. 

In places where receiving a higher education doesn't come with such a financial burden — such as Sweden — parents tend to be more relaxed in their approach and give their children greater freedom. But with the cost of tuition rising in countries such as the United States, Canada and England, the pressure to secure and pay for higher education means parents feel the pressure to get their children ahead of the pack from an early age. 

Another finding: heavily involved parenting is an expensive venture ... so those parents who are already financially successful can afford to invest more in their children's success.

"As the richer are getting richer," says Doepke, "the rich are going to be able to afford a bunch of stuff. Things like paying for expensive schools and extracurricular activities. But also things such as paying for somebody to clean your house, do your gardening, so you have more quality time with your children. " 

Decisions, decisions ... 

Of course I want the absolute best for my children — what parent doesn't? But I'm not sure focusing on their economic future as a measure of success is the best for them — or for everyone else currently growing up alongside them. 

Would I love to know my children will be financially secure? Able to make choices based on their true interests and desires? Move out of my basement?

Yes. But with increasingly high rates of burnout and depression among post-secondary students, what's the price our kids will pay? 

Giving our children a "leg up" and holding their hands is a privilege only awarded to those who can afford it. And that only contributes to a class structure that's already unfair to so many.

So, as difficult as it may be, I think we need to land those helicopters and let our kids fly free. Education and financial security are important, but so are equality, empathy and community. 

And those are the lessons I think will be far more valuable in the end.


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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