Parents want to do everything we can to help out our kids, but sometimes we do too much: Helicopter parenting is when our urge to help and protect our kids results in our hovering around them and way over-protecting them.
Parents who are constantly monitoring and overly involved in their children's lives have gotten a lot of negative criticism in recent years. Research and experts have suggested that rather than help kids mature, it may hold them back.
A new study suggests that doctors' visits are one place in particular where you don’t want to hover around your kids — at least by the time they are teens. Let them take the lead when it comes to health.
“The majority of parents are managing teens' health care visits, and their teens may be missing out on valuable opportunities to learn how to take ownership of their own health,” study author, Sarah J. Clark, said in a news release.
Speaking with the doctor privately is important, not only to give teens a chance to disclose confidential information, but also to provide the opportunity for them to be an active participant in their own health care, without a parent taking over.
To see how parents and their teenagers behave at doctors’ appointments, Clark and her colleagues used data from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. Parents and teens were asked questions about their appointments, including how much of the appointment was led by the parent vs. the teen. Almost 40 percent of the parents said that they, rather than their teenaged children, were the ones asking the doctor questions. Only 15% said that their kids would voluntarily tell their doctors about their health or mental health issues.
“Parents' top reason for handling different aspects of the health care visit is that their teen would not be comfortable talking about these subjects — which may stem from the fact that they aren't getting much practice,” said Clark.
In other words, it’s a vicious cycle, with parents overstepping and kids not learning how to do it on their own. Just 34 percent of parents said their children went into the exam room alone. Only 10 percent completed their own health histories before their appointments.
Clark advises parents to let their adolescents take more control of their own appointments. “Having teens take the lead in responsibilities like filling out their own paperwork, describing their health problems, and asking questions during adolescence helps them gain experience and confidence in managing their health,” said Clark. “Speaking with the doctor privately is important, not only to give teens a chance to disclose confidential information, but also to provide the opportunity for them to be an active participant in their own health care, without a parent taking over.”
You can help: Encourage your teenagers to make a list of the questions they have before they see the doctor so they can figure out how to say what they need to say and cover everything they want to cover. Remember, helicoptering can backfire. It puts undue pressure on kids and doesn’t allow them to try out different ways of navigating the world on their own.
Sometimes letting your children try things that are just outside their comfort zone — even if it results in some mishaps — is the best way to help them grow.
The study was carried out by a team at University of Michigan. It has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.