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4 Things That are not Helicoptering

At a national level, April is known as Alcohol Awareness Month. Here at, it’s known as Alcohol Responsibility Month because if each of us were to take ownership and responsibility for eliminating drunk driving and underage drinking, these would decline at an even more rapid rate than they (thankfully) already have.

And even though April has come and gone, we will continue to celebrate this movement. We want to discuss the parental role in helping our kids take action to be responsible, safe, and productive human beings. More specifically, we want to tackle the fear that many parents have that discussing important issues like alcohol responsibility with their kids is helicopter parenting, not so affectionately known as “helicoptering.”

In this article we’re going to debunk this myth and call out four things that are definitely NOT helicoptering and that you absolutely CAN discuss with your kids.

If not you, then who, right? Let’s dig in.

Helicopter parenting: the good, the bad, and the necessary

Writer Kate Bayless explains, “The term “helicopter parent” was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter; the term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011.”

In action, this term has come to mean parents who are over-involved in their kids’ decision making and has become wildly popular in the media.

At its core, this is an important topic and definition. In an article on NPR, writer Jennifer Ludden cites, “Megan Huffnagle, a former human resources manager at a Denver theme park, recalls being shocked several years ago when she received a call from a young job applicant’s mother.” We can all agree that this is, indeed, helicoptering because the if you’re old enough to have a human resources manager, you’re too old to have your mom making phone calls for you!

But an unfortunate side effect of the helicoptering conversation is that proactive parents of elementary and middle school age children who do not want to be branded with the helicoptering label aren’t sure what constitutes helicoptering and what doesn’t, causing them to shy away from some very important teaching conversations with their children. And if we’re not having these conversations with our kids, then no one is.

The (developmental) facts

Developmentally, our kids are wired to listen to us in their younger years. And, in the same vein, at around the tween years they teeter toward listening to their peers more than they listen to us.

Psychology Today writer Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D. explains, “The child (up to ages 8 – 9) … wants to relate on parental terms, enjoy parental companionship, and imitates the parents wherever possible … A child identifies with parents because they provide the primary models to follow after and to live up to … Now comes adolescence (beginning around ages 9 – 13) and parents get kicked off the pedestal … To begin the separation from childhood (and from parents and family) that starts adolescence, the young person has to reject some of the old lifestyle that branded him or her as ‘child’, thus freeing up growing room for the journey to independence ahead.”

What this means for us as parents is that:

  1. This separation is 100% normal and expected; it’s good even.
  2. And, importantly, that the right time to discuss important issues with our children is as young as possible.

We want to teach our children important facts about being safe and wonderful human beings while they’re still wired to listen to us so that there’s a much lesser chance of the need to meddle once they’re teenagers and beyond.

So we “front load” this teaching so that our kids can independently have and use these life skills as they get older.

There are four topics that parents of school age kids should absolutely be discussing with their children and can do so with the easy-breezy feeling that doing so is NOT helicoptering, it’s parenting.

  1. Alcohol responsibility
    Children who learn the impact and effects of alcohol on the brain at young ages and directly from their parents are much more knowledgeable about how to be responsible with their future alcohol use.
    Resource for you: Ask, Listen, Learn’s “How Alcohol Affects The Brain: A Guide For Parents.”
  2. Social media responsibility
    Children who learn how much impact their online actions have at young ages, before their online habits have a chance to fully form, are much more likely to be upstanders and leaders in online interactions.
    Resource for you: My TEDx Talk about cyberbullying and online kindness.
  3. Fiscal responsibility
    Children who are directly taught how to purposefully save, give, and spend their money are much more likely to grow up and become financially responsible.
    Resource for you: Dave Ramsey’s How to talk to your kids about money.
  4. Nutritional responsibility
    Children who have a strong sense of food culture from the get-go know how to create and have a healthy relationship with food when they get older and are making their own nutritional choices.
    Resource for you: Aimee Wimbush Bourque’s Why (and How) You Should Create a Healthy Food Culture for Your Family.

Bottom lines

The line between helicoptering and parenting can be drawn along age lines. All of the conversations that we have with our school-age children to purposefully teach them how to be responsible, safe, and productive adults fall firmly into the parenting bucket.

More resources for you on talking your kids

  1. 3 Reasons to Use The New Ask, Listen, Learn Digital Resources To Talk To Your Tween About Drinking
  2. How to get your tween talking
  3. This is the real truth about who needs to teach your kids the important things


Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; and the online courses Boom, Done Digital Parenting™ and Raise Your Digital Kid™.  She blogs about digital parenting on TheseLittleWaves.NET. You can grab her FREE checklist for moms of new(ish) digital kids RIGHT HERE.