When helicopter parents won’t stop hovering


Ally Zacek | The DePaulia

Jonathan Ballew, Assistant News Editor

Victoria Theodorou isn’t allowed to travel more than a couple of hours away from her house in California — her parents won’t allow it. They follow her GPS location constantly. She isn’t in trouble, nor has she done anything wrong. Theodorou has excellent grades in school (she already has one bachelor’s degree) and holds down a job. She is also a 21-year-old woman, living under what she describes as “helicopter parents.”

While there isn’t a clinical term for a helicopter parent, it describes parents that take an overly involved role in their child’s life. Although many loving parents may exhibit traits of a helicopter parent, some are unable to relinquish control — even when their “child” is over 18 years old.

Theodorou said that her parents constantly monitor her location through an app called Life 360. The app can track where she is at all times, and even sends updates to her parents.

Theodorou has been dealing with helicopter parents her entire life. She is from Naperville, Illinois and attended Benet Academy, while dealing with parents that never seemed to be able to trust her. She believes that a heroin epidemic in her hometown may have had an effect on her parent’s anxiety.

“It was hard to deal with,” she said. “I was growing up and needed to learn from my experiences.”

She didn’t complain too much in high school because she assumed that things would get better after graduation. But things only got worse once Theodorou became an adult.

“As soon as I turned 18, my parents still tried to restrict everything,” she said.

Theodorou said that since her parents pay for her education, they hold it over her head as a justification to continue aggressively parenting her well into adulthood. Even at age 20, Theodorou wasn’t allowed to travel to see her boyfriend, Cameron, who lived two hours south of her. The trip is a straight shot down a single highway. Instead, he was forced to travel to her every weekend, which she says put a huge strain on their relationship.

“Having helicopter parents has affected every aspect of my life,” she said. “Especially relationships. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up because I couldn’t go out and meet people. My parents didn’t trust me at all.”

After nearly two years, Theodorou fell in love with Cameron, and the two became engaged. Things only got worse between her and her parents. Theodorou said it was as though her parents tightened their grip when they found out her intentions.

“It’s our car. It’s our house. It’s our rules,” is the mantra her parents continued to repeat when restricting her movement or forcing her to be at specific places at specific times. Theodorou’s constant parental monitoring continued to put a strain on her relationship. Today, her and Cameron are no longer together. Theodorou believes that her parents played a significant role in the breakup.

“It is definitely possible that I would be married to Cameron today if it wasn’t for my parents,” she said.

Theodorou has considered breaking free from her parents. She said that a year ago her bags were packed and she was ready to leave for good and start a life with Cameron. But her desire to finish her education and her love for her family has proved to be too much for her to overcome.

They have threatened to disown me if I don’t play by their rules”

Even today, her parents still use the Life 360 app constantly. Theodorou said that as recently as a couple of weeks ago they showed up unannounced to a party she was attending. The application can even track travel speeds, so in the past her parents have let her know that she was driving too fast.

The term “helicopter parent” first appeared in literature in 1969, though the term was popularized around the early 2000s. What makes a helicopter parent unable to loosen their grip and what causes some parents to hold on tighter, at a time when developmental psychologists say they should be letting go? In other words, what makes helicopter parents hover?

Orson Morrison is a clinical psychologist and associate professor at DePaul. He said that helicopter parenting can often be a result of parental anxiety that he calls “parental regret.”

“Parents will say ‘Oh my gosh, my children are on the cusp of becoming adults, and I’m not going to have much more time left in this parenting role,’” he said.

Morrison said that sometimes the child, or in some cases, adult, can play a role in creating helicopter parents. If parents are concerned about their children’s mental health or ability to handle adulthood, it can make it that much more difficult for them to let go.

“The research on helicopter parents is quite mixed,” he said. “If they are hovering in a developmentally inappropriate way it can lead to conditions like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and low confidence in the child.”

Morrison did want to make clear that being an involved parent isn’t a bad thing. In fact, he said that it is crucial to the healthy development of a child.

“I do think that parental involvement in children’s lives, regardless of age, is really important,” he said. “It becomes problematic when the parenting is done in a way that does not promote autonomy.”

Morrison said that, ideally, parents should let their children gradually make more decisions on their own. He said that they should be along for the ride, but they shouldn’t “drive the bus.”

DePaul parents have come under fire for being helicopter parents, recently by The Black Sheep, a satirical website devoted to issues concerning college students.

In a recent article titled “The Black Sheep Answer DePaul Parents’ Questions,” writer Taylor Bissonette pokes fun at a Facebook page called “Parents @ DePaul.” Bissonette highlights several posts that he says are prime examples of helicopter parenting.

In one post, a parent writes about tracking her daughter’s GPS and being unable to reach her on her cell phone for a few hours. The concerned mother sent the student’s father to drive to the Lincoln Park campus to track her down in person. After getting campus security involved, the student in question was found sleeping in her dorm.

Bissonette said that while he understands parents concerns, he believes many of them go too far.

“College is a weird experience for both parties,” he said. “But (helicopter parents) are very overbearing. Almost like a bubble.”

Last weekend, Theodorou said that she was planning on taking a trip to visit some friends that live a couple of hours away. She was considering deleting the “Life 360” app from her phone.

“If I delete the app, of course, they would notice,” she said. “They are helicopter parents!”