Jemima Kirke Nails the Problem With Helicopter Parenting

October 21st 2015

Laura Donovan

In a new essay, "Girls" star Jemima Kirke makes a strong case against helicopter parenting, which is defined as being too involved in a child's life. Research shows hyper-controlling parenting often backfires and makes children ill-prepared for the real world, bolstering Kirke's argument against it.

Kirke, who has two kids with her husband Michael Mosberg, writes what many of us already know: our culture fosters an overprotective parenting approach, which she finds futile because there's no way to guarantee that a child will have a good, long life, even when parents do everything the "right" way.

"I once heard someone say that to be a parent is to have your heart live outside your body. I’ve always remembered that analogy," she writes in a piece for TIME. "And not just because it annoyed me ... But also because of how this notion has inspired a culture of overprotective methodology and vigilance. It makes us believe that if we do things correctly, if we have all the information, we’ll be safe and our children will be safe. And if we don’t, well, there are many, many possible consequences."

She reveals that she initially felt bad bringing her first child into the world because that meant exposing an innocent child to the harsh realities of life. Kirke says that she made herself sick researching horrific stories about child abuse and freak accidents, showing that we can drive ourselves crazy if we constantly worry about or try to control our kids. After all, there are many ways to make mistakes as a parent, and dwelling on all of the things that can go wrong is a stressful way to live.

"If I don’t turn the baby monitor all the way up, will I miss the cries of my child, who might possibly be too cold?" Kirke writes. "Or thirsty? Or lonely? If I soothe my children with a cookie, am I setting them up for obesity? If I don’t put my kids to bed tonight and instead go to a dinner party, will they think, 'Why did Mommy leave me?'"

Kirke concludes by saying she cannot control everything and that all parents shouldn't entertain delusions that they are the "sole answer to [their] children’s livelihood."

"I can’t guarantee or even control my children’s well-being, in the same way I can’t guarantee I’m screwing them up," she writes. "I don’t know how my choices will inadvertently affect their lives."

The negative impact of helicopter parenting

Kirke's surrender to the unknown is powerful given the pervasive nature of helicopter parenting in today's world. Earlier this year, Brigham Young University published research showing there are no redeeming qualities to helicopter parenting. The paper revealed that bonding with one's child doesn't counteract the negative consequences of helicopter parenting. If helicopter parents don't bond with their kids, however, the negative effects of helicopter parenting are worse and can lead to a lower self-worth and a higher chance of engaging in risky behavior such as binge drinking, smoking, and theft.

The researchers examined the long-term effects of helicopter parenting on more than 400 undergraduates and published their report in Emerging Adulthood as a follow-up to 2012 findings that helicopter parenting can hurt a child's academic performance. The study authors expected to find that helicopter parenting had at least some positive effects on children, but their research showed otherwise.

“From our past work, we thought there might be something positive about helicopter parenting under certain conditions, but we’re just not finding it,” study author Larry Nelson said in a release. "Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative. Regardless of the form of control, it's harmful at this time period."

How helicopter parenting continues in college

Helicopter parenting doesn't just disrupt someone during childhood either. It can also hinder their grown-up experiences. Former dean of Stanford University Julie Lythcott-Haims highlights the issues college students experience as a result of continued and former helicopter parenting in her book, "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success."

In a Slate article published over the summer, she reveals that she encountered a lot of helicopter parents while working at Stanford. Some parents tried to dictate the decisions of their offspring at college, a move that can decrease a person's ability to make independent choices, which are crucial in adulthood.

"As dean, I saw a lack of intellectual and emotional freedom—this existential impotence—behind closed doors," Lythcott-Haims wrote. " I heard plenty of stories from college students who believed they had to study science (or medicine, or engineering), just as they’d had to play piano, and do community service for Africa, and, and, and. I talked with kids completely uninterested in the items on their own résumés. Some shrugged off any right to be bothered by their own lack of interest in what they were working on, saying, 'My parents know what’s best for me.'"