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Experts Weigh In on Helicopter Grandparenting

Learn more about the scenarios in our grandparenting quiz


If you have taken our “Are You a Helicopter Grandparent?” quiz, you might be curious about how experts recommend you handle each of the scenarios. Weighing in are Richard C. Horowitz, a family coach from Palm Harbor, Fla., who specializes in boomers, and Holly H. Schiffrin, a psychology professor at University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., whose research on helicopter parenting was recently published in The Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Scenario No. 1:

The day care center or nursery school your granddaughter attends has a phone app to help parents keep track of their kids’ daily routines. Your adult child has given you access to the app. You notice that for several days running, your granddaughter has hasn’t been eating her lunch.

Horowitz notes that it is incumbent upon the grandparents to ask their adult kids how they should use the app. Most likely your grown children regard the app as a nice way to “share” the day-to-day events of your grandchildren’s lives. (Even finding out that your grandson has had his diaper changed can make you feel close when physically you’re far away.) Nonetheless, find out if they want you to “like” pictures the teachers share, for example. Remember that any “over-communicating” with the facility means more time the staff must spend away from the children in their charge.

Scenario No. 2

Your toddler grandson starts to run down a path that you know suddenly ends in two stone steps that lead to the street.

Schiffrin points out that “helicopter parenting is parenting in a way that is not appropriate.” A 2-year-old may need help navigating his way down a set of stone steps; most 7-year-olds do not. If you think the child’s parents weren’t paying enough attention, Schiffrin and Horowitz agree that you should never “reprimand” your adult child, and certainly not in front of your grandchild.

“Your communication style is the most important thing. The way you bring up an issue is key to whether you are going to have a successful conversation. Don’t be judgmental,” Horowitz advises.

Scenario No. 3

While sitting beside you at the computer, your nine-year-old granddaughter opens up a class-project Google doc and finds that all her work has been erased and her classmates have typed in “you’re a weirdo.”

When it comes to bullying, Schiffrin believes that grandparents need to let the parents be the ones to take care of the official reaction. However, if you ignore something a child is old enough to identify as bullying, then you’re sending a message that what you’ve just seen isn’t supposed to be discussed. So give your grandchild a chance to talk, and if the youngster doesn’t want to pursue the subject, don’t pressure her. Practical help, like showing a 9-year-old how to fix a Google doc, is always appropriate.

Scenario No. 4

Seeing your 12-year-old granddaughter exiting the community pool, you notice that she is “developing” and that other people (kids and adults) are looking at her protruding nipples.

“Without embarrassing the child, you want to alleviate the situation,” Horowitz recommends. “Be clever and don’t shame the child. Talk to the parents afterwards,” he adds. Schiffrin points out that sometimes pubescent girls get excited about bra shopping and this may be something your granddaughter’s parents have been looking forward to doing with her.

Scenario No. 5

Your grandson is at the end of his junior year of high school and says he wants to go to college when he graduates.

The college hunt is a big rite of passage for many teens and their parents. So let your adult children know that you’re willing to help and tell them what you can do — but always defer to their wishes, say Schiffrin and Horowitz.

If I acted on all my impulses, I’m afraid that I might hover a bit too much over my grandchild. Luckily, my daughter and son-in-law are terrific parents, and I follow their lead about limits and rules.

But one confession: There’s no way my grandson is going to walk on sharp gravel in his bare feet. I’m sure his parents would agree, so I’m not even going to bring it up.

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