Q&A: Advice on 'Helicopter Moms'

Helen Johnson, author of the book, "Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money" (St. Martin's Press, 2000), is a consultant on parental relations for some of America's top universities. She spoke with "20/20" for its report about mothers who micromanage the lives of their college-aged children.

Johnson is more than familiar with "helicopter moms," the term now in vogue to describe some mothers who manage everything from class schedules to laundry and e-mail for their kids. "A helicopter mom is a mom who hovers over every state in her child's development, from basically ... in utero, through the college years and beyond," she said.

As much as these moms may be trying to help, Johnson says, they may ultimately set their children up for a fall in adulthood.

"In taking over, they are sending a profound message: You are not capable of handling your life," she said.

She answers questions from "20/20" viewers below.

Vicki in Alaska writes:

My child is now 16 -- what are some of the most important skills he needs to know by the time he's college-aged and a young adult?

Helen Johnson:

Dear Vicki,

What a good question! It's a pleasure to witness a mom who is planning ahead.

I would say the important skills are self-reliance, a capacity to handle adversity and a strong sense of personal values. These translate into proactively handling the tasks of life (getting up in the morning, handling homework independently, making choices about food, learning to do one's own laundry and taking care of spending money in a responsible way), meeting adversities and challenges and learning from and reflecting on mistakes made along the way (interacting directly with teachers and other authority figures when grade disputes, late papers/assignments, and unacceptable behavior mean consequences), forging a strong sense of personal values (being able to stand up to peer pressure, having a clear idea of what constitutes a moral life and the behaviors that go along with that sense of morality and ethics). There are ways that you, as a parent, can advise and counsel your high school student to begin the process of handling these emerging adult tasks and responsibilities. I would suggest giving him increasingly more freedom to make choices as he goes through the next couple of years before college. This may mean, perhaps, suspending or providing more leniency on curfews (if you have one) while at the same time making it clear what behavior you expect to go along with the increasing freedom. Your job now is to help him get ready for the total freedom and responsibility of making many choices when he goes away to college.

Gloria in New Rochelle, N.Y., writes:

Could it be possible that the helicopter moms find that in they were not sufficiently cared for in their own lives, and are thus trying to overcompensate in their children's lives?

Helen Johnson:

Dear Gloria,

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