Are helicopter parents really helping these “children”?

By | January 6th, 2017

The helicopter parents have landed.

They’re on our site and they want us to help them. Should we?

These parents contact us on behalf of their adult sons or daughters. Their offspring presumably have better things to do than to be bothered with advocating their own consumer problems.

Rather than encouraging their “child” to contact us and advocate for themselves, these parents present a case that usually includes an excuse for why their kids are unable to be involved. Frequently, this child has made a mistake, and the parent doesn’t think the company should hold them responsible.

Take for instance, one of our recent cases. We were contacted by a mom who was enraged that her 18-year-old son was “taken advantage” of by Etihad Airlines.

Her son had checked in for his flight to Thailand and purchased one additional baggage allowance. However, Mom says that he did not need any additional bags, and she thought that Etihad’s website was confusing to her son, who is a new and inexperienced traveler.

Before she contacted us, she had already written multiple letters to Etihad chiding them for their refusal to overlook her son’s mistake and give him a refund. She was told by Etihad that her son had purchased a discounted nonrefundable baggage allowance online and that the terms were clear on their website.

When she posed her question to our forums, it was pointed out to her that her son should be presenting his own case. She said that wasn’t possible because he was presently enjoying a two-month “Trip of a Lifetime” traveling around the world … alone.

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The irony that she believes her son is competent to navigate the world, but not Etihad’s website, was lost on this mom. Etihad declined her request for a refund and eventually stopped responding to her.

Spend a little time in our forums and you will see that this mother is not unusual in her quest to assist a “child.” In the following scenario, a mom wanted help to get her son home from Europe and get him a refund after his flight was canceled. But she wasn’t sure of all the details .

Unfortunately, these attempts frequently just add a layer of confusion to the case, since we are not actually dealing with a first-person account of the problem.


Of course, helicopter parenting is not new, but we are seeing its results in a population of young adults with parents who, when problems arise, contact college professors, airlines, doctors, employers and now even consumer advocates on their behalf.

This really is to their detriment.

What helicopter parents fail to recognize is that the act of solving one’s own problems or navigating a personal obstacle is character-building. These feats are necessary to have a successful transition into adulthood. Each time a young adult is encouraged to and expected to tackle a hurdle on their own, or with minimal parental guidance, their self-confidence grows. They learn that they can be competent problem-solvers.

And, even if they are unsuccessful with their ultimate goal, they learn to be resilient, which is an invaluable trait.

Conversely, when a parent swoops in and solves any problem that comes their child’s way, the message to the child is that they are incapable of helping themselves. This encourages children to remain dependent for far longer than necessary.

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One other negative aspect of helicopter parenting is that it frequently supports a rejection of personal responsibility.

Just a few days ago, we received yet another request from a mom who wants us to advocate for her adult son. Three years ago, he signed up for a college textbook rental program in which, after a free 14-day trial period, he was charged $15 per month.

Or, I should say, his mother was charged, since he was using his mom’s credit card. He never canceled, and his mother believes that he never used the service.

She would like us to help get her a refund for three years of monthly payments. Her take on the situation is that her son was “duped” into this plan and did not understand the terms of the rental program. However, we are talking about a legal adult who signed up for a service and who has not contacted us for help. We don’t know his version of how this happened.

Who should be responsible here?

As consumer advocates, we want to help every consumer that requests our help. But, these parents are not the consumers.

Which leads us to ask the question: Should we adopt an explicit policy that if the consumer is 18 or older, we only advocate if that person contacts us directly? By assisting these parents, are we helping to create a generation of helpless consumers?

FYI, the mom of the Etihad passenger contacted us again and asked what more can be done. We encouraged her, now that her son has returned from his journey, to have him write his own letter to Etihad describing his problem. She was receptive to this suggestion.

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Baby steps.

Should we require that readers over 18 contact us directly with their cases?

View Results

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  • JewelEyed

    Unless said person over 18 is disabled in someway that prevents them from presenting their case digitally, definitely not appropriate. The cases are a mess, you can’t even claim to the company that the person in question asked for you to advocate for them, and how can you be sure what the person you’re actually advocating for wants?

  • tim scales

    I’m a parent of a college student who traveled with two roommates to Iceland for part of her winter break this year, paid for with her own money, and who discovered two days before she was leaving that her flight (and not her roommates’) was booked a day earlier than she thought. After a bit of disbelief, she rebooked herself on the correct flight (more than doubling the airfare) and is planning to look more closely at all of her confirmation emails in the future. Learning experiences suck, and can be expensive, but they have a lot more long term benefits than rescues.

    Very much in favor of requiring adults to be their own advocates – hopefully it’ll help both the kids and their parents grow up….

  • HRTraveler

    This is getting way out of hand. Nearly every expert you hear talking about Millennials doesn’t have a good thing to say about their parents. “failed parentiing” is the phrase heard most often. The kids are coddled beyond belief, and have in some cases, no self-esteem or self-reliance as a result. They are ill prepared to function in the world, and this is a prime example. Tell Mom to shove off and only work with the people in question, unless it’s actually child, not a 24 year old pseudo-kid.

  • Rebecca

    “Should we adopt an explicit policy that if the consumer is 18 or older, we only advocate if that person contacts us directly?”

    I would say yes with the same exception made by businesses. If the person contacting you has POA because the adult is mentally disabled, has dementia, etc (and thus has been determined by a court to not be capable of managing their own financial affairs) or if the individual is serving overseas in the military and their parent/spouse has temporary POA to manage their affairs. I can’t think of any other valid reason.

  • sirwired

    “Or, I should say, his mother was charged, since he was using his mom’s credit card. He never canceled, and his mother believes that he never used the service.”

    So the Mom saw this appear on her credit card bills for THREE YEARS, and never questioned either her son or the company? And NOW she wants a refund? I could support one after a month or two if there was something sneaky or underhanded in the sign-up process, but not years after-the-fact.

    But to answer the actual question: Yes, adults should advocate for themselves. They gotta grow up sometime.

  • DChamp56

    “What helicopter parents fail to recognize is that the act of solving one’s own problems or navigating a personal obstacle is character-building”
    Powerful words that should be read to those parents!

  • Richard Smith

    Proposed solution: Helicopter parents have the right, with their children’s consent, to continue to hover. But — the child is not allowed to be considered an emancipated adult until after the parents cease hovering. So — they are not allowed driver’s licenses, voting, or drinking. In exchange, they get their parents care for as long as they and their parents desire.

  • Jason Hanna

    Yeah.. “In Most Cases”.. because there’s always shades of grey. Things are rarely black or white and there could be situations that we’re not thinking of where we’d all say “Ok, I can understand why it’s the parent contacting us” but for the vast majority..

  • Bill___A

    If the child does not care enough to bother with it, then why should anyone else?

    Disclaimer: My sister is a “helicopter parent”.

  • John Keahey

    Why not go a day early and meet her roommates the next day. Wouldn’t that be cheaper than changing the flight?

  • tim scales

    There were some logistical issues – one of the roommate’s parents were providing transport to the airport (not available on the wrong day), sharing luggage with the roommates (to save bag fees on the discount airline), no hotel or rental car reserved for the unexpected night, etc. She thought about it, though, and came up with the best bad solution she could. Her decision, and her fix, which was the important thing.

  • David L.

    I voted yes…

    What about all of the cases where kids are asking for help for their elderly parents? If you make the rule that you will no longer advocate for anyone who is over 18 who does not contact you directly, how will you handle the cases where “Mom or Dad doesn’t know how to use a computer” etc.

    The decision to advocate should be done on a case by case basis. Yes, young adults should try to help you mediate these cases, but sometimes young adults need a kick in the rear to understand what is happening, and what they can do to help.

  • David___1

    Oh, the irony… The article I read immediately prior to this was of a woman trying to get her mother’s resort fees refunded… I don’t agree with banning parents advocating for their children. That said, a blanket ban on everyone asking for help for a third party makes sense, at least with certain provisions for those who are unable to advocate for themselves.

  • Annie M

    You forgot Peanut Mom who got kicked off the flight for asking them to not serve peanuts in first class when she was sitting in row 20 and the kids did not have an airborne allergy. Didn’t you find the kids were teenagers?

  • Annie M

    And it will also help the advocates when the person writing doesn’t have the correct facts and makes them jump through hoops for nothing.

  • MF

    Although the ‘self help’ genre is useful for consumer advocates, might I also suggest “How to Raise an Adult,” for chapter & verse on why parents should retire their rotor blades?

  • michael anthony

    I don’t agree with a blanket ban. Shouldn’t the parent/adult be involved if day, the air tickets were charged on their personal account? Second instance, would be when a crime has occurred or the child/loved one is currently in a region of upheaval.

    Yes, most cases can probably be dismissed. But there are some very good reasons why a parent or loved one would get involved and should get involved.

  • Kairho

    I’ll bet that the sum total cost of all of these excuses would be way less than double the cost of the airfare. But … that’s how young ‘uns learn the ways of the world.

  • Tricia K

    In the name of full disclosure, I did post on the forum a year ago asking for information when my daughter booked a trip to the DR and her passport was set to expire three months after the trip to find out what she should do. Note, I said what “she should do.” That said, both of my kids (27 and 31) have been brought up in the school of hard knocks theory, believing that negative outcomes gave them the chance to be proactive the next time and that a hard lesson was the best prevention of careless actions the next time. It meant we had to let our son go hungry a few years after college when he wasn’t earning enough money to pay his bills (and no, it’s not easy to watch your child struggle no matter how old they are). Many of us who grew up with very strict parents wanted life to be easier for our children, but self
    esteem is earned through overcoming challenges and we don’t do them any favors by stepping in to rescue them at every turn.

  • joycexyz

    Helicopter parents are fulfilling their own need to be needed by keeping their children forever babies. Sick, sick, sick!

  • joycexyz

    Very rare, but, if necessary, could be explained.

  • jsn55

    It’s difficult not to be judgemental about these parents who just don’t get it, but that’s not our job. Apart from the sheer annoyance of their queries on behalf of their grown children, they often don’t have all the facts straight. That’s the real reason to reject the parents’ request and insist that the “child” ask for the help directly. Unless your kid is travelling in the deepest jungle for three months without any connection with the outside world, have him contact us himself.

  • sirwired

    My favorite elliott.org Helicopter Parenting case would have to be the one where Mom was writing in because she felt her son (a Yale student, and presumably smart enough to advocate for himself, should he feel it warranted) was overcharged for cleaning when the girl he was riding with vomited in the back of an Uber he hired.

  • LonnieC

    It seems that everything for these “helicopter children” has to be made easy for them. Make mistakes. Solve them. Learn from the experience. Grow up. Mommy and Daddy won’t be there forever. And what kind of lessons are these parents teaching their kids?

  • LonnieC

    I could imagine a situation where there was a time issue and the child was out of the country for an extended period, but I really do agree with you.

  • LonnieC

    Except that most cases where parents are acting for their kids seem to involve perfectly capable (physically and mentally) of doing for themselves. In those instances where kids are doing something for their parents, there seems to be a specific inability (“Mom doesn’t know how to use a computer.”), and help isn’t simply wanted or expected, but legitimately needed. Most of the writers here have indicated a willingness to help one who truly needs it.

  • pauletteb

    Helicopter parents . . . enabling their “kids” to be unable to think for themselves.

  • Carol Molloy

    I agree that I see a higher degree of these characteristics than I did in my generation. I work with a large number of Millenials, in addition to having some of my own children in that generation. There’s a danger in painting with too broad a brush. My young colleagues are hard working, creative, terrific people. They eagerly volunteer for our philanthropic activities, and are great team players.

    Participation trophies, parental permissiveness, and institutional pressures have all contributed to the lack of resiliency and preparedness for many in this generation

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