October 04, 2015

7 Signs of Helicopter Parenting in the Exam Room

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The Millennials are the primary beneficiaries (or victims) of parents who have the means and ability to obsessively guide, educate, and most importantly, over-protect them from the world/life. Such helicopter parents ultimately raise kids into adults who researchers feel at worst never learn to cope with adversity, lack the ability to make hard decisions, and are prone to anxiety disorders.

It is from the education perspective that most helicopter parents and their kids are discovered, but believe me that it is alive and well in the medical world.

Here are 7 signs you may be a helicopter parent (or the victim of one) from an ENT perspective:

ONE: You are making medical decisions for your child... who is over 21 years old. I'm amazed how many young adults are unable to make medical decisions for themselves. It is not uncommon for me to see a young adult with a simple health issue (i.e., nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum) who would than request that I call their mom on their cell phone... and the mom who may live out in Colorado will than decide what treatment to pursue and when without any input from their adult child.

TWO: On the flip side... You fight over medical records of your adult child that you have no right to... Due to the HIPAA privacy law, in our new patient registration paperwork, there is a clarifying question regarding who else we can talk to about any medical issues that may arise with the option "PARENT" that can be selected.... and is often not selected. If you are a concerned parent calling regarding questions about your adult child's medical care... by law, we CAN NOT disclose anything without permission from your adult child. Please don't argue that because you are their mom or dad that I must provide information.

THREE: You provide excessive praise for your child... Giving participation trophies for a soccer game is SO yesterday... You provide not only balloons and stuffed animals, but also a trophy for your child who successfully underwent a 2 minute ear tube placement for chronic ear infections. Even in the clinic, never mind stickers or lollipops... I've had one parent say to their 7 years old child that they'll give them a brand new iPhone if they'll cooperate with a physical exam.

FOUR: You (and the not the patient) determine how much pain your child is in... After surgery, it is not uncommon that narcotics are prescribed for pain control. However, there is a very real risk when somebody other than the patient decides how much pain is present and therefore how much narcotics should be given. I find that helicopter parents tend to either give too little or too much narcotics.

In one particular case I remember, a mom called me upset that her college-aged daughter was in so much pain after a tonsillectomy. I asked how much narcotics has she taken so far... apparently none because the mom was concerned about side effects and possible addiction. GIVE THE NARCOTICS to help with the pain!!!

Or another case where a helicopter mom was still giving regular doses of narcotics to her teenage son one week after septoplasty surgery resulting in significant side effects of nausea and constipation. I asked how much pain was he in... to which she answered "none." Narcotics should ONLY be given if significant pain is present, but the mom was so concerned that he be in no pain whatsoever, constant regular dosing was provided regardless whether he was in pain or not when most likely it was not necessary (vast majority of patients do not need to take narcotics beyond a few days).

FIVE: You desire ONLY the very best healthcare/surgeon for your child, even for routine procedures. It is not uncommon that I see parents of children who need ear tubes placed for ear infections or tonsillectomy needed for chronic tonsillitis. These are very common and routine procedures that community surgeons/hospitals can take care of very well. However, such helicopter parents ultimately decide to take their child to a facility with a national reputation performed by the world's foremost surgeon (i.e., Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, etc) without any resident involvement. And even then, 2 or more second opinions may still be pursued.

SIX: You do not believe in restraining a child to be examined. Rather, you will try to reason with a 2 years old why it is important for the doctor to look at the tonsils and the ears. In one particular egregious case, one mom spent 4 hours trying to reason with her 2 years old and ultimately left the office without allowing me to examine a possible strep throat. (I saw other patients while she tried to reason with her child.)

SEVEN: You do not believe in saying the word "no" to your child as he/she slowly destroys the exam room... tongue blades everywhere, exam gloves everywhere, crackers everywhere, computer keyboard being mashed, exam chair contorted into positions I did not know it was capable of...

Being there for your children is awesome... but in order for your child to learn life-skills, at some point, you just have to let go and allow them to learn how to fend and make decisions for themselves.
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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