Helicopter parenting can cause children to experience depression and dissatisfaction with life, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Mary Washington and published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.
“Helicopter parenting” refers to a highly involved parenting style marked by “hovering” behavior and micro-managing children’s social and academic lives. The new study suggests that it damages children’s feelings of competence and autonomy, leading to depression.
While a certain degree of parental involvement is considered helpful to children’s growth into adults, college administrators have increasingly raised concerns in recent years about an increasing trend toward helicopter parenting. These critics allege that such intrusive parenting is interfering with college students’ ability to grow up, and may even be harming their mental health. And while prior studies have shown that helicopter parenting does indeed produce children who feel less able to deal with everyday life, the study is one of the first to look for a psychological effect.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how these helicopter parents are bad,” researcher Holly Schiffrin said, “but there’s been very little research.”
To assess the real-life effects of helicopter parenting, the researchers asked 297 U.S. undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 23 a series of questions about their mothers’ parenting behaviors. Although the researchers hope to eventually expand their research to fathers, they started with mothers because more research has been conducted on mothers’ effects on children.
Participants ranked how much they agreed with statements such as “If I am having an issue with my roommate, my mother would try to intervene” and “If I were to receive a low grade that I felt was unfair, my mother would call the professor.” The questions were based on articles and books written about helicopter parenting and from the researchers’ personal experience as professors.
Students also rated their own autonomy, competence and how well they got along with others (“relatedness”). Researchers then administered tests to evaluate the students’ levels of anxiety, depression and satisfaction with life.
Undermining children’s confidence
Children of helicopter mothers were more depressed and less satisfied with life, and felt that they had less autonomy and were less competent.
“It was really not feeling autonomous and not feeling competent that were associated with depression and lower life satisfaction,” Schiffrin said.
“We think when parents are over-involved with their kids lives, they’re undermining their sense of competence, both by sending a message that says, I think you can’t do it yourself, and robbing them of the opportunity to practice those skills”…
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