Parenting is a tough job, and there’s no lack of critics telling you you’re doing it wrong. However, common sense, backed up by research can give some dependable sign posts along the way. A recent study1 of parents of children with anxiety discovered that the mothers of children with social anxiety disorder helped them with tasks more frequently than mothers of children without anxiety. On a simple puzzle completion task, the mothers of children with anxiety offered help even before the child expressed asked for help or showed signs of helplessness. Researchers believe that the parents in these families saw a greater threat in situations than the children did, and communicated their anxiety to the children, diminishing their ability to succeed on their own.
Another study2, at the University of Washington, found that parenting styles actually needed to be modified depending on the personality of the child. Children who have a higher level of self-control and can regulate their emotions well did better with a more hands-off parenting style, but showed more anxiety if their parents used a higher level of guidance or gave them little autonomy. Conversely, children with less emotional regulation or self control did better with a parenting style that was more controlling, and showed higher levels of anxiety with parents who gave them more autonomy.
The phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” is relatively new, but is beginning to be studied in academic contexts. A 2010 study3 found about 10% of college freshmen experiencing this form of “overparenting” or over protectiveness of the students as they moved into a new phase of life. Overparenting is associated with greater experience of anxiety and vulnerability and less resilience or ability to move on after a failure. It is associated with poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making, and academic functioning.4
It is not clear how widespread the practice of helicopter parenting really is, but anecdotally it does seem to be a growing problem in our culture. College admissions offices (and even graduate schools), human resources offices seeking employees, and, yes, mental health professionals are all seeing more young adults with the characteristic lack of ability to organize their lives, take action on their own behalf or plan and carry out steps towards goals they have set.
- Asbrand, J., Hudson, J., Schmitz, J., & Tuschen-Caffier, B. (2017). Maternal parenting and child behaviour: an observational study of childhood social anxiety disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 41(4), 562–575. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-016-9828-3
- Kiff, C.J., Lengua, L.J. & Bush, N.R. Temperament Variation in Sensitivity to Parenting: Predicting Changes in Depression and Anxiety. J Abnorm Child Psychol (2011) 39: 1199. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-011-9539-x
- Helicopter study New Hampshire
- Luebbe AM, Mancini KJ, Kiel EJ, Spangler BR, Semlak JL, Fussner LM. Dimensionality of Helicopter Parenting and Relations to Emotional, Decision-Making, and Academic Functioning in Emerging Adults. Assessment. 2018 Oct;25(7):841-857. doi: 10.1177/1073191116665907. Epub 2016 Aug 24.