Family Matters

Hover No More: Helicopter Parents May Breed Depression and Incompetence in Their Children

A new study in the "Journal of Child and Family Studies" found that being overly involved in your grownup kids’ lives can do more harm than good

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Helicopter parents, stop hovering: it’s officially not good for your kids — especially if they’re already grown.

A new study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that being overly involved in your grownup kids’ lives can do more harm than good. The research was conducted by the same scientists who showed last year that intensive parenting — constantly stimulating your children — can make moms more depressed.

You may think you’re helping out by phoning your kids’ college professors to haggle over the difference between a B+ and an A–, but that interference may be undermining young adults’ ability to problem-solve and fend for themselves. Constantly texting adult children and friending them on Facebook — letting them fly the coop but still demanding daily check-ins — is not exactly building a generation of confident and resilient grownups. And the problem only snowballs. “Parents are sending an unintentional message to their children that they are not competent,” says Holly Schiffrin, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington. “When adult children don’t get to practice problem-solving skills, they can’t solve these problems in the future.”

(MORE: The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting)

To reach this conclusion, Schiffrin and colleagues surveyed 297 college-age children about their parents, asking a barrage of questions: Are your parents involved in selecting classes? Do they contact your professors about your grades? (Schiffrin herself has been on the receiving end of such calls more than once.) Do they intervene if you have a roommate issue?

The students also reported on how satisfied they were with their lives, as well as their feelings of depression and anxiety. And they were questioned about the “self-determination theory,” which holds that every person has three basic needs in order to be happy: they must feel autonomous, competent and connected to other people.

(MORE: How ‘Kidsick’ Parents Stay Obsessively Connected with Their Kids in Summer Camp)

Their answers showed that helicopter parenting decreased adult children’s feelings of autonomy, competence and connection. In turn, feeling incompetent led to increased reports of feeling depressed and dissatisfied. “These parents have the best intentions,” says Schiffrin. “They are being involved to help their child be successful. But as we know from the previous study, that high level of involvement is stressful for parents and it is not benefiting the kids. It’s actually harming them.”

As exhausting as such hands-on parenting is, and despite the toll it may take on the moms’ mental health, they tend to consider the sacrifice worth it because they believe they’re helping their children. Schiffrin knows the feeling. “Personally, I feel a lot of guilt anytime I’m not doing something for my kids,” she admits.

But her work should help moms to shift that perspective. Perhaps by choosing to watch Downton Abbey reruns instead of playing Candyland with a tot or editing college essays for a high-schooler, they’re actually building their offspring’s independence and confidence.

(MORE: The Latest Trend in College Admissions: Parents Write Letters of Recommendation)

“For me, this at least says it’s O.K. to not do as much as other parents are doing because I’m helping my child become self-sufficient,” she says. “If we are doing something that is hurting us and is not helping our kids, then we need to stop.”

158 comments
WaqasAli
WaqasAli

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HSteffenhagen
HSteffenhagen

Seriously? You only now figured this out? Isn't this one of those self-evident things?

IngeborgDijkstr
IngeborgDijkstr

@oudercoach Eens: 'te' is nooit goed. Parentblaming ook niet. Reflecteren over wat je doet als ouder en waarom is wel zinvol ;-)

SethStumpf
SethStumpf

I only read this because I thought it'd be about toy helicopters... 

TeenBrainGuy
TeenBrainGuy

@Doing_Right Great insights about hovering parents...it can really be extreme. Thanks for sharing. Following you!

MAYsBean
MAYsBean

@_zibanitu 언니 번역좀 해주요~~~~

MarthaHp
MarthaHp

I am a child psychotherapist who everyday sees the damage done when children lack love and affection.  Loving your child is not the same as permissiveness and does not make you a "helicopter" parent.  Children who are appreciated and cared for develop an unshakeable inner well-being that actually makes them more resilient and able to withstand life's ups and downs.  In the parenting book, Smart Love: The Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Regulating, and Enjoying Your Child (www.smartlovepress.com) there are specific strategies for dealing with every age and stage from birth to adolescence in a loving manner that is also effective and growth-promoting.

maryellen116
maryellen116

I never thought I'd be grateful to my crazy stepmother for throwing me onto my own resources by the time I was old enough for a work permit- 14, at the time. Pretty much the end of any meaningful involvement in my life by either parent, which made me grow up fast, become extremely resourceful, and gave me a good work ethic. The problem was that I was light years behind my peers as far as formal education and credentials, a deficit it's taken me the rest of my life to correct. But I'm still better off than my friends who were hovered over and pampered and their wish was mom and dad's command- some of whom are in their 30s and 40s and still living at home. Seems like a happy medium is the thing to shoot for.

ShawnHerron
ShawnHerron

When I entered college (at 17), my parents had literally no involvement.  Didn't mean they didn't care, but college was a grown-up activity and was my responsibility.  My recollection was that my dad asked - do you know how to get there - and said - if you need any money, tell your mother - and that was about the extent of it.  Not really sure they even knew what my undergrad major even was!    When I got a full-time job, at 18, again, it was my responsibility.    

JonathanFass
JonathanFass

This is a prime example of a cross-sectional study that is being reported as having a cause-effect relationship (an error of endogeny, or "correlation does not imply causation."). We don't actually know that helicopter parents produce incompetent children; perhaps incompetent children, through early life struggles, create more involved and worrisome parents? Further, we don't know that involved parenting produces depression; maybe depression creates a need to feel worth or involvement in their children? This is a classic example of a reporter reading into a study's results and drawing conclusions that can't be supported by the methods.

RussWakelin
RussWakelin

@jefftidball I remember when this kind of article was common sense. #OldMan

iraafra
iraafra

Ibu2 baca ya ...“@TIME: Helicopter parents, stop hovering: Your actions may breed depression in your kids | http://t.co/sk3L3QpuX7

AtomicOvermind
AtomicOvermind

@jefftidball Shocking. Or…wait. No. The other thing.

zsolt52
zsolt52

Probabely the term "drone parent" is more up-to-date. I think of unarmed drones ;-)

hat.dina
hat.dina

Overprotected parents usually have the opposite effect.The child does not  come to you when he really needs help.Any any age they can be watched  without interference ,unless they harm themselves.Watching them ,we can learn new ways  of doing things ,ourselves. When they grow older  we already taught  them everything we know .The problem is that we might not like their solution

sandra
sandra

what I hear is "please let me exploit your child by having them sign loans far beyond their capacity to pay, let me exploit your child by giving them a bicycle-education-experience at Cadillac prices"  

dtp*
dtp*

Overprotective parenting is not only a growing trend, it is fast becoming the norm.  And our laws are likely to reinforce that, especially as parents who dare to give their kids a longer leash are subject to concern, criticism, and ultimately intervention by well-meaning, but misguided advocates of child safety. We are seeing more and more parents arrested and punished for "child neglect" or "child endangerment" because they allow their kids some independence (having a fourth grader walk to school in Jonesboro, Arkansas, or dropping your 12-year-old off at the mall in Missoula, Montana). For a discussion of this problem and issue, and potential means of addressing it, see http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=david_pimentel.

AdventuresinSS
AdventuresinSS

@yuribeans so no daily reports? Sweet, my life just got less stressful

Kesigift
Kesigift

@drabioye my parents care a whole lot abt dis tinx

PeterEvansBLife
PeterEvansBLife

@SayersMark Ha! We'd just be happy for our folks to give a hoot! Although someone was rude today at work; might get mum to give em a call...

JenkeMedveházi
JenkeMedveházi

My mother is a narcissistic and she brainwashed me into being incompetent, she didn't let me being myself, always criticised me, controlling everything, played the martyr mother. By the time I found out that she never loved me, and was jelaous of everything and everybody even of her grandchild and she really is an evil bitch, it was too late. She always "worked for us" and we believed that it was the evidence of love. Because I was an only child she could be a martyr only if she put down me into a role of almost a retarded. The revelation came after my son's tragedy. When we are alone she makes fun of our tragedy when amoung acquintances she always cries and tells that she suffers the most. She competes in everything she has to win.These parents are the most harmful, they are capable of everything only to feel themself important. She phoned to psychiatry that I went med, because I now don't let her dominate my life. I advise everyone to ran away from such a mother until it's to late. They want to life your life, no matter at what cost.

sverry7
sverry7

What a relief! I thought this article was about how helicopter pilot parents somehow mess up their kids...

BorisIII
BorisIII

What about steroids in meet causing kids to now start puberty around 2nd grade.  Following the Ericsson model that can't be good for kids.  3 stages of childhood all at the same time.  Still in love with mom and starting puberty scares me.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

The "well duh" factor here is pretty high.  If you don't teach a person to stand on their own they're going to fall over a lot more often than someone who was taught how to look out for themselves.  And if you base so much of your own personal happiness on the happiness of others, you're going to get very depressed very quickly.  

The only surprising thing about this study is that it took so long for someone to actually do it.  The conclusions are pretty obvious to those who have known helicopter parents and their kids.

Djamal Amra
Djamal Amra

In a message on the occasion of the celebration of February 24, he said he was "appalled" by the revelations in the press about corruption scandals affecting Sonatrach. Will he order the justice and security services touch dignitaries cited by business and enjoying far of impunity? The national hydrocarbons company, Sonatrach, celebrates its 50 years of existence under a rain of scandals revealing the fraudulent methods of awarding contracts under the age Chakib Khelil. It is the eve of the celebration, which will take place today on the site of gas Tiguentourine that the president chose to respond to the series of scandalous revelations, saying: "I can not ignore the scandals recently identified by the press concerning the management of Sonatrach. "Bouteflika said that information" raise our rebellion and our disapproval, but I trust in the justice of our country to clarify the skein of such information for locate and apply responsibilities with thoroughness and firmness sanctions under our laws. " Words are dropped: "Locate responsibilities" and "rigor and firmness," he said at the Algerian judges, but how can translate such statements in a context where justice is known to be orders? How far will Bouteflika to shed light on these scabrous cases involving senior regime officials previously enjoying impunity? We are entitled to ask these questions, because the Sonatrach scandal did not start the day the Italian and Canadian media are seized. Sonatrach is the box scandals since January 2010, when a judicial inquiry conducted by the DRS has led to decapitate the managerial staff of the company, without touching the minister at the time, namely Chakib Khelil, we said behind all decisions made by these executives in jail today. This same minister, citing his membership in "presidential clan," swore not to leave the government, but he ended up doing, because his name was repeatedly and "embarrassing" in the pleadings of lawyers involved Sonatrach executives in the scandal. In no case, however, it was worried by the Algerian authorities. The latter, ignoring, as his usual, ignore the political responsibility and therefore save any prosecution ministers as is the case in the series of scandals East-West Highway, Khalifa fisheries etc.. Today, Bouteflika said to trust the Algerian justice system, which is known to be devoid of autonomy and dependent on the executive power and its ramifications. The President is the head of the executive branch will he finally give the green light and order justice to what she should do it two years ago, that is to say convene Chakib Khelil, Mohamed Bedjaoui and other members of the nomenklatura to meet like any other litigant facts alleged against them? 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Sonatrach, the largest economic heritage of this country, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and unveils alone, a mismanagement and predatory wealth of the former leader Hocine Malti pays.Son even arrested, in an open letter, the first head of the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), but it does make many people react. Exit sign Bouteflika she really willing to go through to do justice to the Algerians whose property was looted and squandered, or is it just a speech for the occasion to show international opinion that such fraudulent practices are "punished"? What is the order of certainty in any case, is that the energy assets nationalized in some pomp February 24, 1971 was delivered for years to lawless adventurers who have amassed fortunes on Algerians back and used the basement Algerian pumps in multinationals. It is more imperative today to locate the responsibilities of such a mess programmed, and each meets its direct or indirect involvement "Our security is in danger," according to the head of state: President Republic yesterday issued a tribute "special" security services have stopped the terrorist attack last January against the installation of gas Tiguentourine In Amenas (Illizi). "I want to pay particular tribute to the officers, soldiers and members of the security services and those of Emergency Preparedness, whose intervention has our admiration and that of international opinion," said the President in a message to the Secretary General of the UGTA, on the occasion of the celebration of the double anniversary of the establishment of the General Union of Algerian Workers and the nationalization of hydrocarbons. "However, we are faced with other challenges. Our security is jeopardized by the situation in Mali to our southern border and the sporadic outbreaks of terrorism that we are constantly fighting, "he added, noting that" what has happened lately In Amenas is an instructive illustration, which highlighted the cruelty of terrorist groups, but also the know-how of our army, our security services, who were able to stop this aggression against one of the most important facilities in our country, "he argued.

Djamal Amra
Djamal Amra

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Jennifer Wappler
Jennifer Wappler

it is my right as a mother to be annoying and interfering and irritating and loving and caring and full of impossible kinds of love and good intentions for my kids. xx

_zibanitu
_zibanitu

@MAYsBean 언니가 좀 게을러서..

dfwenigma
dfwenigma

@MarthaHp MarthaHP I think what we're talking about is the stark difference between being a loving parent and the type of unhealthy co-dependency whereby parents stand in for their children no matter what. Don't you believe that children that don't learn to pick their battles and apply appropriate problem solving skills will become adults who are helpless? I used to observe adult "children" at one of America's ivy league schools - you would hear the child on the phone. "Mom, you've got to do something, if i don't get better grades I'm not going to get into grad school, you need to do something here..." And then there was, "mom, how am I supposed to go to school and work at the same time? How do I do that?" And then there was the worst of all, "what do you mean I can't go on the trip to Vail, I can't help it I got an F in that class, it's not my fault." Or the professor I had that used to interrupt class because her grandson would call and professor grandma needed to attend to the helicopter grandchild. She explained that he was going through a rough time - and I could hear here, "do you need me to buy you a car honey? Do you need money? Blah, blah, blah." This from a PhD in history, a former high school teacher, a tenured and retired professor of the university, a pillar of the community - oh and she was Phi Beta Kappa as well." This particular professor was also on the Bicentennial committee in 1976. We're talking about children who are not only privileged but whose parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles dive in and save them every two seconds. No one did that for me. My mother used to lie and tell me she walked to school every day - later I learned her brother drove her every single day and picked her up at her grandmother's house. I never received those types of services - I was "on your own". Children need opportunities to fall and skin their knees - and pick themselves back up.

dfwenigma
dfwenigma

@JonathanFass I admit it all of my observations are purely anecdotal and that I haven't adhered to the rules of rigorous research standards. I didn't ask, "is this a peer reviewed study." What methodology did they use? What type of sample did they use? Was the sample skewed, etc. Guilty as charged. I believed the anecdotal experiences I've had which are replete with bias. You're 100% correct - correlation doesn't relate to causation. Cause-effect relationships are a chief cause of failures in qualitative and quantitative research. isolating variables and getting from a correlation effect to causation is difficult at best. The other question I would have is what research instruments they used as well. What about reliability in research standards? Often these types of articles are sensationalism at their worst. Even if the journalist introduced rigor into their article it would probably be rejected. Many don't want the ambiguity that comes from academic research - whether empiricism or social action research theory is at play. Valid observations.

DavidSparks
DavidSparks

@sandra Thanks for saying this! This is exactly what I was thinking as I was reading this. I would LOVE to be as hands off as my parents were when I went to college, but that just isn't feasible anymore. The whole college system is designed to fleece your young adult student and you, the parent(s) of all of their money and more. When I went with my daughter to her college orientation I felt like I was in the parlor of Monsieur and Madame Thénardier of Les Miserables! (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter in the movie)  This begins even as you apply for college. All of my daughter's friends who did not go to a university had parents that were too overwhelmed and/or distracted to be able to help their children through the labyrinth of college admission and finance!

yuribeans
yuribeans

@AdventuresinSS fine... I guess no hourly reports -compromising here :)

yuribeans
yuribeans

@AdventuresinSS no, just no hovering the teachers to explain your grades should be different and then transfer the MO to you job :P

SayersMark
SayersMark

@PeterEvansBLife my mum actually wrote this reply for me...

dfwenigma
dfwenigma

@JenkeMedveházi Sadly there are no licenses to be parents. It's largely a physiological phenomenon. Unlike animals we don't always have the instincts we need to do well - but somehow, some of us turn out well despite horrible upbringings. Many people are emotionally and physically damaged people. They shouldn't have children. All we can do is encourage them not to do so. Who decides? I think we decide as a society. We can see unhealthy behaviors repeating themselves. Sadly until and if the individual successfully completes some type of program that creates a sustainable change in behaviors, a permanent change, and the admission that they have harmed others - no real change will happen. Your mother is one of the many people that makes the world an awful place. The only solace in most cases is that we don't repeat the scars. I have proof of at least four generations of alcoholism and the attendant repercussions on my family. Usually there are other demons beneath substance abuse and rooting them out and eliminating them is not easy. It sounds as if you've tried hard to overcome your mental health heritage - one that was negative. Good for you. Celebrate and pass on the good stuff to others. Good luck you JenkeMedvehazi.

dfwenigma
dfwenigma

@DeweySayenoff If it's so self-evident why is it that so many very wealthy, well-educated parents seem to be the most ardent advocates of the helicopter-parent mentality? 

roden5
roden5

@dfwenigma @MarthaHp   I am so glad to read your response.  I know two people who are more like I will buy you a car, did you get up, did you take your meds, you will miss the bus, I can take you, blah blah blah.  The poor kid is almost 23 and doesnt know how to make spaghetti, do laundry or boil an egg.   The father tells the kid to be careful, you will burn whatever and catch the house on fire.  In other words, I'll do it.  The mom has had this kid tagged as mentally retarded, mildly of course, and had her on up to 18 meds at once (bi polar, manic, migraines, etc,  The only bipolar that I have witnessed in this young lady is that she has emotional drops when she doesnt get what she wants.  They BOTH have her believing that she can t raise her daughter and go to school or work at the same time.  "Its just too much."  The Parents need to give their kids wings to fly, even if that means that they fall first.  I thank the gods every day that my mother was determined to make us independent; but loved us completely and made sure we knew it.  I have never met a mom like her yet.  Have you given your child a spiral monochrome puzzle to solve today?  Teach them, show them, and let them fail.  Be there to show them options, after they have tried. 

HSteffenhagen
HSteffenhagen

@DavidSparks @sandra While I certainly agree that you as a parent should be involved in decisions that require your  funding - but there's that, and then there's what essentially amounts to stalking your own children, which is what I would describe as 'helicopter' parenting.

PeterEvansBLife
PeterEvansBLife

@SayersMark Who is this and why are you bullying my son?!

maryellen116
maryellen116

@dfwenigma @DeweySayenoff My guess would be they were raised that way themselves, to one degree or another. Or maybe it's the opposite and they were raised by nannies and au pair girls and they overcompensate. Or God help us maybe it's what they perceive as being the "well-educated, upper class" way of parenting and it's like having the right handbag. Who knows? But you see poor and less educated people who are no different- people who work 2 jobs, drive a 15 yr old car and shop at Goodwill, and buy their lazy kid who sits around doing nothing a brand new car and designer clothes.

yuribeans
yuribeans

@AdventuresinSS you know how lovely thy me is :D

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KidAgency05360

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