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Misguided Love: Helicopter Parenting Crushes Potential

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Saturday, July 21, 2018

Like helicopters, helicopter parents hover incessantly over their children’s lives, supervising and regulating all their activities, especially their education. A University of Georgia professor correctly described the advent of the cell phone as a major contributing factor to this flagrant over-parenting, calling it "the world's longest umbilical cord". The psychological damage done by this well-intentioned behavior is beyond dispute. A sampling of the evidence follows.

Crisis at the University

The modern university is undergoing a major crisis of fragile, unprepared students who cannot face problems and thrive away from their parents. Below is a typical letter from the head of Counselling at a major American university to Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn:

“Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable. External measures of success are more important than learning and autonomous development.

“Faculty, particularly young faculty members, feel pressured to accede to student wishes lest they get low teacher ratings from their students. Students email about trivial things and expect prompt replies.

“Failure and struggle need to be normalized. Students are very uncomfortable in not being right. They want to re-do papers to undo their earlier mistakes. We have to normalize being wrong and learning from one’s errors.

“Faculty members, individually and as a group, are conflicted about how much ‘handholding’ they should be doing.

“Growth is achieved by striking the right balance between support and challenge. We need to reset the balance point. We have become a ‘helicopter institution.’”

Gray outlines the rapidly diminishing outlets for children to play, explore and spend some time on their own apart from adults:

“Among the consequences, I have argued, are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives. We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have: Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it……..

“But I don’t blame parents, or certainly not just parents. Parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in society—victims of the continuous exhortations from ‘experts’ about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a ‘helicopter society.”

Parent’s Hovering Over College Life

“Researcher Holly Schiffrin from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia found so-called helicopter parenting negatively affected college students by undermining their need to feel autonomous and competent. Her study found students with over-controlling parents were more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives while the number of hyper-parents was increasing with economic fears fuelling concerns over youngsters’ chances of success.

“‘You expect parents with younger kids to be very involved but the problem is that these children are old enough to look after themselves and their parents are not backing off,’ Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology, told Reuters. ‘To find parents so closely involved with their college lives, contacting their tutors and running their schedules, is something new and on the increase. It does not allow independence and the chance to learn from mistakes.’”

Parent’s Emotional Needs Given Priority

“The real motivations of parents are probably multiple. Without question, they are anxious about the future success of their kids and think that clearing every path for them, including taking over tasks, will smooth the way to achievement. Many parents want to continue the kinds of connection they had when their kids were younger; it feeds the illusion that the adults aren't aging after all, and it keeps the adults from having to carve new roles for their own post-parenting lives. There are studies showing that some parents are especially needy emotionally, expecting their children to supply the closeness missing from their marriages or their own social life. However you slice it, parents are putting their own emotional needs ahead of the developmental needs of their children…….

“Au contraire, the researchers find, the inappropriate, anxiety-driven parenting tactics not only compromise children's autonomy, mastery, and personal growth, they often reflect a critical attitude by parents, who praise their children when they do well but withdraw affection, subtly or overtly, when they don't bring home that A. It's known in the psych biz as ‘parental conditional regard.’ At least that's how children perceive it. And that's what matters: The threat of criticism has corrosive effects on attitudes toward parents and self-development, and contaminates relationship with others. ‘Emotional overinvolvement and criticism often go hand in hand in family relationships,’ explain the researchers.”

Center of the Universe

University of Arizona’s Chris Segrin ,Ph.D.,  is a behavioral scientist whose specialty is interpersonal relationships and mental health. With several colleagues he conducted numerous investigations into hundreds of parent-young adult child relationships across the United States:

“Among their findings are that adult children who are overparented tend to have lower self-efficacy and an exaggerated sense of entitlement, and that moms and dads who overparent are likely to be less satisfied with family communication and connection. ‘On the one hand, I think these are all well-intentioned parents who are invested in their children's lives,’ said University of Arizona alumnus and collaborator Michelle Givertz, now an assistant professor for communication studies at California State University, Chico.

"'But it is stunting the growth of these young people and creating other problems for them, in terms of depression, anxiety and negative coping behaviors,’ said Givertz, who worked with Segrin along with collaborators Amy Bauer of the University of Arizona communication department; Neil Montgomery of Keene State College; Alesia Woszidlo of the University of Kansas; and Melissa Taylor Murphy of Bloomsburg University.

“So, what did the team find with regard to why people overparent? The team found that overparenting is associated with lower-quality communication within the family. Also, those who overparent tended to have lower family satisfaction. 

“What does this mean for adult children? The team found that children raised by those who overparent tend to have a lower rate of coping skills. Adult children also tend to have lower self-efficacy and an exaggerated sense of entitlement.

"'This is also a pretty significant concern with what happens with this type of parenting. Narcissism and entitlement are bedfellows; they just go hand in hand,’ Segrin said. ‘These parents are generating a child who really sees him or herself as the center of the universe. Being catered to becomes a norm for these children,’ he added. ‘They are raising kids with low self-efficacy and high entitlement, which is a near lethal combination of personality traits.’"

Narcissism and Entitlement

“Results of this investigation add to a growing body of literature suggesting that overparenting has mostly deleterious effects on young adult children’s psychological well-being and that it does not contribute to the successful and adaptive child traits that many parents would hope for  ……. In the present investigation, overparenting was associated with greater narcissism in adult children, which is consistent with a recent finding that overparenting is also associated with higher entitlement in young adults. Kohut’s (1977) theoretical perspective on parenting and child narcissism stipulates that parental enmeshment represents a parent’s narcissistic use of the child to satisfy selfish motivations. By solving problems for the child and not allowing him or her to experience failures, the overinvolved parent corrupts the child’s opportunity to develop an independent self, and the ensuing narcissism reflects the child’s ongoing search for approval from idealized others.”

Social Anxiety

“Mothers that exhibited higher levels of overcontrolling behaviors, such as demanding to know what the child is doing, not allowing the child to decide what they want to do, and watching the child very carefully, had children with lower levels of perceived competence and higher levels of anxiety. Overcontrolling parents may increase levels of worry and social anxiety in children as this parental behavior may communicate to youths that they do not have the skills to successfully navigate challenges in their environment, generally or in social situations, thereby causing the child to worry about his/her abilities. This increased worry may increase avoidance and reduce the opportunities for youth to develop appropriate social or problem-solving skills.”

Additional Resources 

Over-parenting: 8 Signs You’re Doing It              https://intouchparenting.com/over-parenting-8-signs-you-are-doing-it/

Related Posts

30 Prying and Probing Questions To Bolster Critical Thinking http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2016/10/30-prying-and-probing-questions-to.html

Photo: https://www.momspresso.com/parenting/article/over-entitled-less-generous-kids-are-we-over-parenting

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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