Personal Growth

A New Study Shows Just How Damaging Helicopter Parenting Can Be

It's only natural for parents to be pretty closely involved in their kids' lives. In fact, it would be a bit strange if they weren't. But we're guessing that you know a few parents who are a little too involved. Or maybe you had parents like that. Or maybe you are a helicopter parent. If that's true, then maybe it's time to take a deep breath and a step back. As it turns out, children with hovering parents often have a difficult time with some important life skills.

Self-Regulation Is Making Me Wait

Of course you want to keep your kids safe. The only problem is that kids can't learn what's safe and what's not if they're never allowed to wander ever so slightly away from safety. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; and the University of Zürich, the hovering habit you see so often in parents might have even worse effects than shielding kids from educational, if somewhat unpleasant, life lessons.

In this study, the researchers invited 422 2-year-old children and their mothers to the laboratory to play with toys, then put them away. All the while, the psychologists watched to see how much the mothers had attempted to take over the task for their child. Three years later, they welcomed those participants back into the lab, this time to see how the kids reacted to receiving an unfair portion of treats, and to give the kids a challenging puzzle with a stress-inducing time limit. Finally, they tracked the kids in school at ages 5 and 10 by asking both the kids and their teachers about their behaviors and attitudes.

As you might expect, the children whose mothers displayed more controlling behavior at age 2 were less in control of their own emotions at a later age. Poor control over emotions and behavior at age 5 was linked with both poor social skills and poor academic performance at age 10. As study co-author Dr. Nicole Perry told the Guardian, "To foster emotional and behavioural skills parents should allow children to experience a range of emotions and give them space to practice and try managing these emotions independently and then guide and assist children when [or] if the task becomes too great."

Helicopter Kids, All Grown Up

The scientists behind this particular study are quick to point out its limitations. For one thing, they only recorded a single parent's (over-)involvement, and only at one point in the child's life. Still, the trope of a parent with a college-aged child they just can't let go of is all too common, and those young-adult children can show the exact same kinds of maladaptive behaviors.

At Indiana University, psychologist Chris Meno is full of advice for parents wondering how their grads-to-be are doing — and warnings for those who make their kids' personal and academic lives their number-one priority. She's seen it a million times: "When children aren't given the space to struggle through things on their own, they don't learn to problem-solve very well." They can lack the self-confidence they might need to succeed when they face challenges, and develop a fear of failure since they were never allowed to experience it. Worse, she's even linked postgraduate job-search struggles with that exact type of behavior. Shielding your kids from the pains of life might only make their lives harder in the long run.

Worried about your own relationship with your kids? Curb the urge to get tangled up with Julie Lythcott-Haims' "How to Raise an Adult," free with your trial membership to Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Clue #1: I knew Einstein.

Long-term Risks of Helicopter Parenting

Written by Reuben Westmaas July 10, 2018

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