You’re a loving parent. You want what’s best for your kids.
But how do you determine what that is?
- Is it based on what you know about your kid’s strengths and talents, and what you believe they would be good at?
- Is what you want for them, rather than what they want for themselves?
As it turns out, what’s really best for your kids may not be what you think.
Depression and anxiety are on the rise among teenagers and college students, and several studies have linked that problem to kids brought up with helicopter parents. More and more American kids are going off to college unable to cope with the challenges and failures of adulthood. Some of them face pressure from home — to major in a field or pursue a career that doesn’t interest them — or self-imposed pressure from living a life shielded from failures and responsibility.
According to a 2013 survey of college counseling center directors, 95% said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus. Seventy percent said the number of students on their campus with severe psychological problems increased in the past year, and that 24.5% of their student clients were taking psychotropic drugs. (source)
Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, said:
As parents, our intentions are sound—more than sound: We love our kids fiercely and want only the very best for them. Yet, having succumbed to a combination of safety fears, a college admissions arms race, and perhaps our own needy ego, our sense of what is “best” for our kids is completely out of whack. We don’t want our kids to bonk their heads or have hurt feelings, but we’re willing to take real chances with their mental health? (source)
A number of studies are proving that, at the very least, there’s a correlation between overparenting (helicopter parenting) and the rise in mental health problems among teenagers and college students.
Here’s a summary of what some of those studies have revealed:
2010: A survey of 300 college freshmen nationwide revealed students with helicopter parents were less open to new ideas and actions and were more vulnerable, anxious, and self-conscious. In so-called “free range” children, the effects were reversed.
2011: Over 300 college students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were surveyed. Results showed students with helicopter parents were more likely to be medicated for anxiety and/or depression.
2012: A study of 438 college students, reported in the Journal of Adolescence, linked helicopter parenting to “problematic development in emerging adulthood”. Helicopter parenting does not provide kids with opportunities to develop skills needed to become self-reliant adults.
2013: A study of 297 college students, reported in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, found that college students with helicopter parents had significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction in life. The study found these kids lacked the “basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence”.
2014: Researchers at the University of Colorado–Boulder found a correlation between a highly structured childhood and fewer executive function capabilities. Executive function has been called the “CEO of the brain.” It’s in charge of making sure you get things done, from the planning stages all the way to completion.
When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent. (source)
You love your kids more than anything, so the last thing you want to do is set them up for failure — right?
How do we resist the temptation to over-parent?
Think back to when you were a kid. Most likely you played out in the streets with the neighborhood kids, rode your bike (without a helmet no less) and stayed out till dark. Your parents couldn’t call or text you, so you just stayed out till the street lights came on, or whenever you heard your mom calling your name. You got into arguments with your friends, without an adult stepping in to mediate. You experienced life as a kid without much interference from your parents. And you turned out okay!
While we don’t condone reckless or unsafe activities, we think there’s something to be said for the “old school” way of being a kid. Our society has come to expect hovering parents, to the point that parents are being arrested for letting their kids play outside — in their own backyards!