Most parents would do anything to help their children be happy and successful.
But too much involvement can be detrimental as a new study shows that college students with overcontrolling parents are more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives.
Experts say this “helicopter parenting” style — hovering over and micro-managing their child’s school and social lives — can negatively affects students’ well-being by violating their need to feel both autonomous and competent. Researchers believe such parenting can violate students’ basic needs.
In the new research, Holly Schiffrin, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of Mary Washington examined the effect of parenting behavior on college students’ psychological well-being. The study is published online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.
The researchers discovered parental overinvolvement can lead to negative outcomes in children, including higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Studies also suggest that children of overinvolved or overcontrolling parents may feel less competent and less able to manage life and its stressors.
However, parental involvement is necessary in a child’s life to facilitate healthy development, both emotionally and socially.
Children’s need for autonomy increases over time as they strive to become independent young adults. College administrators are concerned that some parents do not adjust their level of involvement and control as their child grows up.
Schiffrin and her team administered an online survey to 297 American undergraduate students, aged 18-23 years. Students were asked to describe their mothers’ parenting behaviors, rate their own perceptions of their autonomy, competence, and relatedness (i.e., how well they get along with other people).
The researchers also assessed the students’ overall satisfaction with life, their level of anxiety, and whether or not they suffered depressive symptoms.
Overall, an inappropriate level of parental behavioral control was linked to negative well-being outcomes for students.
Helicopter parenting behaviors were related to higher levels of depression and decreased satisfaction with life. In addition, these behaviors were associated with lower levels of perceived autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
And those who perceived they had less autonomy and competence were also more likely to be depressed.
Researchers concluded that although parents believe they are being supportive, the highly involved, intensive method of parenting may actually be perceived as controlling and undermining by their children.
So when is it time for parents to back away?
“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely,” researchers said.