“Helicopter” parenting is linked to low mastery, self-regulation and social competence in young adult children, according to a new study at West Virginia University (WVU).
“Unfortunately, I think the term for those children is ‘hothouse children,'” said Dr. Kristin Moilanen, associate professor of child development and family studies at WVU. “I think they’ve been raised to be these sort of delicate flowers under these very well-controlled conditions and — just like a tropical plant — they’re vulnerable whenever those conditions are exceeded, which is a scary thought.”
The phenomena of helicopter parenting most often occurs in middle- to upper-class families where stakes are high for parents to be able to show off their children’s success.
For example, getting into the “right” college or university is often a big part of the helicopter parents’ career guidance. The parent may even force a choice in medicine when the child may want to be an artist. Helicopter parenting, Moilanen said, isn’t done for what the child wants; it is commonly done for what the parent wants for the child.
The recent college admissions scandal, which led to the arrest of two Hollywood actresses, might be the best current example of helicopter parenting gone wrong.
“Their stakes were different than, maybe for average people, but maybe [the fear was] they wouldn’t have access to the spotlight or that the college wouldn’t be prestigious enough, maybe that it wouldn’t be in keeping with their lifestyle they were accustomed to,” Moilanen said.
Helicopter parenting does more harm than just breed resentment toward an interfering parent, however. Children tend to take parents’ repeated over-involvement to heart, which undermines their sense of self-concept and their ability to self-regulate.
Moilanen said when those students get to college, where their parents have a financial stake, they have struggles they don’t necessarily know how to handle. Some of them deal with the pressure through risky behaviors, such as episodic drinking that they hide from their parents.
“It can get messy for those kids really fast,” she said. “In a sense, they get caught between their parents’ desires, even if [the child] knows what’s best for themselves.”
And although the children might figure out problems on their own, the parent often swoops in before they have the opportunity to learn for themselves. Results of the child’s continued lack of autonomy could be heightened anxiety and internalizing problems, as well as leading to the belief that they are incapable of living independently and that their outcomes are primarily shaped by external forces instead of their own decisions, the research said.
Moilanen noted that some children may need more oversight than others, and those situations vary from family-to-family and even from child-to-child within a family. Also, she said, “most kids turn out just fine and learn to ‘adult’ on their own.”
There’s no research yet that shows what kind of parents these “hothouse children” are or will be, Moilanen said.
“We do know that people tend to repeat the parenting that they receive, so I would say the chances are good that those children who were raised by helicopter parents would probably act in kind,” she said.
The findings are published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.
Source: West Virginia University