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Helicopter Parents Harm Adult Relationships and Educational Achievement

New research suggests helicopter parenting may be detrimental rather than beneficial for an adolescent. In a longitudinal study, investigators found that overbearing and overcontrolling tactics by parents when children were 13 years old were associated with difficulties in social relationships and educational attainment by the time the teens reached age 32.

Investigators note that although the study did not establish causation, the evidence suggests a parenting style that is psychologically controlling during a child’s adolescent years could lead to problems for the teen in young adulthood.

The findings, from researchers at the University of Virginia, appear in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

“Parents, educators and clinicians should be aware of how parents’ attempts to control teens may actually stunt their progress,” says Emily Loeb, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Virginia, who was the lead author on the study.

“This style of parenting likely creates more than a temporary setback for adolescent development because it interferes with the key task of developing autonomy at a critical period.”

Past research has identified psychological control as a problematic parenting behavior. Parents attempt to control their children in this way through intrusive and harshly manipulative means (e.g., withdrawing love and affection when the parent is angry at the child, making the child feel guilty for upsetting the parent).

Children whose parents use this tactic tend to have problems such as lower grades and lower self-esteem, likely because the children are discouraged from asserting themselves and gaining independence.

In this study, which examined perceived psychological control earlier in adolescent development than previous work, researchers followed 184 youth annually from ages 13 to 32. The youth, from urban and suburban areas in the Southeastern United States, came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

About half of the group was male and half female, and 42% identified themselves as members of minority racial/ethnic groups. The study also considered family income, gender and grade point average at age 13.

Researchers asked the participants fill out questionnaires about themselves, their parents, and in adulthood, their relationship status and level of education. They also collected information from each youth’s peers about how well liked the teen was in school, and they observed videos of each youth interacting with his or her closest friend and later in adulthood, interacting with his or her romantic partner.

The study found that having overbearing and overcontrolling parents at age 13 was associated with less supportive romantic relationships for those who were in relationships by age 27, a lower likelihood of being in a relationship by age 32, and lower educational attainment by age 32.

These outcomes were explained largely by problems at ages 15 to 16, including that teens were less psychologically mature and were less liked by their peers.

“Even though parents routinely attempt to guide their children toward successful adaptation, overcontrolling parenting in adolescence has the potential to impede development in a fundamental way that’s not easy to repair,” according to Joseph Allen, Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, who coauthored the study.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

Helicopter Parents Harm Adult Relationships and Educational Achievement

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Helicopter Parents Harm Adult Relationships and Educational Achievement. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/06/26/helicopter-parents-harm-adult-relationships-and-educational-achievement/157423.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Jun 2020 (Originally: 26 Jun 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Jun 2020
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