Helicopter parents may cause depression
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
Parents who take the reins of their children’s academic lives may be causing more harm than good, according to a study released in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. The phenomenon known as “helicopter parenting,” so-called because the parents constantly “hover” around their kids, was linked to symptoms of depression in college-aged students.
Holly Schiffrin, the lead investigator in the study and a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington, said she has had a lifelong commitment to the study of child development, but most of her research deals with families in low-income situations. When she became a parent herself, she said she became more aware of the situation many upper middle class, well-educated parents face when trying to determine the correct amount of attention to show their children.
Most helicopter parent practices, such as proofreading papers, were impossible in the recent past.
“I would’ve had to mail a hard copy over to my mom and she would have had to mail it back to me and it would’ve taken two weeks,” Schiffrin said.
Many books on parenting recommend parents be involved in their child’s life, but some overeager parents take that attention to an extreme, Schiffrin said. If those cases of extreme attentiveness carry over to adulthood, parents could end up picking their child’s major and schedules, which Schiffrin said she believes leads to a lack of self-determination in the student.
The phenomenon is new, she said, and is mostly due to the pervasiveness of communication technology. Modern channels of communication, such as email, text messaging and social networks, allow parents to stay constantly connected to their children.
Over-bearing parenting as a style has existed in the past, but these parents are having more of an influence on campus now due to an increase in communication abilities. Schiffrin has lived through the alteration of the college landscape, having been an undergraduate through the pre-helicopter parent ‘90s and as a professor now. When she was a student, she said there was one pay phone in her dorm, and she was reliant on a phone card that she tried to save for emergencies.
Now, parents use the Internet and a bevy of devices to keep tabs on their children and their academic lives.
Junior Holly Malloy said she used to live with her parents while attending the university, but she left home when they became too overbearing and involved in her life. Her parents called her nearly every day while she was on campus, and she said the calls were mostly unnecessary and stressful.
“Constantly, ‘Where are you?, What are you doing?, How are your grades?, How did you do on that test?, Did you hand in your homework?’” Malloy said. “Just constantly on me.”
Malloy’s parents instituted “house rules,” such as only being allowed to visit with friends once a week to keep her under their control. Any amount of time she spent with friends was seen as a distraction from her academics and family, the most important things in her life according to her parents, Malloy said.
Malloy moved out of her parents’ house during her second year at the university because she couldn’t handle them anymore. They have eased up on her since then, she said, but she worries about her 19-year-old sister, who still lives at home and was recently diagnosed with depression.
“She’s not allowed to have a credit card, her cellphone is monitored, her Facebook’s monitored and she’s not allowed to hang out with anybody,” Malloy said.
Her parents have tried to initiate contact with her professors before, but Malloy said she did not let them. However, her sister, who is also in college, still deals with her parents communicating directly with her teachers, she said.
Schiffrin said parents contacting faculty about grades is one of the most prevalent forms of helicopter parenting.
“I’ve seen parents of students contacting not only professors, but deans and the president over fairly minor issues, like a grade the student wasn’t happy with or a problem with the roommate,” Schiffrin said. “They’re calling the dean about that rather than expecting the child—I say child, but I mean these are adults, they’re college students—to handle the problem, to resolve it on their own.”
There are federal privacy acts in place that prevent professors from discussing grades with parents, a situation that many members of her faculty face, she said.
Schiffrin said she has received personal calls from parents who wanted to schedule their child’s classes with her.
Freshman Jake Shapiro said he shares his grades weekly with his parents and he has not seen a problem with helicopter parents among his peers. However, he does get creative with grade reporting if he thinks his parents would be disappointed in his actual grade.
“They ask me if I’m doing well and I say, ‘Yes,’ even if I’m not,” Shapiro said.
Since the phenomenon is new, Schiffrin said there is limited research in the area. Her study covered just the relationships students have with their mothers, but she said she is interested in additional research in the relationship with the father, as well as the affect of helicopter parenting on the parents themselves.
She said she thinks the best way for a student who thinks he or she is in a helicopter-parenting dynamic is to take a stand and communicate openly with his or her parent. Most of the time, the parents mean well, but misplace their effort.
“If you ask the parent what they want for their kid, the first answer would be, “I want them to be happy,’” Schiffrin said. “And they probably have really good intentions by trying to be as involved as they are to help their child be successful and give them advantages in life, but they may not realize that it may not be contributing to their well-being.”