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College Students who Come from a Helicopter Parent(s) Upbringing

Please note: I am not judging helicopter parents; I just want the best for you and your kids.

I know a young man finishing up his undergrad education. He has a group project for his Capstone class. Their assignment is designed to bring together everything learned throughout their Health Science degree.

His experience has been:

  1. Asking how they want to divide up the work and leadership, providing three options for leadership styles. Answer: Silence.
  2. Asking what they would like to do for their project. Answer: Silence.
  3. Suggesting a topic, and asking for feedback. Answer: Silence.
  4. The professor sat down with their group and asked questions. Answer: Silence.

I’ve asking myself “What’s going on that would prompt these silences?” And I’m wondering if these young adults grew up with helicopter parents.

I’ve thought about parents I’ve worked with, remembering some of them going so far as to do their kids’ homework, write their kids’ papers, etc.

I decided to do a bit of research and found several interesting articles citing outcomes of anxiety, being less open to new ideas and actions, being more vulnerable, dependent, and self-conscious (Neil Montgomery [2010]). I would recommend you read Helicopter Parenting: From Good Intentions to Poor Outcomes by Sandi Schwartz.

As parents, we want the best for our kids. And we do what we think will provide the best outcomes for our kids. And sometimes that means we have to live with their learning curves, successes, and failures—and the emotional fallout that comes with learning and growing, including disappointing one’s parents. If they don’t experience all of those, they will not be prepared for life as an adult.

Schwartz writes, “Helicopter parenting can be defined by three types of behaviors that parents exemplify:
• First, information seeking behaviors include knowing your children’s daily schedule and where they are at all times, helping them make decisions, and being informed about grades and other accomplishments.
• Second, direct intervention means jumping into conflicts with kids’ roommates, friends, romantic partners, and even bosses.
• Third, autonomy limiting is when students think their parents are preventing them from making their own mistakes, controlling their lives for them, and failing to support their decisions.

A 2016 study from the National University of Singapore published in the Journal of Personality indicated that children with intrusive parents who had high expectations for academic performance, or who overreacted when they made a mistake, tend to be more self-critical, anxious, or depressed. The researchers termed this as “maladaptive perfectionism,” or a tendency in children of helicopter parents to be afraid of making mistakes and to blame themselves for not being perfect. This happens because the parents are essentially—whether by their words or actions—indicating to their kids that what they do is never good enough.”

If you are or have been a helicopter parent, please read the research on outcomes of this parenting style. Then learn other means of supporting your child to do his or her best. I urge you to find ways to deal with your own potential anxiety and perfection issues that may be the driver of helicopter parenting.

Also, I suggest you talk with your kids about helicopter parenting. Share with them that you’ve learned the downsides of it, what your hopes and goals were in doing so, and that you’re ready to try different styles of parenting to help them be successful adults, academically, socially, mental health-wise, interpersonally, and so on.

If you need help sorting through all of this, reach out for it. I realize that for some people there are stigmas associated with getting help. I urge you to set that aside and do what’s healthy for you and your kids.