Turbo-charged parents still running their university-aged children's
schedules, laundry and vacations may be doing more harm than good with a study
on showing these students were more likely to be depressed and dissatisfied with
Researcher Holly Schiffrin from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia
found so-called helicopter parenting was linked to depressed college students,
whose needs to feel autonomous and competent are possibly undermined. Her study
found students with over-controlling parents were more likely to be depressed
and less satisfied with their lives while the number of hyper-parents was
increasing with economic fears fuelling concerns over youngsters' chances of
"You expect parents with younger kids to be very involved but the problem is
that these children are old enough to look after themselves and their parents
are not backing off," said Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology. "To
find parents so closely involved with their college lives, contacting their
tutors and running their schedules, is something new and on the increase. It
does not allow independence and the chance to learn from mistakes."
How the study was done
Schiffrin's study was based on an online survey of 297 US undergraduate
students in which students described their mothers' parenting behaviour and
their own autonomy and researchers assessed their happiness and satisfaction
The study comes as debate rises over how much parents should run their
children's lives to make them succeed. Schiffrin said the increase in technology
had changed the involvement of parents in their children's college lives as the
once-a-week phone call home was replaced with regular texting, e-mails and
The competitive marketplace and jostling for top college slots and the best
jobs has also boosted the involvement of parents in college lives. She said to
counteract this, rising numbers of universities were starting to run parental
orientation days parallel to events for students to help encourage parents to
give their children more freedom.
Learn from mistakes
In the UK, a house master from top British public school, Eton College, is
involved in a campaign to get parents to slow down a little, arguing that
hyper-parenting may in fact demotivate a child and even cause psychological
damage. Mike Grenier said the increase in helicopter parenting in the past 10
years had accompanied a changing attitude towards childhood, with more anxiety
and fear over youngsters now seen as being at risk and vulnerable if confronted
The greater focus on testing and success at exams has fuelled this and raised
anxiety levels further.
"There is a very fine line between the helicopter parent and the committed
and caring parent while at the other end of the spectrum is the negligent parent
which can be more dangerous," Grenier said.
"But this time of austerity seems to be ratcheting up the tension with more
competition for jobs."
Grenier said it was disconcerting to see parents putting children as young as
3 or 4 into tutoring to ensure they get into the best schools and remain in the
best schools to get top university places.
"There is the fear that if they don't get the right school and don't get the
right university then they won't get the opportunity to fight for the best
jobs," he said.
"The stakes are higher in people's minds."
Grenier is an advocate of a movement called "slow education", a concept
adapted from the Italian culinary movement that has prompted a wider
philosophical approach to travel, business, living and now schooling.
"The real danger of hyper-parenting is that it is intrusive and parents don't
let their children make their own decisions, take risks and learn for
themselves," he said.