Overinvolved parents can make college-aged children depressed, a new study says

February 18, 2013

Parents who run their university-aged children’s schedules, laundry and vacations could be doing more harm than good, according to a new study, which showed these students to be more likely to be depressed and dissatisfied with life.

The study, by Holly Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, found so-called helicopter parenting negatively affected college students by undermining their need to feel autonomous and competent. Students with overcontrolling parents also were more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives, the study found.

“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,” Schiffrin said.

Schiffrin’s study, published in Springer’s Journal of Child and Family Studies, was based on an online survey of 297 undergraduate students in the United States. Participants described their mothers’ parenting behavior and their own autonomy, and researchers assessed their happiness and satisfaction levels.

“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,” Schiffrin said.

In the United Kingdom, Mike Grenier, a house master from Eton College is involved in a campaign to get parents to slow down, saying that hyper-involved parenting may demotivate a child and cause psychological damage.

Grenier said the increase in helicopter parenting in the past 10 years had accompanied a changing attitude toward childhood, with more anxiety and fear over youngsters now seen as being at risk and vulnerable if confronted with failure.

“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.

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.

— Reuters

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