We live in an increasingly competitive world. Gone are the days when a 4.0 GPA and decent SAT score could get a child into the Ivy Leagues. Even college graduates who excelled in school may struggle to get jobs, and may need to save for several years just to be able to afford an apartment. It’s no wonder that so many parents find themselves micromanaging their children. They’ll do anything to give their kids an advantage.
As it turns out, so-called helicopter parenting does kids no favors. It can be challenging to watch a child fail—or to wonder if they will succeed—but this is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for successful adulthood.
A new study suggests that helicopter parenting can trigger anxiety in certain kids, adding to a small pile of data suggesting that helicopter parenting stunts kids’ emotional and cognitive development.
Helicopter Parenting and Anxiety
The latest study looked at how helicopter parenting affects children with anxiety. Children and their parents were invited to a laboratory setting, where the children were encouraged to complete as many puzzles as they could in a 10-minute period. The puzzle tasks were designed to mimic the challenging and occasionally frustrating nature of homework and other academic tasks. Parents were permitted to help their children, but were not encouraged to do so.
The parents of children with social anxiety touched the puzzles significantly more often than other parents. Though they were not critical or negative, they attempted to help even when their children did not seek help. This suggests that parents of socially anxious children may perceive challenges as more threatening than the child perceives them. Over time, this can erode a child’s ability to succeed on their own, and potentially even increase anxiety.
Other Research on Helicopter Parenting
Some other research, as well as anecdotal data from college counseling centers, also points to the ability of helicopter parenting to induce anxiety. College-aged students whose parents are overly involved in their academic lives, or whose parents created rigidly structured childhood environments, are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. They may also experience academic difficulties.
Nurturing Independence in Children
It’s challenging to send your child out into a hostile world, knowing he or she may fail, face ridicule, and struggle. Rest assured, children must struggle to grow and learn. Saving your child from consequences and challenges now only ensures he or she will face more challenges down the road. A few guidelines can help you avoid becoming a helicopter parent by nurturing independence in your child:
- Listen to your child, rather than imposing your goals and wishes on him or her. -Listening to your child encourages independent thought and critical thinking. It also helps you avoid a common downfall of helicopter parents: imposing your values on your child.
- Don’t manage your child's relationships or communications for him or her.
- Don’t try to help your child escape consequences for his or her actions, unless you believe those consequences are unfair or life-altering. It’s fine to hire your child a lawyer if he or she is in legal trouble, or to intervene with a bullying teacher. But don’t try to get your kid out of detention or berate another parent who talks to your child about problematic behavior.
- Don’t raise your child to expect treatment that is different from, or better than, the treatment other children receive. Every child deserves an equal chance at a sports team or scholarship. Your child shouldn’t expect to get something they don’t deserve or didn’t earn.
- Encourage your children to solve their own problems by asking them to contemplate potential solutions.
- Don’t do your child’s work for them, or keep track of deadlines for them. Even school-aged children can learn to remember test dates and classroom projects. By middle school, your child should be managing their schoolwork largely on their own, with only as-needed help.
- Support your child’s teacher, and encourage your child to respect the teacher’s opinions.
- Allow your child to face natural consequences for their actions. Don’t allow a child to stay home sick just because she or he didn’t timely complete a school project.
'Helicopter parents' stir up anxiety, depression. (n.d.). Lythcott-Haims, J. (2015, July 05).
Nauert, R., PhD. (2017, January 19). Helicopter parenting socially anxious kids may backfire.