Science Proves That "Helicopter Parents" Ruin Kids

To all those who worried that today's "helicopter parents" would produce a generation of soft scaredy-cats incapable of doing things for themselves: you're totally right! At least according to one study.

According to Rachael Rettner of LiveScience, researchers led by psychologist Neil Montgomery of Keene State College in New Hampshire surveyed 300 college freshmen to determine their personality traits and relationships with their parents. Based on their responses to statements like, "My parents have contacted a school official on my behalf to solve problems for me," and "If two days go by without contact my parents would contact me," Montgomery's team determined that 10% of their sample had helicopter parents — 13% of the female students but just 5% of the males. And those students who were "helicoptered" (yes, apparently it's a verb now) were more dependent and anxious, as well as "less open to new ideas and actions." That is, kids whose parents called the dean on their behalf weren't just narcissistic and entitled, as the conventional wisdom goes — they were, it seems, afraid of taking risks.

Two things stand out about Montgomery's study. First, it's important to remember that only a tenth of the kids surveyed actually had "helicopter parents" — though such overinvolved parenting is frequently cited as a major trend, it may not really be ubiquitous. Plenty of parents don't have the time to place constant calls to school officials, because they're busy working. And many likely see the wisdom of letting their kids assume some autonomy. The second interesting thing about the study is how truly wise the autonomy approach turns out to be: kids without helicopter parents (Montgomery calls them "free rangers") were more open and less neurotic, suggesting that kids who are protected less actually feel more secure.

As a parent, it makes sense to try to allay a child's anxieties about the world by creating a safety net. But drawing that net too tight may actually increase anxiety. My parents never "helicoptered" us, but early in college I used to call home a lot for reassurance, mostly about things like a sore throat I was sure with meningitis. It wasn't until I learned quit doing that and deal with my fears on my own that they began to lessen, and that I gained the confidence to combat the ones that persisted. Some protection from parents is natural, but too much (like, say, forbidding travel) can convince kids that they're not equipped to deal with the risks of the world. And it's no wonder that kids who believe that are afraid to try new things.

Image via Junial Enterprises/Shutterstock.com.

'Helicopter' Parents Have Neurotic Kids [LiveScience]