Helicopter Parenting Effects Young Men, Women Differently, Study Says
A new study published this month in the Journal of Child and Family Studies has found helicopter parenting may affect male and female children differently into young adulthood.
Helicopter parenting is often used by laymen as a catch-all to describe the two, distinct parental behaviours examined in the study: overinvolvement in college-age children’s lives (actual helicopter parenting), and encouragement of college-age children’s autonomy. You can think of it as the difference between calling a child’s professor to negotiate an extended deadline or grade, and not doing it — but not encouraging or guiding your child to do it for herself.
It may feel like hair-splitting, but “these are two independent parenting dimensions,” explained the study’s lead author Chrystyna Kouros, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. “If a parent doesn’t engage in helicopter parenting, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actively encouraging independence/autonomy in their child. You could have a case of a parent who is uninvolved and not doing either type of parenting behavior.”
Kouros and her team found that over-involved parents predicted lower levels of mental well-being in young women, while parents who did not encourage independence predicted social anxiety and less well-being among young men.
It should be noted the study was small and relied on self-reporting, which is a method of analysis in behavioural science that is common and valid, but not without pitfalls. (Among other things, self-reporting is contingent upon subjects’ individualized interpretation of questions and varying ability to introspect and answer honestly.) Still, it’s the latest in a steady stream of research that points to the growing psychological fallout of helicopter parenting, and one among few studies examining the effects of parenting on young adulthood.
Read about what it means for parents to be too involved on The Swaddle
“[Parents are] not allowing their child to become independent or learn problem-solving on their own, nor to test out and develop effective coping strategies,” said Naomi Ekas, PhD, a co-author on the study and assistant professor of psychology at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.
Kouros also suggested the findings reflect the West’s value for independence and assertiveness in boys, which might cause boys turmoil if they feel they are not meeting or allowed to meet those socialized standards.
In India, however, where, for both genders, parental involvement and authority into adulthood is assumed, and communal integration valued over independence, the study’s findings regarding female students may have more relevance for parents with young adult children of either gender.
In the study, the young women with over-involved parents reported feeling less optimistic, less satisfied by accomplishments, less hopeful, and said they did not look forward to things with enjoyment.
“The take-away is we have to adjust our parenting as our kids get older,” Kouros said. “Being involved with our child is really important. But we have to adapt how we are involved as they are growing up, particularly going off to college.”