I see them everywhere — in the school drop-off zone, on the sidelines of sporting events, at the mall and even within my own family. They are the helicopter parents who intercept their kids' mistakes before they even have a chance to make them. That protectiveness may help keep kids from getting hurt or from getting bad grades, but a new study found this parenting style may cause serious harm to a child's psyche.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality, found that children of helicopter parents are more likely to become anxious and depressed adults who are terrified of making mistakes. Researchers from the National University of Singapore led by Ryan Hong, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the school, came to this conclusion after studying several hundred kids ages 7 to 10 over a five-year period.
The academic environment in Singapore is highly competitive, and researchers found that the greater the expectations parents placed on their children, the more likely those parents were to "intrude" on their children's lives and overreact to any small mistake their children made.
To assess a parent's level of intrusiveness, Hong asked each parent/child pair to solve a puzzle within a specified time period. He told the parents they could assist their children with the skill if they deemed necessary. Helicopter parents were defined as those who took over the game from their kids — regardless of their child's need for help. Researchers reevaluated the parents' level of intrusion yearly throughout the study.
Hong found that 60 percent of the children of helicopter parents were highly critical of themselves and less likely to be tolerant of even the smallest mistakes, while 78 percent of these kids believed the world expected them to be perfect. The research team did not follow the children long enough to make any direct connections between helicopter parenting and anxiety or depression among the kids, but Hong noted that this yearning for perfection and fear of making mistakes could set the stage for issues down the road.
Hong suggested parents focus on supporting their children in their endeavors without taking over their lives — even if that means scraped knees, broken hearts and the occasional low grade. After all, kids who feel free to make mistakes — and know how to recover from them — are more likely to spread their wings and fly than those whose parents hover over them.