As much as we might read about hands-off parenting or special preschools in Germany that allow kids to roam free, most American parents feel a lot of pressure to be highly involved in their kids’ lives. At the same time, we know in the back of our minds that too much involvement can be detrimental. This tension becomes even clearer when it comes time for kids to leave the nest and go to college.
You don’t want to be the parent calling the president of the university to intervene in a roommate squabble, but how do you walk the line of helping your child through the admissions process and into freshman year without actually doing it all for them? This week we’ll talk about why helicopter parenting doesn’t actually help your child in the long run, and in our next post, we’ll give some practical tips about parental involvement in the application process.
A recent study differentiated between “supportive parenting” and “helicopter parenting.” Supportive parenting “can promote healthy decision-making and a child’s development of autonomy, increasing the likelihood that their children will become independent, well-adjusted, problem-solving adults.” Helicopter parents are “overly involved, protective parents who provide substantial support (e.g., financial, emotional, physical health advice) to their emerging adult children, often intervening in their affairs and making decisions for them.”
Rather than allowing kids to learn how to handle life on their own, helicopter parents are involved in every decision and experience. Though done with good intentions, this parenting approach leads to kids who have no confidence in their own abilities. By doing everything for your kid, you are subtly telling them that you don’t believe they can do things on their own.
A lower sense of self-efficacy leads to a higher likelihood of depression and lower satisfaction with life. Conversely, “having parents who supported children’s autonomy led to adults who were more satisfied with life, less likely to be depressed, and healthier.” The research clearly supports taking a step back and allowing your child to navigate some of life’s challenges.
Even parents of young children can encourage them to make decisions and solve problems. Marjorie Savage, author of You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, suggests asking these three questions whenever your child is faced with a problem:
We like this formula because it can be used at any age. As your child gets older and becomes a young adult, you will start answering “yes” to the first question more and more, and you should allow for more independent thinking and problem-solving as a result.
How does this play out specifically in the college application process? Stay tuned for practical tips on how to support but not micromanage your college-bound child.