Study: Helicopter Parenting Harms Students

New research backs up what many college counselors and admission officers have witnessed firsthand: Overbearing parents can spur student distress.

According to a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, “helicopter parenting behaviors may hinder the development of self-control skills among emerging adult college students,” leading to burnout. The finding was based on a survey of 427 college students.

Researchers from Florida State University (FSU) asked the students about their experiences with helicopter parenting, self-control, and school burnout.

Students who said their parents fit the “helicopter” definition —excessively monitoring their day-to-day activities and working to remove obstacles from their path — were more likely to suffer from exhaustion from schoolwork, cynical attitudes about their education, and feelings of inadequacy, according to an FSU press release. The reason? Scholars believe helicopter parents prevent their students from having to learn sufficient self-control skills, a gap that leaves them unprepared to handle the academic and social challenges of college life.

“They feel increasingly helpless, hopeless, and resentful, exerting less effort on their studies, which leads to lower grades,” said FSU professor Frank Fincham. “In some cases, students end up dropping out of college.”

Other outcomes includes mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, or addiction. And early findings indicate that the negative effects were especially pronounced when fathers played the role of helicopter parent.

“It’s unclear if helicopter parenting by fathers leads to lower self-control scores for students, or if paternal helicopter parenting is a response to lower self-control and school burnout,” FSU noted in its press release. “Researchers said additional work should investigate paternal helicopter parenting over time and examine possible differences in how father-son and father-daughter pairs interact.”

Learn more about the study.

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