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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2019

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Hovering parents alienate students


University of Mary Washington Associate Professors of Psychology Holly Schiffrin and Miriam Liss studied parent and child relationships for their recently published study of “helicopter parenting.” The study was the basis for a report on parents’ behaviors and students’ mental health.

“Black-Hawk parents,” “helicopter parents” and “buttinskis” are unflattering terms for intrusive parenting as described by Pamela Matthews in an Inside Higher Education article from Sept. 9, 2009.

There was a case of “helicopter parenting” involving Aubrey Ireland, a senior at the University of Cincinnati, College of Conservatory Music, reported by ABC News on Dec. 28, 2012. Ireland’s parents made frequent 600-mile trips to her apartment, monitored her computer and cell-phone usage and even threatened to have her taken for psychological evaluation. Ireland’s case evokes questions on extreme parenting that Schiffrin studied in her work.

According to the study by Liss and Schiffrin, the participating students reported that when their parents engage in “helicopter parenting” then they feel as if they cannot make their own decisions.

The study also highlights examples of some parents that managed their child’s bank accounts, contacted professors and managed their schedules.

The report considers the possibility that a parent that is engaged so directly might have a stronger connection with their child, but in fact the study shows that the students scored lower on relatedness.

The study suggests that helicopter parenting may be detrimental by decreasing a student’s competence and sense of autonomy. The decreased competence and also autonomy seem to be related to a sense of depression and reduced life satisfaction.

Such parenting is familia to Danielle Payne, a senior geography major.

“My Dad used to track my car with a GPS and harangue me about my whereabouts constantly,” she said. “It wasn’t until I briefly cut off contact that I began to feel closer to him and to feel like I could really talk to him about my life.”

What may be an effective parenting method when a child is a toddler does not necessarily scale to the normal development of a young adult, as reported on Feb. 20, 2013 in the Christian Science Monitor’s interview with Schiffrin.

The researchers developed a model that predicted “helicopter-parenting” leads to decreased feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness in students, which may lead to depression and decreased life satisfaction. Liss emphasized that, while the proposed model fit the data, the data itself was a correlational study, which does not definitively prove that helicopter parenting is causing depression.

The study was conducted with UMW undergraduate students Haley Miles McLean, a senior psychology major, Katherine A. Geary, a 2012 alumna and psychology major, and Taryn Tashner, also a 2012 alumna and English and psychology double major, all engaged in independent research.

The professors have a contract for a book with Rowman & Littlefield Publishers that will integrate additional topics regarding the intensiveness of parenting, gender equality, work and family balance, and the challenges of achieving that balance.

The full report was published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.