Helicoptered Kids More Depressed as Young Adults

Readers — I don’t like hopping on every new study that supposedly “proves” something about parenting, especially when I believe that parents are only one part of the many, MANY influences that shape a life. (Especially by college age!) Still,this study might interest some parents reconsidering the heap of “help” they believe their kids need.  So I present it to you much not so much as news, but as a nugget to chew on when you’re wondering if maybe it’s time to take a step back. It’s also a little ammo for when someone wonders why aren’t you watching your child more closely? – L

When is it time for parents to back away? A new study shows that college students with overcontrolling parents are more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives. This so-called helicopter parenting style negatively affects students’ well-being by violating their need to feel both autonomous and competent. The work, by Holly Schiffrin and colleagues from the University of Mary Washington in the United States, is published online in Springer’s Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Parental overinvolvement may lead to negative outcomes in children, including higher levels of depression and anxiety. Studies also suggest that children of overinvolved or overcontrolling parents may feel less competent and less able to manage life and its stressors. In contrast, evidence suggests that some parental involvement in children’s lives facilitates healthy development, both emotionally and socially.

Of course, no one — including me in my own life — can draw the exact line between “some” and “over” involvement. But the point that most of us can appreciate is this: “[The] research suggests that intense involvement is considered by some parents to be supportive, whereas it may actually be perceived as controlling and undermining by their children.”

UPDATE: And while we’re talking about studies studying parent/child relations (no dearth of these!), here’s one that says kids have more fun playing when their parent isn’t telling them exactly what to do. (Sounds like most of us at work, when it comes to interference vs independence, too.) – L

Bye mom! Bye dad! Thanks for not hovering!

Bye mom! Bye dad! Thanks for not hovering!


, , , ,

50 Responses to Helicoptered Kids More Depressed as Young Adults

  1. Carey February 17, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Oops, bad link to the original article.

  2. Carolyn Porter February 17, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    I hope we soon stop calling college students “children”. The concept is nauseating. I have plenty of my peers that are amazed that I refuse to hover over my adult children. I hear a lot of students say their parents will only help them financially IF the parents control all their decisions. In a marriage that would be a form of domestic violence but, in America it is called helicopter parenting.

  3. Emily February 17, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    Hmm….maybe there’s some truth in that. I was one of the first generation of bubble-wrapped kids, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial in the late 80’s/early 90’s, and I’ve suffered from panic attacks since I was fourteen. I don’t feel sorry for myself for being this way, and I’ve never let it hold me back in life, but it’s just interesting, because until now, it didn’t occur to me that there’d be a correlation between being raised in an overprotective environment as a child, and having problems with anxiety and panic attacks as a teen/adult.

  4. Eleanor (undeadgoat) February 17, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    Have they done any adopted twin studies on this? Seems to me like depressive or anxious parents might be more likely to hover (we hear people literally try and talk us into mental illness to get us to hover), and these traits do have at least some genetic component. Personally, I have had a few bouts with anxiety and depression in my life–and so have my parents, but they didn’t really hover. (I started walking alone to destinations within a mile by age 8 or so.)

    I’m a lot younger than most readers of this blog, not a parent, so I do know people around my age who were overparented–and they’re a lot more likely to be obnoxious, rude & solipsistic. (Since they’re less fun to get to know well I don’t know much about their internal mental state.)

    Right now I’m 23 studying abroad in Italy, so most of my friends, classmates, roommates are age 20. Lots of them stepped off the plane with no Italian, having not read the student handbook . . . one gluten-intolerant girl is angry at the school because a free-breakfast hotel on a fieldtrip was pretty limited outside the bread and pastry area. It’s like, girl, this ain’t America, there’s no eggs and bacon, and you could have done some research on your own but because you checked a box on a form the school’s supposed to do it for you? Oh my god your mom probably does all your food advocacy at home and you just have no idea how to function in a high-carb country . . . My god, this program might have even reimbursed her for breakfast outside the hotel if she’d been proactive . . .

    So I know this isn’t at all coherent, but my main point is, the other consequences of overparenting in adulthood are serious enough without this study, which I am skeptical of.

  5. hineata February 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    @Emily – not so sure myself. My dad was born in 1941, suffered at different times from what we’d now call panic attacks, and was never exactly a sunny individual. Neither was he helicoptered – his probably came, among other things, from a combination of a ‘sensitive’ nature, a tough environment (with the consequent need to suppress said ‘sensitive’ nature), a shell-shocked father more of the age to be his grandfather, and a mother not much at ease with being a half-caste.

    While hardly a sensible way of raising kids, helicoptering doesn’t have the ‘corner’ on producing over-anxious people.

  6. lollipoplover February 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    I can’t stand watching parents (who’ve probably never played a sport in their life) telling kids what they did wrong after they lost a game. I wonder if some parents are compensating for their own lackings in life through their children and feel they are so vested in their child’s performance because they are spending WAY too much time and money on their activites.

    I watched a mom lecture her sobbing 9yo daughter on everything that went wrong in the soccer game she just lost. Mom even said one of our players intentionally faked an injury to get (winning) penalty shot! I had to interupt (and honestly wanted to slap her) to say the injured girl is doing OK and maybe she should show some compassion and these are just kids. She told me to shut up and mind my own business. I looked her kid in the eye and said “Good game!” and walked away.
    Overparenting and treating every game/test/event like it’s an Olympic qualifier will undoubtably raised emotionally messed up adults.

  7. Stephanie February 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I definitely agree that kids do better when parents stay out of their play. I love listening to my kids figuring out how to play on their own. It’s pretty funny, and they’re having a blast.

    Lollipoplover, I know what you mean about some parents and soccer. My son plays in an under 8 league, and one mom was telling her son that he was going to be doing push ups at home because his team lost the game. It was ridiculous!

    Frankly, I love that my son’s team wins some and loses some. Both are really great lessons for kids (or adults who don’t know how to lose graciously).

  8. Emily February 17, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    @Hineata–That’s the crazy thing; I’m not a negative person, I just panic in situations of sensory overload (crowds, excessive noise, confined spaces, bright, flashing lights, or the sensation of being shaken around). Sometimes, I panic a bit in the face of confrontation as well, but in day to day life, I’m perfectly happy, and I wouldn’t even say that I was shy, because shy people don’t voluntarily sign themselves up for music school. So, maybe you’re right that helicopter parenting isn’t the only cause of panic attacks, but please, remember that not all people who suffer from anxiety, are automatically depressed, sad, or negative people.

  9. Puzzled February 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Interesting to hear that about France. I’ve always pictured the French more as high-fat than high-carb, at least as compared to America. I pictured their breakfasts having lots of cheese, cream, eggs, and the like. Learn something new!

  10. hineata February 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    @Emily – oh, you’re right. So True. I should probably point out that my dad was also quite a joker, – so not down all the time- and played honky-tonk piano like nobody else I’ve ever heard. He would get so much fun doing it that occasionally he would add his nose and face to the keys just to get more sound out of it, LOL! He was always getting us to dance to it too, come to think of it. While all the other dads were trying to teach their girls to waltz – oldfashioned town – he was flinging us around and over his head…. :-)

    Who knows – maybe it’s a propensity for music, the ‘artistic temperament’, that accounts for some stuff? We’ve always had the ‘high-strung’ among us. You should probably try and revel in some of your sensitivities, too, as silly as that sounds – it is also seen as a sign, in many circles, of high intelligence, which you probably already knew, and I think you indicated you have….

  11. Jemma Payne February 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Puzzled — from what I’ve seen, France’s secret is portion control. When I went to France, the food (eg. a quiche) was a small portion, with a HUGE side salad, and from my recollection, rarely chips. Also, when you order a salad, it’s not a side salad, it’s big enough to be a filling meal.

  12. Emily February 17, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    @Hineata–Don’t worry, I wasn’t offended, and your dad sounds awesome. As for “revelling in my sensitivities,” I’m cool with who I am. There have been well-meaning people in my life who’ve suggested I go on Xanax or whatever, but I told them that if I took mind-altering drugs on a daily basis, I wouldn’t be me. So, I take St. John’s Wort or L-Theanine before going into a situation that might be stressful, and Bach Rescue Remedy drops if I feel an attack coming on. Mostly, I just avoid noisy, crowded places when I can. I never really enjoyed clubbing/moshing/whatever, and now that I’m past undergrad age, most people my age feel the same way.

  13. fred schueler February 17, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    by the time kids are in university parents should be coming to them for advice (not necessarily taken) rather than “controlling” them. One learns in ethology (at university!) that Vertebrates resent being controlled, so maybe these “helicopter parents” are striving for invertebrate status? Or maybe I’ve only had experience with free-range kids?

  14. Violet February 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    Perhaps the students only perceive that their parents are controlling their every move? It is possible that the parents simply stated that if the student doesn’t obtain at least a B average, they won’t waste their own money on tuition.

  15. Steve February 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    this study is Interesting in light of what a Wall Street Journal article says :

    “The Medication Generation
    (Many young people today have now spent most of their lives on antidepressants. Have the drugs made them ’emotionally illiterate’?”


    If you’ve never considered the drugging of school children an issue related to Free Range Parenting, you might want to read that article. Here’s a quote that points directly at helicopter parenting:

    ” In fact, it’s tempting to see the rapid spread of these medications LESS as evidence of an epidemic of youthful mental illness than as part of a broader social trend toward aggressively managing risk in the lives of children and teens.”

    Drug research studies prove a causal relationship between antidepressants (as well as certain other psych meds) and depression, in that so-called antidepressants can actually CAUSE depression in happy people, and/or make depression WORSE.

    see: “New Research: Antidepressants Can Cause Long-Term Depression”


  16. ifsogirl February 17, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    @ Violet – I’m sorry but your post makes no sense to me. You are assuming that a single expectation and consequece is all students are thinking of when saying they felt controlled by parents? I’m sorry you think so poorly of college students.

  17. Donald February 18, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    Self esteem has to be developed. Helicopter moms undermine self esteem.

    If you spill sugar on the kitchen table and it gets unnoticed, you will notice it later when your table is covered with ants. Sugar attracts ants. Everybody knows this. In the same way, low self esteem will attract bullies.

    Bullying doesn’t stop once the child leaves school. It continues in the workplace. Certain managers or colleagues sometimes behaved badly (e.g. acted stroppy, got a bit nasty, or overly authoritarian in manner, giving unreasonable responses to requests etc) would tend to pick on a specific member of our team, but treat the rest of us quite well.

    We have all witnessed this, have been, or still are a target of bullying in the workplace. The main thing that victims have in common is low self esteem.

  18. Donald February 18, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    @ Eleanor

    Good point!

    ……I’m a lot younger than most readers of this blog, not a parent, so I do know people around my age who were overparented–and they’re a lot more likely to be obnoxious, rude & solipsistic……..

    Rude and obnoxious people tend to live lonely lives because of their lack of social skills

  19. Donna February 18, 2013 at 12:30 am #

    @Puzzled – French breakfasts are predominantly carbs. Leftover bagette from the night before or croissants or brioche with jelly. Eggs, etc. would be extremely uncommon for breakfast in France. Or at least they were 25 years ago when I stayed with a family there.

    That said, the person was talking about Italy. Italy is similar. We were served left over bread/toast and jelly and cookies every morning for breakfast.

  20. Richard Masoner February 18, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    @Carolyn Porter — /ahem/ you called your own adult children “children” :-)

  21. Renate February 18, 2013 at 4:55 am #

    Great article! so True!:)

  22. Carolyn Porter February 18, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    @Richard Masoner. I should have said offspring or some other less charged word. Hat tip to Richard Masoner. I just get rankled when people seem to think college defers adulthood and expands parental rights. My college daughter should not be considered less an adult than her brother who chose to go straight into the workforce.

  23. Lyle F. Bogart DPT February 18, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    It’s probably all very subjective (one’s trash is another’s treasure and all that), but I really don’t comprehend helicoptering. One of the Great Joys in my life is sitting back–way back at times–and letting my kids just have a go at Life. I’m always there with a pat on the back when things go well for them and a warm shoulder when things don’t. By this approach, my kids (11 & 8) appear to be growing up to be Kind, Gentle, Brave, Respectful, and Resilient. This is just so much fun–even when it’s hard :-)

    Cheers, All!

  24. Lola February 18, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    For my 4 yo, it’s actually great having all those micro-managed schoolmates. Her self esteem has gone up this term, because she is a mini-mum for them at school. She helps them get their coats on, she buttons them up, she even helps teacher coax them into eating a bit of everything… Last week, she even convinced a classmate’s mum to let her take her son upstairs to their classroom, holding his hand and crooning the whole time (the boy’s actually a couple of months older than my girl)!

  25. pentamom February 18, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Carolyn, I think that’s the point. The word “children” can mean “little ones” or “offspring of any age,” and even you used it that way. No need to assume the more diminutive meaning and then be annoyed that people refer to adults that way.

  26. Cynthia812 February 18, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    I would say it’s correct to refer to one’s own children as such no matter there age. It doesn’t imply that the actually are still children just their relationship to you. Referring to college students (or anyone over fourteen, in my opinion) as a child is ridiculous, and misstates whatever issue is at hand.

    When I was in Italy and France (just for a couple of weeks), We had bread, jam, and juice or chocolate for breakfast every day. It’s why the bagels you get at hotels are referred to as a Continental breakfast, as opposed to an English breakfast.

  27. Cynthia812 February 18, 2013 at 10:26 am #


  28. Puzzled February 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Oh dear, I don’t know how I read France for Italy! So typically American of me, I apologize.

  29. Caleb February 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    On one hand I feel kids do need discipline, but they also need free time, and that free time ought be a time where their imaginations can run wild. That is why kids sometimes have more fun with the cardboard box a toy came in than the toy itself. At our Childcare we let kids play outside a lot, in the woods, and you’d be amazed how many things a mere stick can become, in a child’s imagination.

    On one hand children don’t get enough discipline, and on the other hand they don’t get enough freedom. I wrote a post on my blog one day when I was exasperated (and likely too impatient) called “Attention Surplus Disorder.” The crux of the essay is:

    “My conclusion is that the mind needs reinvigoration. Just as a coach wouldn’t constantly pressure an athlete, without allowing time for rest, schoolmarms ought not expect boys to constantly concentrate without ever being fascinated.

    This is not a new idea. The psychologist William James wrote about the difference between fascination and “directed attention” back in 1890. Surely we should have learned by now.

    The problem seems to be that schoolmarms, (even when they get it into their heads that boyish minds need R+R,) feel the R+R must occur in such a structured manner that it hardly qualifies as any sort of freedom, and freedom is what boys crave and need.”

    If you can forgive me and overlook the fact I was grouchy and a bit hard on schoolmarms, the entire essay is here:


  30. Steve February 18, 2013 at 1:16 pm #


    Great article!!!!!!!

    It should be read by all teachers and administrators in public schools, but, alas, it probably wouldn’t change their minds. Perhaps readers here could email it to their children’s teachers, if they want to make some enemies.

  31. Donna February 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    I agree with Cynthia812 on the children thing. Parents generally always refer to their own children as their own children. Regardless of age, it is fine to say “my children are coming for a visit” or “when are your children coming.” Outside of discussing the parent/child relationship a group of adults should not be referred to as children.

    While I have seen it happen and do believe that many people view college students as still being minor children, I think this article is using the term correctly. It is referencing the parent/child relationship – the children of helicopter parents v. the children of nonhelicopter parents – and not taking the stance that college students are still children.

    This is in contrast to the many articles about the boy slapped on the plane that insist on referring to him as an “infant” or “baby.” He is 19 months old so neither an infant nor a baby.

  32. Krista February 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Donna: Meh, I think the under 2 set are more baby than child. I feel there is a big shift toward independence after the 2nd birthday.

  33. Donna February 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Once a child is walking and communicating in a manner other than crying, it is no longer a baby in my opinion. It is a toddler. You say baby to me, and I picture a 6 month old, not a 19 month old.

  34. hineata February 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Interesting comments. I was cross to get home a permission slip for my 16 year old yesterday that referred to him as ‘your child’, but maybe I was getting het up over nothing. He is, after all, my child.

    It just sounds so infantilising.

  35. TRS February 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I think most kids do a good job at pushing their parents away by middle school. You must be a major and uber controlling parent to keep them under your thumb through High School.

    Yes my kids will always be my babies. I can not help it but I have always followed their lead to back off. They are generally the ones that put too much pressure on themselves and overscheduled on their own. I sometimes feel I am being to controlling by saying “enough is enough – you can not possibly do all of this.” It is their peer group that is driving them.

  36. Krista February 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    Donna, I guess that’s part of it for me. Yeah, toddlers talk a bit but I feel most of their communication is still through crying, or that toddler equivalent, whining.

    To be clear, we don’t allow whining in our home, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the preferred way of toddler communication. Whining even follows the same “speech pattern” as crying.

  37. Emily February 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    @Caleb–I agree, that’s a good article, but it’s not just boys’ minds that need rest, rejuvenation, and fascination; it’s everybody’s minds.

  38. Donna February 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    I didn’t feel that my toddler’s communication was mostly through crying. And she was nonverbal and needed speech therapy at 2 but she made her needs known in many ways – doing for herself, taking me to it. As a toddler, my kid only cried when she was extremely tired or hungry and melting down. A huge change from the nonstop crying of infancy.

  39. Krista February 19, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    Wow, that’s pretty cool. I find it so fascinating how kids can be so different from each other. Thank you for sharing your experience with me.

  40. Alec Duncan February 19, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    This isn’t just one article – there’s been a good deal of research that over-protective parenting, lack of free play, & lack of opportunities for children to learn to manage and cope with risks, are all leading to higher levels of anxiety and depression in children, adolescents and adults.

    For a really solid over-view of that research that argues that it’s not just a case of correlation but that it is causative, check out this PDF of “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents” by well-respected psychologist & play researcher Peter Gray http://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/3-4-article-gray-decline-of-play.pdf in The American Journal of Play.

    It’s not an easy read, but Gray makes his case very well, using long-term longitudinal studies of depression and anxiety that were begun in the 50s and continue to the present day.

  41. Alec Duncan February 19, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    For my own take on how parents can support appropriate risk-taking in children I’ve a blog post about children and cycling, called ” Bike + time + trust = learning to fly”. http://childsplaymusic.com.au/2013/02/15/bike-time-trust-learning-to-fly/

    It’s not academic at all, and it Is an easy read, but I’ve added a link to some solid research on children and cycling and on how hazardous cycling is, and the answer is: not very hazardous at all.

    Children (per kilometre travelled) are at no greater risk than adult cyclists, and on average you would have to cycle for over half a million YEARS before you would be killed. Yet adults perceive cycling as being very hazardous for children: they are wrong.

  42. SKL February 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    I could give so many examples of this.

    When I was 18 I didn’t have a job for the summer. My mom said I needed to go out and find one. We lived in a tiny rural town and I was extremely shy, so I didn’t come up with anything. My mom then said, “go to [nearby small city] and darken every doorstep and don’t come home until you have a job.” So I did. I was employed within an hour or two. It was a crappy job, but I was over the moon, because there’s nothing quite like getting a paycheck! Life would have been different if I’d never been required to go out and do this on my own, no excuses.

    When I was little, my mom worked 4 days per week, and we were latchkey kids on those 4 days. I thrived on the freedom and responsibility. I taught myself to play the piano, developed various talents, read many books, created and solved many little problems. I disliked Fridays because Mom was home when we got home from school, and she ran a tight ship when whe was there. I’m glad now that I experienced the contrast.

  43. pentamom February 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    “To be clear, we don’t allow whining in our home, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the preferred way of toddler communication.”

    Question: do you respond positively to whining? We didn’t allow it, and it rarely happened, even with our toddlers. We simply refused to respond positively to it. Either we refused the request until it was properly made, or if it was just complaining, we responded with some kind of appropriate negative consequence. Whining NEVER resulted in getting what you wanted, unless of course you had a child who was temporarily incapable of not being whiny because he was genuinely sick or hurt or tired way behind his ability to cope. Even then we reminded them that whining was not the way to talk.

    If a child can talk in a whiny way, that means he can learn to communicate consistently in an appropriate, non-whiny way.

  44. Krista February 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Pentamom- we do things about the same way in our home. It doesn’t mean that they don’t try to whine. It seems some weeks I have the kids repeat nearly every request since the first time they whine it.

  45. Nancy February 20, 2013 at 2:52 am #

    That depression might have something to do with the fact that these kids were promised that they were special, they were better than all the other kids, they were brilliant, and the world could be theirs if they’d show up sometimes. It isn’t the case. Moreover, some of these helicoptered kids emerged into adulthood right as the economy was getting bad with no skills whatsoever to deal with that. I guess things can be a little disappointing when you figure out far too late that you can’t in fact get everything you want right when you want it.

  46. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt February 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    I wonder if these helicoptering parents remember what it was like to be a kid. When I was a kid, I HATED when my parents hovered! I’d do anything I could to be on my own and do my own thing, beyond their supervision. Kids need that autonomy to build a healthy sense of self and self-confidence.

    Of course we parents think our kids are special, and we should let them know that they are. But we also need to let them know that they are no more special than anyone else’s kid, and that from a global (or cosmic) perspective we are all pretty insignificant.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    One dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  47. pentamom February 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Gotcha, Krista.


  1. Parking Your Helicopter | Sunshine Parenting - February 21, 2013

    […] Helicoptered Kids More Depressed as Young Adults (freerangekids.com) […]


    […] level-headed parenting. This week, she talked about a study – yes, another study – that shows helicopter parenting might cause depression when kids reach adulthood. Something to chew […]

  3. - School of Smock | School of Smock - March 8, 2013

    […] Helicoptered Kids More Depressed as Young Adults […]