Are Helicoptered Kids More Depressed at College?


This excerpt ifythziknb
from Julia Lythcott-Haims’ new book, “How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” is more than viral. It pleads with parents to step back and let kids make their own decisions  — and mistakes:

The data emerging confirms the harm done by asking so little of our kids when it comes to life skills, yet so much of them when it comes to academics.

The data do look alarming, A survey of college counseling center directors found 95% of them believe that the number of students with significant psychological problems is a “growing concern on campus.” Lythcott-Haims saw this first-hand when she was dean of freshman at Stanford. But, she writes:

The mental health crisis is not a Yale (or Stanford or Harvard) problem; these poor mental health outcomes are occurring in kids everywhere. The increase in mental health problems among college students may reflect the lengths to which we push kids toward academic achievement, but since they are happening to kids who end up at hundreds of schools in every tier, they appear to stem not from what it takes to get into the most elite schools but from some facet of American childhood itself.

Peter Gray has argued the same in his book, “Free To Learn“: When kids don’t get a chance to play on their own, they grow fearful and depressed because only in play do they get to be the adults — to learn how to make decisions, deal with consequences, solve problems and really be a person, instead of a precious possession or pet.

What I hope people don’t take away from this research, however, is that there is one “right” way to parent. There isn’t. There’s only a growing recognition that Free-Ranging is not dangerous or nutty:

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege, says that there are three ways we might be overparenting and unwittingly causing psychological harm:

  1. When we do for our kids what they can already do for themselves;
  2. When we do for our kids what they can almost do for themselves; and
  3. When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own egos.

Levine said that when we parent this way we deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are. In short, it deprives them of the chance to be, well, human. Although we overinvolve ourselves to protect our kids and it may in fact lead to short-term gains, our behavior actually delivers the rather soul-crushing news: Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.

That has always been the message of Free-Range Kids: Our children are safer and more competent than we’re told they are, by a fear-crazed society.

But let’s not forget that it is society that is shoving this fear down our throats and pressuring parents to be ever-present. It’s not like a bunch of neurotic parents decided to ruin their kids’ lives. It’s a society that almost mandates helicoptering — in some cases, legally.

So let’s not rag on our fellow parents for doing yet another thing “wrong.” Let’s just use this as a way to help Free-Rangers explain that what we’re doing is not crazy or dangerous, and it has a wonderful upside. – L

Welcome, helicoptered kids!

Welcome, helicoptered and un-helicoptered kids!


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56 Responses to Are Helicoptered Kids More Depressed at College?

  1. Brooks July 7, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    And society almost shames us for not helicoptering. For me, I’ve always let my kids make decisions suitable to their level. And I’ve NEVER once gone to the school to fight a battle for them (teacher gave an unfair grade, etc). I’ve told them that if there is an issue they feel strongly about, make an appointment with the teacher or principal and work it out. Each time my son has done it (daughter hasn’t needed to – yet), the result was positive, even when he didn’t get what he wanted. Like all parents, I do some really dumb things, but I’ll have to say this is one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught them. The sense of pride and accomplishment for handling one’s own problems is profound.

    Regarding upcoming college, I tell my kids they can go to school anywhere you want to, as long as it’s nowhere near home. Go, learn, and figure things out.

  2. Montreal Dad July 7, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    I was hanging out with my 45 year old sister recently when her 18-year-old, who just arrived in college, called her on the cell phone.

    I only got to hear half the conversation. It went something like…

    “Yes…yes…first you have to take it out of the box. Yes all the way out of the box.


    Right, take the plastic wrapping off first. Yes, BEFORE you put the pizza in the microwave.


    No, you don’t have to put it back in the box before you put it in the microwave…


    …I don’t know, the box should probably say how many minutes…[pause] yes, if it’s cardboard you can put the box in the recycling…”

    I was stunned…

  3. SKL July 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    While I agree with raising kids to be as independent as possible, I think we have to remember that cause/effect is not always clear. Are these young adults depressed because their parents did so much for them, or did they need more support because they already had mental issues?

    We have to parent the kids we are given to raise. Like any other developmental achievement, kids don’t all reach independence milestones at the same age. Like every other developmental difficulty, “tough love” (e.g., letting them flunk instead of forcing them to get out of bed, wash, dress, and go to school) doesn’t necessarily solve all problems.

    I know very intelligent people who would have flunked out or dropped out of high school at the earliest possible date, had their parents not done what would be “overparenting” to other kids.

    Of course there are parents who do more than their kids actually need, and that is a problem, but you can’t tell from statistics which kids were “overparented” vs. given extra support because they needed it.

  4. Walter Underwood July 7, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    I was struck by the similarity of the three kinds of overparenting and some of Baden-Powell’s comments about the essence of Scouting.

    “Train Scouts to do a job, then let them do it.”
    “Never do anything a boy can do.”

    A hundred years ago, he was cautioning adults against doing things for children that they can already do or almost do for themselves.

  5. Andrea Drummond July 7, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    I used to work in a Dean of Students office at a college. From my observations there I would say YES. So many of the kids who came into our office were anxious and neurotic and didn’t seem to be able to cope with normal, everyday stressors. We had parents calling and asking inappropriate questions, trying to get their kids’ grades, wanting to know what they had to do in order to be able to drop a class, complaining that little Susie couldn’t get a class she wanted, etc. We even had a mother who called her daughter every morning to make sure she was awake. Seriously? Oh, and we had the father of a law student, which means she was done with undergrad so at least approaching if not in her mid-20s, call and go off on one of of my coworkers because his little angel couldn’t get a book she needed for a class (nevermind that there is a separate law school on campus and we had nothing to do with it). I felt like my time there really showed me what NOT to do while raising children… not that I would have done any of that stuff anyway. My parents didn’t.

  6. John July 7, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    I am all for free range parenting (even though I’m not a parent myself) and I firmly believe that the more independence you can give your child at a young age, the more adaptable and confident he will be as an adult. BUT playing devil’s advocate here, is there really a STRONG link between “significant psychological problems” among college students to them being helicoptered in their youth? Now I personally believe a powerful link between these two things makes perfect sense but I ask this question because the helicopter crowd will try to debunk this study and claim the reason for the psychological problems among college students is due to other reasons such as increased divorce resulting in kids growing up in one parent homes, more child abuse, spankings, violence on TV, video games, kids addicted to electronic gadgets nowadays, etc., etc. and some will even claim that more college kids have psychological problems because they weren’t helicoptered enough when they were young!

    So for argument sake, how can we convince people that smothering their kids when they’re young can affect them in a negative way when they become adults? How can we convince them that it’s ridiculous to believe that smart phones cause significant psychological problems when they become adults, same with video games and violent TV shows? How can we also convince them it is absolutely absurd to suggest that occasionally spanking your young child in a very moderate way when he’s naughty (No, not a beating), brings on psychological problems when he becomes an adult (I believe any link found here can be debunked)?! But yet these are the common links the media always makes between child rearing and depressed adults. I never hear anything about the negative effects of helicoptering kids except from sane and observant people like Ms. Lythcott-Haims and Mr. Gray.

  7. Emily Morris July 7, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    SKL, I do agree it’s difficult to see cause/effect and I’m sure for plenty of these kids there are some legitimate troubles with which they need help.

    But I’ve also seen other reports wondering about this significant increase in services. Is it because our medical community is better at identifying real problems? Is it because these services on college campuses are more promoted? (I recall attending university not ten years ago and having the “hey, we have free counselors!” thing being really promoted, like it was all new and fancy).

    Or, as suggested here, is it because we have incapable college students? I think it’s a mixed bag, but I’m not ruling out that last idea.

    The other week the teen section of our local paper did an article about a book about preparing kids and parents for college. The young lady who wrote the article quoted the book as saying something along the lines “The summer before college, I taught my daughter this big ol’ list of life skills!” that I’m praying I interpreted wrong as this included driving, laundry, and basic money sense (I’m hoping this was an improvement on driving in really crazy areas and maybe a fancier and more complex definition of money sense like credit cards and investments and students loans and stuff).

    When parents use “the summer before college” to hurriedly teach every life skill required for not dying in college, there are bound to be problems and I think the attitude is spreading to some degree.

    I used to work summers at Boy Scout camp. We had counselors in training at the ripe old age of 14 coming up to train for the summer with surprisingly few actual adults watching out for them. I think it was good for them.

  8. Anna Crowe Bates July 7, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    There isn’t one right way to parent. Love this!

  9. Gina July 7, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    One thing that I find to encourage this dependence the cell phone. When we were in college, we called home or were called by parents once a week, unless there was an extenuating circumstance. My kids called several times a day; when do they get to be “away” from us?

  10. Tamara July 7, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    I also love the statement that there is no one right way to parent! This is the sole truth among parenting “rules.”

    Gina: I agree about cell phones too. Super convenient, definitely, – if I was stuck on the highway with a vehicle that I can’t get started, I’m happy to have it – but now, if I do not immediately answer a text or call, people start asking “what’s wrong with Tamara, I texted her an hour ago AND I called, something must be wrong!!” With kids it must be even worse – mine don’t have cells yet.

    It seems as though the expectation is for parents to be entitled to, and even expected to, by society and the law, know where their kids are at all times.

  11. Warren July 7, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    On one of my visits to my oldest daughter, at college, I asked her how life was, and such. The one that got me was, “Got lots to do, things to do?”.

    Her reply was “Lots to do if you are screwed up.”. And she showed me one of the Community Events Boards. Nothing but support groups, therapy and hotline posters.

    In our day, that board would be full of parties, games, mixers, music and pretty much social events. Now if you don’t have some sort of disorder, trauma, or syndrome you are in the minority.

    Montreal Dad,
    I am an Ontario Dad. If I had gotten a call like that, my response is standard “Are the instructions on the box written in Latin? No. Good. Bye.” and hang up. LOL.

  12. AmyO July 7, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    SKL: I read an article about this book yesterday on They made it clear that the research shows correlation, but the researchers did not want to go so far as causation. There are a lot of variables in play here, and it may be impossible to ever say whether or not helicopter parenting causes anxiety.

    My only problem is with articles like the one I read is that the anecdotal examples given are always such an extreme. I haven’t read the book, but there was an example of a father who pressured his daughter into choosing a major he wanted by threatening to divorce her mother. Now, this is an extreme story of helicopter parenting, and I can see parents reading this and saying, “I would never do that!” when in fact they do use the same parenting techniques, but to a lesser extent. It would be nice if there were more “everyday” types of examples out there so that people could make connections more easily.

  13. Warren July 7, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Oh and that oldest daughter……………she is now a teacher. So there is some hope for future generations.
    And the whole family is upset with me for not trying to talk her out of going to Thailand for three weeks with her friends. Or they may be upset with me for telling them all to shut up, keep their paranoia to themselves, or they will be answering to me.

  14. Havva July 7, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    @SKL, I agree that “you can’t tell from statistics which kids were “overparented” vs. given extra support because they needed it.”

    And thus Lenore’s call not to rag on other parents is important.

    But that doesn’t mean that the data can be safely ignored.

    Just as some percentage of people who die not wearing a seatbelt would have been dead even if they wore one. And for some portion of the dead we will never definitively know if they would have lived with a seatbelt, or not. Regardless of the individual cases however, the data makes it clear that increasing seat belt usage substantially decreases death by car accident.

    Thus it is with ‘over parenting’. We might not know on the individual level if that person was destined for neurosis regardless, or if an individual might have been less neurotic with even more parenting. But the data still shows that the free-range kids are less nurotic than the helicoptered kids. So it remains a fair conclusion to say that culturally promoting, and in some cases flat requiring, overparenting is having a detrimental impact on public (mental) health.

  15. Beth July 7, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Take THAT, all you people who say “If you didn’t want to spend all afternoon at the park with your 8-year-old you should never have had kids”!!!!

  16. E July 7, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    @Gina — great point.

    I always think about my Mom who spoke to my father once a day by phone when he worked (he’d call while he ate his lunch). If something notable happened at home, it would wait until the lunch time call or when he got home. I sometimes stop myself from calling my husband just because something amused/annoyed me or if I’ve got a non-urgent question. I don’t think teens know anything different from “oh I wonder” and then proceed to call or text someone.

    It would be interesting to know better the root of how kids arrive on campus and suffer in this way.

    One of my son’s girlfriend’s mother would qualify as a helicopter parent (after a 3 week college trip abroad, she was concerned that her daughter would be a rusty driver and asked her to call when she arrived at our house the first time she drove) but her daughter is a lovely, confident, outgoing, well adjusted, successful college student.

  17. Patty July 7, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    I’d like to address another subject: The Government–and some schools–restrictive guidelines for what students are being allowed to eat.

    My newspaper showed the elementary students’ meal that day: 5 chicken nuggets, 3 apple slices, and a carton of milk. No carbohydrates,something which helps give energy and keep their tummies feeling full.

    Other examples I have read or were related on Facebook: A little girl was requested to bring a snack. The mom sent oreo cookies. The teacher gave her a stern warning, and sent them home with her.

    An eastern state is weighing elementary students and if their BMI is above point, a ‘Fat’ letter is sent home informing the parents. One little girl, when she came home, ripped up the paper and cried. She was so humiliated.

    In a California school the childrens’ packed lunches were thrown in the trash because they contained the ‘wrong’ foods.

    How some of this is possible is the Government will not give subsidies if their new guidelines are not met. Mind you the meals are so unappealing the children throw them in the trash and go without. One brave school district rejected the money and served the students real food.

    And, when those kids get home, I would bet they quickly scrounge the cupboards to fill their bellies.

    I know this is not happening everywhere–but why should it be happening at all?

  18. JulieC July 7, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    It seems that some parents don’t want their children to suffer consequences for anything and so continually step in to make sure the child doesn’t fail or is uncomfortable. Ever.

    Small examples. My oldest dawdled in the morning as a kindergartener. As we drove to school, he mentioned he had forgotten to brush his teeth and we needed to go back so he could do that. I said, no, we don’t have time, but just don’t breath on anyone today (lol). He was very upset, but by God he never forgot to brush his teeth after that. In high school he had early morning swim practices and despite my suggestion that he pack his swim bag the night before, he didn’t. Forgot to pack underwear. Spent the day at school commando and after that he always packed his bag the night before. I could have driven to school to bring him underwear but didn’t.

    My point is, let them be uncomfortable once in a while. They won’t wither and die. If they learn this lesson early enough, by the time they get to college they will understand what consequences are.

    I also agree that scouting is incredibly helpful in developing self-sufficiency and confidence.

  19. SKL July 7, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    Kids whose parents put more sunscreen on them (i.e. fair-skinned kids) are more susceptible to sunburns as adults.

    Causation or reasonable accommodation?

    Colleges today are expected to accommodate people who, in my generation, would not have enrolled or would have flunked out / dropped out early on. No more “survival of the fittest.” Therefore, to some extent, the university population is different.

    I also think part of it is more “diagnosis” of stuff that has always been out there. I had issues of my own as a university student. Lots of them. But I never went looking for “help.” I sucked it up and hoped for better days. And that probably made me a better person – but who really knows?

    Is the university itself causing some of the problem by saying “let us help you” instead of “suck it up or drop out”?

  20. SKL July 7, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    If I’m honest, I probably stayed in college / grad school because I didn’t feel ready go get a job that would pay off my student loans. 😛 Having to turn in papers and take tests was the least of my worries.

  21. James Pollock July 7, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    Detecting problems when children first move away from home to go to college might be a sign of a fundamental problem in the way kids are raised… have we tried cross-checking with other places children are separated from their parents for the first major way? I’m thinking that the armed forces have been dealing with people who are apart from their families for the first time, for, well hundreds of years. Are they seeing this rise in mental problems, too?

    Or are we seeing a generational effect of being at war?

  22. Dee July 7, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    While helicopter parenting is not the ONLY thing leading to kids being more depressed in college, I firmly believe it is one of the things. I work at a university and we are seeing more and more depressed kids, kids who cannot handle basic life stuff, kids who very sadly think suicide is the way out. And this is GRAD school. Helicoptering is part of it. Parents do way too much for kids so when they are “launched” they don’t know how to handle it, how to manage their school time along with a job, life’s necessities, and a social life. The other part is the very very HIGH expectations we have on these kids. Not having a college degree is considered professional suicide so they feel they have to go. We are ALL affected by the poor economy and poor job prospects especially this group of kids so they feel they HAVE to excel and achieve. The future is viewed in a very limited light and parents are the ones who start this with society filling in along the way.

  23. anonymous mom July 7, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    I have seen this shared many times by my fellow college instructor friends, because we absolutely do see what is being described here.

    However, I’m increasingly unconvinced that helicoptering parenting is the cause of the anxiety and stress college students are experiencing. I find that line of reasoning unconvincing because I just don’t believe parents have that much power (especially given how influential other factors are in the lives of children and teens) and I find it somewhat dangerous because it can become another in a long line of blaming mothers for everything wrong with the world.

    Instead, I tend to believe that rather than A causing B (helicopter parenting causing young adult anxiety), there’s a third factor that is causing both A and B. Or, numerous third factors causing both A and B. Because, really, what we are seeing is anxiety in both groups: anxious parents and anxious kids. Rather than assuming that anxious parents are creating anxious kids, I think it’s quite possible that whatever is making parents anxious (the media, the economic situation, cultural forces, the media, new technologies, changes in family structure, the media) is also making young adults anxious and unhappy.

    I’m sure that parenting plays some role. I just don’t think it plays as decisive of a role as pieces like the Slate piece claim. Because, yes, college students are more anxious, it seems, than they were thirty years ago, but so are parents. So are grandparents. We all seem to be more anxious, less trusting, feeling more helpless. And I can’t help but think the major reasons are a media that constantly bombards us (whether it’s via “news” or via movies/TV/popular books) with stories of women and children being in peril from a world full of predators and also a cultural change that leads us to now view people (and ourselves) as incredibly psychologically fragile. (People used to believe that hard times built character and made you stronger. We now believe that hard times traumatize you and leave you a shell of a person.)

    So I wouldn’t necessarily look to parents to figure out why college students seem anxious and unhappy but to the larger culture to figure out why EVERYBODY seems so much more anxious and unhappy (despite things being pretty much better than they ever had been, or, as Louis C.K. famously put it, “Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”

  24. Elin July 7, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    My one hope for my child is that I manage to prepare her enough to be a successful adult. By that I mean a person who can choose her own path and make a life of her own whether it is as a janitor, artist, lawyer, prime minister or any of the other numerous choices there are that would lead to a productive and happy life. I genuinely do not care if she wants to go to university or if she wants a trade or if she chooses to just hop from one job to another (although my advice would be to at least get training for one possible carrier and then if she wants to try other ones go ahead) as long as she is a working adult who has a good life.

    Because of that I try to make sure she gets to try as many things as is possible and to empower her to do things on her own that she can do. She is three and is working very hard on getting everything right when it comes to going to the bathroom. She does not want to go on the potty so we got her a children’s seat as it is quite hard for her to sit on an regular toilet even if she can do it for example if we go somewhere else. We got a stool for both the toilet and the sink so she seat herself and wash her hands. For a while we had the problem that she could not get soap out of the liquid soap container but then we realized that she could use hard soap so we got her a soap as well. Now she can manage the bathroom all on her own and she is so proud! She loves that she doesn’t have to ask us to be able to go and toilet use went up like a rocket. Here we as parents have done a lot to help her with something but it is something that she now can feel freer and happier for being able to do and we do not need to help her all the time. She will learn how to do things and one day she will manage without all these tools and then plenty of useful skills have already been mastered.

    I let her eat on her own more or less the whole time from about 10 months old when she grabbed the spoon all the time, she can pick her own clothes and put on and remove most of them. When it is possible she helps us with various tasks and we have also always encouraged her to play om her own without our involvement (not forced her but let her be if she found her flow and been there to help her if necessary but not before that point).

    I think the best parenting is done with a huge heart, plenty of love and encouragement but with a goal in the future of having a well-functioning adult who can live live to the fullest. I believe it is great to give children the best you can but while doing so not forgetting that you as a parent is also a person who deserves good things. Do not make your children the one focus in your life but do make them a priority and something that is valuable and who is worth giving attention and encouragement but not to the point that you are running their lives beyond what is necessary for their age. I also want to point out that I think it is bad to give children responsibility that they are not ready for but in fear of doing so one cannot move to not giving they any responsibility.

  25. Eric S July 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    I do believe that there is more than one way of parenting. But keep in mind, there is only ONE way helicopter parents parent. And it’s not so much about the children, but the parents. What makes THEM feel better. Every decision a helicopter parent is based purely on their own fears, insecurities, and ego. There is definitely more way to raise a child, but unfortunately, many parents don’t explore those other options. They stick to their fearful or egotistical ways. The saddest part, is they start this coddling and sheltering method from day one. So these kids have no clue that they have been conditioned to that insecure, fearful, dependent person. And when they get out there in the real world on their own, they are ill equipped and prepared to face it. So they do what has always come naturally to them, because they were raised that way. To call mommy and daddy to do things for them.

    What’s really ironic about this, and I have friends in this position. When their kid(s) keep calling them from College, the parents start to get frustrated. Saying things like “they’re old enough, why do they keep calling?”, or “he’s your son”, or “she’s your daughter”. None of these parents stop to think that they had a very big role in why there kids…sorry…young adults are still so dependent on them. And when I tell them, they have this look of denial in their faces. But deep down, you can tell their all going “DOH!”. lol

  26. Tamara July 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    Elin: you rock. This is the type of parenting I strive for also.

  27. Rob Cunning July 7, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    @Montreal Dad

    I have a 16 year old son who can figure out anything on his own, *except* how to use the dang microwave. He works on cars, solves his own problems, cooks food on the stove, fixes things around the house that I don’t even think are fixable, and is generally a very independent kid. But every single time he wants to warm something up in the microwave, he comes to me or his mother to ask for instructions. We always tell him the same thing — if it’s a packaged food, follow the instructions on the box or bag. If it’s leftovers in a container, set it for a couple of minutes and check/stir every 60 seconds or so. But he has to ask every single time. I’m not sure why this kid who can do things like diagnose and fix car problems and teach himself how to play the piano, has such a hard time figuring out the microwave!

  28. Havva July 7, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    @Rob Cunning,
    I’d guess it is the imprecision of the microwave. Machines like cars, and activities like playing a piano are a discreet thing. Very straight forward for someone with ‘the nack.’

    Microwaves on the other hand…. sheesh… I got into a habit of asking my mom on microwaving (not everything mostly potato). She wasn’t exactly consistent on how long she said, seemed to vary a bit by the amount of potato. So I always asked. Finally she told me something along the lines of ‘Look…microwaves involve guess work. Okay. Give them a few minutes each side flip give them more and keep going until the are cooked. You’ll figure it out.’

    From then on the answer was ‘your guess is as good as mine’ until I quit asking. It was just what I needed. When she quit letting me lean on her for the microwave times, I started getting a feel for it, rather than looking for ‘the answer’. Now my guess really is as good as my mom’s, better with my microwave really. But it is still guess work and that still irritates me enough that I have done research on what it would take to make microwaves have reliable and consistent cook times (answer more than it is worth). But I’m not paralyzed by using a microwave sans instructions now, and that was worth every irritating repetition of ‘your guess is as good as mine’.

  29. hineata July 7, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

    Usually I would say yes to this. But having just finished postgrad study on gifted kids, one of the issues with some/quite a number of highly intelligent people really is an imbalance in practical areas. I went to uni with one memorable example, an absolutely wonderful girl who once blew up her flat’s toaster by buttering the bread first. …all brains and no common sense.

    It doesn’t surprise me that much that the kind of kids who make it into highly selective colleges anyway are likely to tend toward the impractical. Like SKL mentioned, some people need extra support. Some need it throughout life. Another flatmate of mine works as a manager at one of our major research centres, and much of her work involves mothering the scientists, who are exceptionally able in their fields but pretty pathetic otherwise….

  30. hineata July 7, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Also, aren’t colleges becoming more selective? The more difficult it is to meet the academic requirements of a school, the more likely it is that the ‘gifted’ are going to feature at those schools, hence raising the general level of introversion and/or anxiety among the student body. Not all ‘gifted’ students are either introverts or anxious by any means, but the proportion of both tends to be higher, darn it I forget by how much….

  31. Anna July 7, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    But Hineata, is this only the case at elite colleges? I have the impression it’s more general. Certainly the students I taught at a very non-elite college (many or most of our students were there as their back-up choice, having failed to get in to their top picks) and I was still very struck by the level of anxiety and insecurity – also how tightly they still seemed attached to their parents. E.g., they all seemed to text and/or talk to their parents daily or many times a day. When I was in college, “tightly attached” meant the kids who called their parents once a week, while most of us called home either every other week or even once a month.

  32. gpo613 July 7, 2015 at 6:02 pm #

    Here is an interesting story. My wife had unplanned surgery on 6/1. Well we knew for about 5 days before. She could not get around on her own and definitely could not cook. So my 14 year old daughter soon to be a freshman is now in charge of cooking dinner. I can’t with my schedule that is unless we want to eat 7:30 or later every night.

    I am so proud my that my daughter had the skills to do the job. She even plans the meals for the week. She has tried some new recipes. Great life skills to learn and hone at that age.

    So basically we did well as parents because we did nothing.

  33. Donald July 7, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    “..,…How some of this is possible is the Government will not give subsidies if their new guidelines are not met. Mind you the meals are so unappealing the children throw them in the trash and go without. One brave school district rejected the money and served the students real food.”

    I love to hear stories like this. Bureaucracy is notorious for overdoing things. I love it that the school rejected their money.

  34. SKL July 7, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    Someone mentioned that parents are anxious too. I agree, but I would be more specific and say parents (and kids) are becoming more perfectionist, I think. And something out there is fueling this.

    I’m sitting in a math camp waiting room right now. (Don’t judge me.) On the wall is a promotional photo with a kid in a doctor’s suit and the words “math for life.” What kind of parent doesn’t want to give their kids the best, when it’s easy enough to do? You don’t want your kid to be the only one not doing great in math, do you? (That’s not why I’m here – I have a kid who needs serious math help – and I know some kids are here because they are ridiculously gifted or behind and need it too. But the ads, of course, seek to bring in a much broader group.)

    Yesterday a facebook friend started getting all high on herself because she keeps her 9yo in a fancy car seat. She said “I just care so much about my kids’ lives!” (like other parents don’t) and then she and her buddies went on to slam parents who “only” put their school-aged kids in seatbelts etc. How does a woman give herself an A+ in caring if her kids die? Does that strike anyone else as weird? And yet I see it rather often. (Sometimes I’m tempted to retort, “well, I don’t care if my kids die” but some people would probably take me seriously.)

    Maybe I’m just too old for modern parenting.

  35. Anna July 7, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

    gpo613: Good for you and your daughter! When I was 15 or 16, my mom was put on several months of bed-rest for a risky pregnancy, so I took on a lot of similar responsibilities. It was quite a formative experience for me. One of my jobs was to go grocery shopping with my dad: my responsibility was to make him stick to the list, check for the best per unit price, and stop him from splurging on too many impulse buys. (Although I used to allow him one or two each week.) I remember feeling pretty smug and self-important about it, especially when we ran into one of his work colleagues, who made some jovial remark about how I probably tried to sneak all kinds of junk food into the cart – my dad and I just looked at each other and snickered as soon as he walked away.

  36. lollipoplover July 7, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    I so agree with Lenore and commenters about no magic bullet parenting method for children. This isn’t bash one method in favor of another parenting. Every child is born unique. Kids have a remarkable way of finding their way in the world despite the best and worst parenting efforts. But validating the idea of fostering independence, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, sense of SELF is a universal parenting goal. And they all rely on SELF. You can not buy or transfer self-confidence for a child. They need opportunities and failures to develop this critical component to mental health. Incremental responsibilities based on maturity, freedom to explore and find that piece of themselves that gives them good mental health, a happy place, is every parent’s goal.

    I’ve noticed increasingly the inability of some children to entertain themselves. Getting bored is a four letter word and they bounce from one organized, adult-supervised activity to the next and never get to free play. They haven’t had the chance to find out what they actually enjoy. As a parent, I only can hope that I’ve led my children to self-discover what makes them tick- sports, nature, crafts, cooking, animals, unicorns and rainbows. I can’t give them happiness or take away their depression. I CAN teach them to cook, do laundry, shop for groceries, and talk to an adult respectfully and persuasively, and always be there to listen. The rest is up to them.

  37. skye July 7, 2015 at 7:29 pm #

    I graduated high school and started college in 2000. I was at least a year younger than my classmates as I had skipped 3rd grade. It was bad even then. My classmates had no idea how to cook, do laundry, do their taxes or schedule their time. Not to mention how to handle rejection or failure. Consequently a lot of them were very close to dropping out. So there is my 17 year old self helping 18-19 year olds how to be adults! 15 years later I know it has gotten exponentially worse, so I fear for the kids of today.

  38. Jenny Islander July 7, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    I started college in the fall of ’89. My roomie saved up her dirty laundry to take home every week. Her mother even sorted it for her.

  39. Jenny Islander July 8, 2015 at 1:25 am #

    I’ve ranted here before about the orthorexic, arbitrary USDA regs that are now applied to school lunches. I did some research into the beginning of public school meals programs in the U.S. Back then, an unsubsidized lunch cost a penny. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about a buck now. Lunch for a buck per child, with reasonable serving sizes based on the average amounts that children actually eat, would be pretty basic but manageable, especially if the school hired a cook and let the kids be kitchen helpers as in the old days.

  40. Warren July 8, 2015 at 2:08 am #

    Part of the problem is that people are way over diagnosed.

    Not everything is a disorder, or syndrome. Not everything is a mental health issues. For the most part these students need a good hard slap in the back of the head and told to “Grow up and get over it.”. Instead they are told it is okay to “feel” that way.

    Just as some stat rape laws make all women out to be victims from the day they are born, mental health now makes every one a victim of mental illness in one form or another.

    We need to get back to the good old days of pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in there.

  41. Warren July 8, 2015 at 2:09 am #

    As far as the school lunches go, stand up, fight and stop letting other people tell you what you can and cannot feed your kids.

  42. sexhysteria July 8, 2015 at 2:11 am #

    We need to attack the myth that being overprotective is a sign of responsible parents. It’s a sign of parents being led astray by media sensationalism about supposed “stranger danger” and sex play (so-called “overstimulation”).

  43. Tiny Tim July 8, 2015 at 2:20 am #

    Absent actual abuse, parents should be empowered to parent however they want. Some of them will be good parents, some bad, but the alternative to this (micromanaging by CPS) is clearly worse. I don’t really care that there are “helicopter parents,” I care that non-helicopter parents feel extreme pressures to be that way.

  44. Andrew July 8, 2015 at 2:59 am #

    In case people are wondering, the photo is Old Court at Clare College in Cambridge, with King’s College chapel behind.

  45. anonymous mom July 8, 2015 at 8:20 am #

    @skye, I didn’t know how to cook or do laundry when I went to college. But, I was raised to feel like a capable person, so I had no problem figuring out how to do those things when I needed to.

    I mean, while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching kids how to cook, clean, balance a checkbook, etc.–I do plan on teaching my kids those things, but mostly because (with cooking and cleaning) I want their help!–but we’re not talking about rocket science. These are things you can learn relatively easily when the need arises.

    I would say the problem is not that kids aren’t leaving home knowing how to do everything they’ll need to do as an adult, because that’s an impossible goal. It’s that they are leaving home feeling like they are incapable of doing what they need to do as an adult.

    Ironically, I think a lot of people seem to think that if they don’t try to avoid their children facing pain and challenges as children (if they go against the mindset of helicoptering), they will be helping their child to avoid facing the pain and challenges that come with young adulthood. But, that’s not going to happen. The transition to adulthood is going to come with challenges for everybody, as every stage of life does. There is no way to ensure your child as a smooth, trouble-free transition from child to adult. Instead, I think the focus should be on helping our children to realize that they are capable of meeting the challenges they will inevitably face: they have the emotional resources to deal with difficult times and they have the ability to do what needs to be done.

  46. lollipoplover July 8, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    “I stead, I think the focus should be on helping our children to realize that they are capable of meeting the challenges they will inevitably face: they have the emotional resources to deal with difficult times and they have the ability to do what needs to be done.”


    But no one wants their kids to go through any disappointment or failure, it’s not so much helicoptering but snow plow parenting and attempting to remove every obstacle, real or imagined, to create a *happier* child who is ill-prepared emotionally for challenges in real life. Emotionally, we can help our kids develop a thicker skin by helping them through these road bumps at early ages. No, you won’t be invited to every party or make every team or win every game. I’d rather my kid enter college resilient than with straight A’s.

  47. Cynthia812 July 8, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    Just saw this lovely article. And the “losing kids” did not involve authorities, which I thought initially.

  48. Sara A. July 8, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I read once, in a business article about when to delegate, that you should always delegate the job when someone else would do the job at least 70% as well as you would. It is amazing to me just how many things my almost 3 year old can do almost as well as I would. She can peel onions, rip up greens, clear and set the table (as long as I hand her the dishes and silverware), choose her own clothes, dress herself, clean her room, put her clothes in the hamper, etc. I’m hoping that in the next year, her manual dexterity will improve enough to peel carrots and potatoes and fill the cat’s bowl. Of course getting her to focus long enough to do these things is hard, but watching her do for herself is priceless. She feels so empowered and useful, which I think other people notice. She’s managed to get herself an in with a group of 6 year old girls at the park who seem to tolerate her much of the time and include her in their games. Most parents seem surprised when they discover she’s only 2 3/4 years old. She has let me know that when she’s older she’s going to read books by herself, use mommy’s sewing machine, spin, knit, cook, fix things, and be a pirate.

  49. Paul Bearer July 8, 2015 at 10:22 am #

    As a high school counselor, I echo Ms. Levine’s three points 100%, and would add that the lack of social skills in our students negatively impacts their chancing of getting into their dream schools.

    The #1 ranked student in our senior class was actually turned down from Yale this year, despite looking excellent on paper, while #57 got in with no problem. The determining factor? The admissions rep really connected with #57, whose positive personality and charisma endears her to everyone she meets. #1 has always been very cold and robotic, with parents that strongarm the school into getting her as many special privileges as possible (a common practice, sadly).

    In summary: Not only is their lack of social skills hurting these kids… well… socially, it’s actively undermining the all-important academics these parents place such immense emphasis on.

  50. SKL July 8, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    The last post reminded me of something that I guess is free-range. My youngest is gifted, but she blew the standardized cognitive test they did in 2nd grade. (She did well, but not quite well enough.) She said she was “bored” and she just wanted to get back to her personal reading. In her defense, she was a year young for her grade (had just turned 7) and they had 3 continuous weeks of standardized testing, so I could understand being bored, but still, it was a choice to not give the test the attention it deserved.

    So in 3rd grade she noticed that some of her friends were in the gifted program, and she wanted to know why I hadn’t signed her up. I explained how it happened and told her that if she wanted to get into the program, she had to do the following: do her best on all tests in the 3rd grade, get excellent grades, and go tell the gifted teacher that she wanted in. Instead she got “bored” on the tests again (maybe she also isn’t a good bubble filler?), had one trimester of so-so grades, and was too timid to talk to the gifted teacher. Meanwhile I looked into the gifted program and saw that it’s a lot of research and writing – and my kid loathes writing. It stresses her out to an extreme. I told her that while I could take her to get privately tested and ask the teacher to accept her, I won’t do it unless and until she convinces me that she really wants to do that kind of extra work, without any pushing from me. I have no interest in chasing a resistant 8yo down to do extra school work she doesn’t need to do.

    I would love for her to be in a gifted program as I was. Who wouldn’t? I’m sure it would look good on her college apps etc. But if it happens, it’s going to be because she wanted it and made an effort to get it.

    I also know that the reason she isn’t a straight-A student all the time is because I put her in school a year early. No, I don’t regret that, because if I hadn’t, she’d have even fewer opportunities to put forth actual academic effort, to learn from mistakes, and to gain a true sense of accomplishment. Yes, I know this will mean she has to do actual work to get a great GPA in high school, or live with the results. Good. Lord knows she has many years of work ahead of her, no matter how smart she is.

  51. Nicole R. July 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    That sounds like a great book! I just put a hold on it at my library, and I’m 12th in line, so it looks like people are reading it!

  52. E July 8, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    @Jenny Islander — I saved up my laundry and took it home on weekends too. I’m sure my Mom helped me get the loads done while I was home. It was easier (and cheaper) than doing it a laundromat. She also did my laundry all thru HS though I’m sure I could have done it. But I also had other responsibilities. I was trusted to stay home as they traveled (sometimes for pleasure, sometimes because an older sister was having a baby out of state). My Mom didn’t want me to work during the school year because they wanted me to focus on school and its activities.

    You can’t always take 1 thing that you did that someone’s kid is not doing and draw conclusions.

    I imagine we’ll know more as time goes on, but there can be a lot of factors into college mental health issues. It makes sense that being unprepared to be on your own is one of them. I do wonder about the infiltration of everyone else’s life experiences into your own (via internet and social media) has created a whole social experience that people my generation can’t even fathom (since it didn’t exist).

    I know that for the brief time I had FB, reading about “friends” (who really were only acquaintances) who had children getting 4.0s and other amazing opportunities, while we were struggling with one of our kids, wasn’t wonderful. I disliked how someone else’s life experience affected my own thoughts (even if briefly). I can’t imagine what it’s like for still maturing teens.

  53. hineata July 9, 2015 at 1:27 am #

    Well, except for doing my own laundry, as I had never seen an automatic washing machine before, and catching buses (as we had one bus a day in and out of town) I managed fine for the normal tasks of leaving home. I was still a basket case though, missed my family, my town and my friends for a full year at least and would have rung home every single day if I could have afforded it :-). Actually I would have moved home and commuted had it been possible. That eased off after the rest of my close friends left home the following year and I just got used to everything. By the time I turned 18 I was fine, but I do tend to cut kids some slack about leaving home, thanks to my own patheticness at it 30 plus years ago LOL! Regardless of parenting style, most kids will grow up and get over homesickness and general incompetence eventually.

  54. Six July 9, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    To say there is ONE right way to parent is saying that all kids (and parents) are alike.

  55. Beth July 10, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    I did my kids laundry all through high school, because I have a high efficiency front-load washer and them doing their little loads by themselves seemed wasteful. They knew how to do it though, and when they brought their wash home from college it was on them to get it done.

  56. pentamom July 11, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

    “I did my kids laundry all through high school, because I have a high efficiency front-load washer and them doing their little loads by themselves seemed wasteful. They knew how to do it though, and when they brought their wash home from college it was on them to get it done.”

    This. When you have seven people in the house, it’s ridiculously wasteful of time, money, and energy to have people do their own laundry. But they did help out doing the family laundry.

    And most of the time, when they bring the laundry home from college, it’s up to them to get it done; if they’re home for while, it goes in with the family laundry again. One time I just jumped in and did my son’s, because he came home for the summer after a few exhausting days of travel with his track team and basically slept for two days and I didn’t want it all to pile up. But that wasn’t “mom has to do my laundry”; that was one adult doing another adult a favor because of circumstances.

    Making any one chore the test of whether your kids are helicoptered is silly, because families and circumstances vary. It’s more a matter of whether kids can handle things on their own when those circumstances change.