I was lucky enough to have two parents who put just enough pressure on me to keep me going in the right direction but accepted my own agency once I left for college (and, more accurately, the last couple years of high school). My mother experienced the teary eyed college goodbye freshman year not in front of my dorm room, but in my driveway at home because I insisted on driving myself to college. My parents visit me about once a year on campus, and I make it home every couple months. It’s an incredibly healthy, non-intrusive relationship.
I am not a parent but I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of parent I want to be one day. I suspect it is the sort similar to my own — I don’t feel compelled to call home every day or share all of my grades or constant anecdotes about my daily life, and although my parents probably think I share less than I should, I consider my family unit fairly strong.
As I watch an era unfold where more and more parents continue to not just offer guidance but demand complete agency over their son or daughter during their entire college experience (“I’m paying for your tuition so therefore your life is not your own,” etc). We all know the parent who comments on every single Facebook photo of their kid in college, which seems to be a phenomenon occurring with increasing frequency. It was through that lens that I read the three-part series by Peter Gray in Psychology Today, which paints a scary picture about the effects of this new sort of “helicopter parenting” on society by creating legions of feeble minded young adults.
From Part 1:
In previous posts (for example, here and here), I have described the dramatic decline, over the past few decades, in children’s opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults. Among the consequences, I have argued, are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives. We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have: Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.
From Part 2:
In another study, Michelle Givertz and Chris Segrin (2012) surveyed 339 college students and their parents (mostly mothers). The students and parents completed questionnaires having to do with the parents’ style of parenting, and the students also completed questionnaires aimed at assessing self-efficacy and sense of entitlement. The entitlement questionnaire had questions concerning the degree to which the student felt that he or she deserved special favors, beyond those that others received. The results: Those students who had the most controlling and intrusive parents—as assessed by parents’ as well as students’ reports—manifested the lowest scores on the self-efficacy scale and the highest scores on the entitlement scale.
From Part 3:
“I am a high-school guidance counselor and have noticed a drastic difference in students’ ability to cope and handle adversity. I recently had a student email me at 9 p.m. because she couldn’t handle the B she just saw posted by her teacher. I had a parent meet me twice, wanting her son to drop an elective since it wasn’t meeting HER expectation of a 98% or higher in each of her son’s classes…Kids come to my office continuously because they feel anxious or are having a panic attack.”
At minimum, this research seems to back up anecdotal evidence that parents are coddling their children well into their twenties. My high school baseball coach, whom I still consider a mentor, was fired a year after I graduated due to what seemed to be a change in the attitudes of the parents (and subsequently, their kids), resulting in multiple parental complaints to the athletic department about fake issues, like the coach yelling at a player. I’ve been in classes with students who break down in tears over Bs. The administrators I interact with the most in my capacity as GPSA President report a steady increase in calls from parents about university issues (if my parents ever called Old Main about anything, I’d disown them). We are now in an era where fathers of Division 1 football players post constant updates about their sons on fan message boards. Attendance of organizations I’m involved with creeps lower and lower as lunches with visiting parents simply cannot be pushed back or moved forward a single minute.
How much helicopter parenting contributes to the mental health crisis across college campuses today is anyone’s guess, but it’s enough to make me concerned.