How Helicopter Parenting Affects College Students

Study finds students with overbearing mothers were more likely to be depressed and anxious.

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Is your son or daughter heading to college this fall? If yes, you’re likely dealing with complex emotions about letting go. You might have even had conversations about how often your child needs to call, text, or Skype. (She will call you every night at 7:45 p.m. Sharp.) But beware: A new study warns that overbearing parenting can not only keep children from developing into self-sufficient adults, but it can also make them depressed and anxious.

For the Florida State University study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, researchers asked 460 college students to imagine different scenarios, like a conflict with a roommate. The students responded with how they thought their mothers would respond. Would Mom encourage them to resolve it on their own? Or would she intervene? (Researchers studied mothers’ responses because, traditionally, they are the primary caregivers.) Researchers also asked students to assess how well they thought they could handle a complicated task or unexpected adversity and rate their depression, life satisfaction, anxiety, and physical health levels.

Researchers found that the more independent students reported higher life satisfaction. They also appeared to handle tough situations well and had better physical health. Those with hovering parents had greater difficulty handling tough tasks and decisions. They were also more likely to report anxiety and depression, as well as decreased life satisfaction and health issues.

According to Mallory Lucier-Greer, study author, parent’s interactions with children play a large part in how a child views their own capabilities. “If parents are simply being supportive, they are saying things like ‘you can manage your finances, you can pick out your classes.’ It changes if they are doing that all for you. I think there are good intentions behind those helicopter behaviors, but at the end of the day you need to foster your child's development,” Lucier-Greer said in a statement.

Not sure if you’re a helicopter parent? Know that you totally are and need to change your ways? Here, everything you need to know about being one (and how to let go).