KIDS
June 29, 2015

When Parents Micro-Manage

Even when parents are warm and caring, their “helicoptering” can reduce self esteem — and worse.

As the importance of childhood has become clearer, parents have gotten more and more kid-conscious. They mean well, but their intense concern about things like safety and intellectual enrichment has led to a brand of over-parenting known as “helicopter parenting.”

We’ve all done it at some time or another — hovering a little too close, micro-managing your child’s every move, and trying to correct them before they fall or fail, hoping we’ll save them from some sort of disappointment. But this may not be such a smart thing to do, research is showing.

Letting your kids work things out themselves builds the capacity to do so in the long run.

Helicopter parenting isn’t very good for kids in the long run — they need a little failure, so they can learn from it. Even if we’re great, warm parents in other ways, when children feel they are constantly monitored, it can have a crippling effect.

Brigham Young University researchers set out to do a follow-up study to one which found that kids who are “helicoptered” aren’t as engaged in school. This time, they looked at the children's feelings of self-worth and risk-taking behaviors.

The team had college students from four universities rate what their parents had been like as they were growing up: The students filled out questionnaires about how controlling their parents had been, how involved, and how warm; they also answered questions about their own experiences, self-esteem, “risk behaviors” (such as trying new substances or shoplifting), and academics.

They found that parenting that lacked warmth had a negative effect on self-worth and increased risk behaviors, which isn’t surprising. But even those parents who were warm but still helicopter-parented had kids with lower self-worth and who were more likely to engage in risk behaviors. In other words, warmth helped, but it didn’t totally counter the effects of helicopter parenting.

There’s a happy medium, where kids feel supported and guided, but not that their parents are controlling every situation and watching their every move like hawks.

“…[W]e thought there might be something positive about helicopter parenting under certain conditions, but we’re just not finding it,” study author Larry Nelson said in a statement.

Over-involved parents don't need to do an about-face and step out of the way completely, the researchers say. There’s a happy medium, where kids feel supported and guided, but not that their parents are controlling every situation and watching their every move like hawks.

But if you do catch yourself buzzing around your kid like a chopper and getting involved in every little skirmish, you might want to rethink your process. Letting your kids work things out themselves builds the capacity to do so in the long run. “Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative,” Nelson said.

And whatever you do, always be warm and loving, and let your kid know you’re always there for them if they really need you. “Lack of control does not mean lack of involvement, warmth and support,” he added.

The study is published in the journal Emerging Adulthood.

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