I have just come from having dinner with a woman involved in an academic program for health technicians. She has just finished telling me how stunned she is when parents drop by to complain about or protest the grade or other assessment their grown child has received. My dinner companion is a woman who also makes some hiring decisions and recommendations for them. When presented with a helicoptering incident, she says she makes a mental black mark that here is a student who may lack the independence to function in the workplace.
She isn't saying the helicoptering behavior is pervasive--just that she sees an increasing amount of it. Having heard of even worse interventions--parents sitting in the waiting room while a child is interviewed for a job; going into the interview with their child--I am not all that surprised.
I was more surprised when I awoke the next morning to a story on a Washington Post blog that questioned whether the hyped stories about overprotective helicoptering parents match the reality. There followed a blog post by Alfie Kohn (www.alfiekohn.org), whose most recent book is The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting.
Wherever you fall in the debate over overly protective parents, here are some excerpts from Kohn's post--with links to his research--that apply to the parenting of grown children.
On intervening during the college years:
--"Yes, most parents are in touch with their college-age children on a regular basis. But communicating isn’t the same thing as intervening on a child’s behalf, and the latter seems to be fairly rare. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which reached out to more than 9,000 students at 24 colleges and universities, found that only 13 percent of college freshmen and 8 percent of seniors said a parent had frequently intervened to help them solve problems."
On intervening in the workplace:
--"Michigan State University researchers found that 77 percent of the 725 employers they surveyed 'hardly ever witnessed a parent while hiring a college senior.' "
On intervening in a grown child's life outside of college and the workplace
--"The only study on the topic I could find, published in 2012, reported that just one in five or six parents seemed to be intensely involved in their children’s lives."
The effects of helicopter parenting [HP] on adult children
--"Three small studies have raised concerns about the more extreme versions of HP, connecting it to anxiety or a lower sense of well-being. ... the items on these questionnaires were mostly tapping how controlling the parents were. If the problem is control rather than indulgence, that forces us to rethink the “coddled kids” narrative offered by many critics of HP."
--"It’s not clear that HP caused the problems with which it was associated. The researchers in one study acknowledged that unhappy students “may view their parents as more intrusive.” Those in another admitted that “when parents perceive their child as depressed, they may be more likely to ‘hover.’” In other words, pre-existing unhappiness may have drawn the parents in, or it may have led the students to interpret their parents’ actions as excessive.
--Other research makes the "case in favor of parents’ being actively connected and involved with their young-adult children. The NSSE survey didn’t find a lot of HP going on, but students who did have such parents reported 'higher levels of [academic] engagement and more frequent use of deep learning activities.' In fact, children of helicopter parents were more satisfied with every aspect of their college experience."
--"Support (not limited to money) from one’s parents may be helpful, if not critical, when students graduate with a crushing load of debt."
-- "Most developmental psychologists have concluded that the quality of relationships, including those with one’s parents, continues to matter even past childhood. Good parenting is less about pushing one’s offspring to be independent at a certain age than being responsive to what a particular child needs.
--"Independence is closely connected to an individualistic worldview that is far from universal. Some cultures are more likely to emphasize the value of interdependence. And the cultural bias that seems to fuel condemnations of HP has a very real impact on students’ well-being. A fascinating series of studies published in 2012 by a multi-university research team revealed that “predominantly middle-class cultural norms of independence” are particularly ill-suited for young adults who are the first in their families to attend college."