Helicopter Parenting Ups Student Risk of Anxiety, Depression

There is a research study getting some press now about the effect of helicopter parenting on the anxiety level of children. A helicopter parent is one who hovers or is over-controlling and in the process squelches a growing child’s sense of competence and autonomy.

The study, headed by Holly Schiffrin at the University of Mary Washington, looked at college students’ degree of self-determination in relation to the parenting style they were raised with.

The research indicates that when parents are over-involved in their kid’s lives, the children reach young adulthood at higher risk for anxiety and depression.

Controlling parents do not give less assertive children a chance to discover their own competence. Parents that hover over self-reliant children will undermine their natural sense of autonomy.

This brings up two obvious questions. If you are a parent, are you hovering and over-involved with your kids? If you are an anxious or depressed college student with one or more helicopter parents, what now?


Children need support, guidance, and boundaries. They also need the freedom to develop into autonomous individuals with a sense of competence and confidence.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely,” says researcher Holly Schiffrin.

Signs of Helicopter Parenting

  • Discouraging arguments; not hearing the child’s point of view or hearing it but never accepting it is right or has value.
  • Not allowing a child to make decisions or criticizing the decisions they make.
  • Watching and commenting on everything a child does.
  • Never taking “no” for an answer.
  • Discouraging children from taking on challenges and age appropriate risks.
  • Asking others about about your child’s activities and behavior; checking up on them.
  • Not allowing a child to express upset, anger, or disappointment.
  • Expecting perfection.

If you are an over-involved parent, your intention has likely been to help and protect. However, you need to cut it out. There is plenty of good parenting information available, but you may need some professional counseling or family counseling if your helicopter habits are deeply ingrained.

Students/Young Adults

So, you are at college (or employed), anxious, and your satisfaction with life is in the toilet. What are you going to do?

It is normal to feel angry but do not waste energy blaming your parents for where you are at. If you are a parent someday, you will be just as perplexed and make your own mistakes. You will also love your kids as your parents (most likely) love you. If you cannot let go of your anger, see a counselor.

If your anxiety, depression, or lack of confidence bothers you, make a beeline to your campus counseling office. If you are not in school, check out private counselors, group counseling, or call the nearest community mental health center. At the very least, consider joining an anxiety or depression support group.

Being competent and feeling competent are two different things. Keep a log or journal of small accomplishments. You are more competent than you think. Every time you complete an assignment, show up for a class, study for an exam, or helped a friend you have exhibited competence.

Exercise, eat well-enough and get involved with people and activities that interest you.

Photo: Pexels

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