BYU

Love can't eliminate negative effects of helicopter parenting, study finds

By Jessica Ivins  |  Posted Jun 1st, 2015 @ 7:28pm


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PROVO — Helicopter parents beware: all that hovering will likely hurt your kids, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

That’s according to a new study out of Brigham Young University, which found that even the warmest of helicopter mothers and fathers still ultimately had a negative impact on their child’s overall success.

“From our past work, we thought there might be something positive about helicopter parenting under certain conditions, but we’re just not finding it,” said study author Larry Nelson in a release.

If you’re not yet familiar with the term helicopter parenting, it’s an ideology often characterized by the excessive over-involvement of a parent in a child’s life. Previous studies have linked the method to anxiety and depression in college students, as well as decreased feelings of autonomy and confidence.

“It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting and overperfecting in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting,” Dr. Anne Dunnewold told Parents.

For the study, which was published in the journal Emerging Adulthood, researchers polled more than 400 undergrads from four universities across the country. The students were asked about their own self-esteem and performance in school.

They were also asked to report on the level of control their parents exercised in their lives, as well as whether or not they considered their parents “warm,” according to the study. Researchers defined a “warm” parent as one who made themselves available to talk and spend time with their child.

Online Poll

Do you consider yourself a helicopter parent?
1. Yes
2. No
Do you consider yourself a helicopter parent?
1. Yes
2. No

Ultimately, researchers found that while adding warmth to the equation eliminated some of the negative effects of helicopter parenting — including a decrease in self-worth and an increase in risk behaviors in young adults — it didn’t eliminate them.

“The findings suggest that loving parents can’t justify their helicoptering tendencies,” researchers wrote. “Too much control is too much, no matter the parents’ affection and support.”

The study found that when you take warmth out of the equation completely, negative effects just get worse.


Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative.

–Larry Nelson, study author


“Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative,” Nelson said.

This study was a follow up to 2012 research that found children of helicopter parents are more likely to be less engaged in school.

“They may already be less engaged in school, so the parent is stepping in to try to help or it could be parents have hovered so long that the child is not taking their own initiative,” study co-author and BYU professor Laura Padilla-Walker told USA Today. “The key is, is it joint decision-making or is it the parent doing it?”

Researchers emphasized that while too much involvement can hurt, young adults need parental influence in their lives as they learn to make their own decisions.

“Lack of control does not mean lack of involvement, warmth and support,” said Nelson.

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