Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Helicopter Parenting: The Effect of an Overbearing Caregiving Style on Peer Attachment and Self-Efficacy

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Helicopter Parenting: The Effect of an Overbearing Caregiving Style on Peer Attachment and Self-Efficacy

Article excerpt

Helicopter parenting, an observed phenomenon on college campuses, may adversely affect college students. The authors examined how helicopter parenting is related to self-efficacy and peer relationships among 190 undergraduate students ages 16 to 28 years. Helicopter parenting was associated with low self-efficacy, alienation from peers, and a lack of trust among peers. Implications are provided for counselors and psychologists in college- and university-based counseling centers to help them to understand and provide assessment and treatment for adult children of helicopter parents.

Keywords: helicopter parents, self-efficacy, peer relationships


Born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, millennials have entered college with their parents hovering closely above and managing many areas of their lives (Coomes & DeBard, 2004; Howe & Strauss, 2000; Murray, 1997). These parents have been referred to as helicopter parents, or parents who, like helicopters, stay closely overhead, right above their child. Helicopter parents are rarely out of reach, pay extremely close attention to their child, and rush to prevent any harm, particularly at the adult child's educational institution (Rainey, 2006). Helicopter parents are in constant contact with their adult children and the school administration. With their adult children, helicopter parents average 10.4 forms of communication (e.g., e-mail, cell phone, text message) per week, leaving those students with weakened autonomy (Hofer, 2008). These parents tend to make academic decisions for their adult children and feel badly about themselves when their adult children do not do well.

Helicopter parents became particularly apparent on college campuses in the early 2000s as the millennial generation began reaching college age. Children of the millennial generation are the products of baby boomer parents, who have made child rearing a major focus of their adult lives (Gallo & Gallo, 2001). Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are the wealthiest and best educated generation of parents, and they are determined to give their children the best (Kantrowitz & Tyre, 2006). Baby boomer parents highly monitor their adult children with the extensive resources they have at their disposal.

Helicopter parents may unintentionally foster dependence rather than independence. Although the intent of helicopter parents is to help their adult college student to succeed, some practitioners in college counseling centers argue that helicopter parenting has a negative impact on college students. One of the main developmental tasks of growing into an independent adult may be hindered by helicopter parents who direct their college student's affairs. Other harmful effects include die stunting of children's interpersonal sophistication (Dempsey, 2009) and increased tuition costs for the extra resources needed to respond to helicopter parents' demands. Reduced maturation and decreased social competence, among other deficits, can lead to benign inquiries, such as phoning home about what ice cream to purchase, or to more serious inquiries, such as calling home during a meeting with a prospective employer about how to negotiate the salary. Ultimately, helicopter parents may be hindering their adult children from learning accountability, responsibility, and self-sufficiency (Bronson, 2009; Ungar, 2009).

Helicopter parents are likely adversely affecting their adult children's self-reliance and self-efficacy by sending them the message that they cannot handle their own lives. Parental behaviors have widespread and considerable influences on the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of children (Maccoby, 1992, 2007). If part of the purpose of adolescence is identity formation, and the purpose of parenting is to gradually foster independence, then delayed identity formation and dependence on one's parents leave college students unprepared for real-life experiences. …

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