Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Helicopter Parents and Landing Pad Kids: Intense Parental Support of Grown Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Helicopter Parents and Landing Pad Kids: Intense Parental Support of Grown Children

Article excerpt

Popular media describe adverse effects of helicopter parents who provide intense support to grown children, but few studies have examined implications of such intense support. Grown children (N = 592, M age = 23.82 years, 53% female, 35% members of racial/ethnic minority groups) and their parents (N = 399, M age = 50.67 years, 52% female; 34% members of racial/ethnic minority groups) reported on the support they exchanged with one another. Intense support involved parents' providing several types of support (e.g., financial, advice, emotional) many times a week. Parents and grown children who engaged in such frequent support viewed it as nonnormative (i.e., too much support), but grown children who received intense support reported better psychological adjustment and life satisfaction than grown children who did not receive intense support. Parents who perceived their grown children as needing too much support reported poorer life satisfaction. The discussion focuses on generational differences in the implications of intense parental involvement during young adulthood.

Key Words: family, family relations, intergenerational relationships, parent, social support, young adulthood.

Popular media outlets are rampant with stories of helicopter parents who smother overly dependent grown children (Belkin, 20 1 0; Briggs, 2008; Gibbs, 2009). For example, a recent feature story m Atlantic Magazine attributed young adults' psychological problems (i.e., aimlessness and depression) to their parents' overattentiveness and involvement (Gottlieb, 2011), suggesting intense parental support is aberrant and detrimental, yet studies examining such intense parental support are scant. Research suggests parents in the 21st century provide more financial support to grown children than parents did in the 20th century (Aquilino, 2006; Fingerman, Cheng, Tighe, Birditt, & Zarit, 2012; Schoeni & Ross, 2005), but many additional questions remain unanswered; specifically, it remains unclear whether intense parental involvement is viewed as normative today and whether frequent support is detrimental or beneficial to the parents and grown children involved. In this article, we examine these questions.


Throughout the final third of the 20th century, extending through the early 21st century, substantial shifts have taken place in the experience of early adulthood (Arnett, 2000). Fifty years ago, adulthood came swiftly to most people. By the time they reached their early 20s, the vast majority of women and most men had completed schooling, left home, entered the labor force, and begun families of their own (Furstenberg, 2010). By and large, parents were relatively free of obligations to their young adult grown children. Today, circumstances have changed dramatically, and age 1 8 no longer represents emancipation in any real sense.

Indeed, children in late adolescence and young adulthood may benefit from parental involvement. Research addressing support of grown children in the 1990s revealed that parents were likely to provide a wide range of support to grown children of any age who were in positions associated with dependency, such as being in school, being unmarried, and residing in their parents' household (Aquilino, 2006; Attias-Donfut & Wolff, 2000; Sarkisian & Gerstel, 2008; Veevers & Mitchell, 1998). Today, individuals in their late teens and early 20s are somewhat less likely to be living on their own and much less likely to have completed education, begun full-time employment, or entered a partnership than in the past (Schoeni & Ross, 2005; White, 1994). As such, young adults in particular may evaluate intense support favorably, and grown children who receive such support may garner advantages.

Evaluations of Intense Support

Relationships between adults and parents are governed by norms about appropriate behavior (Luescher & Pillemer, 1998; Riley, Johnson, & Foner, 1972). …

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