Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 939–949 | Cite as

Helicopter Parenting, Autonomy Support, and College Students’ Mental Health and Well-being: The Moderating Role of Sex and Ethnicity

  • Chrystyna D. KourosEmail author
  • Megan M. Pruitt
  • Naomi V. Ekas
  • Romilyn Kiriaki
  • Megan Sunderland
Original Paper


Whereas parental involvement is consistently linked with positive child outcomes throughout development, parental involvement that is not developmentally appropriate and intrusive—a style of parenting called helicopter parenting—can be problematic for their child’s adjustment and well-being. Helicopter parenting can be particularly harmful during emerging adulthood when young adults are working toward developmental goals of self-reliance and autonomy. The purpose of this study was to examine sex differences in the relation between helicopter parenting and autonomy support on college students’ mental health and well-being. A secondary aim was to explore the extent to which there were ethnic differences (non-Hispanic White vs. Hispanic) in associations between parenting and college students’ outcomes. We examined several domains of mental health, including dysphoria symptoms, social anxiety, and general well-being. A sample of 118 undergraduate students (Mage = 19.82 years, SD = 1.38; 83.1 % female; 57 % European American) completed measures of parenting and mental health and well-being. The results showed that higher levels of helicopter parenting predicted lower levels of well-being for females, whereas higher levels of autonomy support predicted lower levels of dysphoria symptoms and social anxiety among males. No ethnic differences were found. The findings highlight that parents’ behavior continues to predict their child’s well-being even in emerging adulthood, and that parenting may differentially predict male and female college students’ mental health outcomes.


Helicopter parenting Autonomy support Mental health Well-being College students 



We thank Aubrey Chapman for her assistance with this manuscript.


This research was funded by a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health (JRG-207) awarded to Kouros and Ekas.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTexas Christian UniversityFort WorthUSA

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