Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being

Abstract

Parental involvement is related to many positive child outcomes, but if not developmentally appropriate, it can be associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression. Few studies have examined the effects of over-controlling parenting, or “helicopter parenting,” in college students. Some studies have found that college students of over-controlling parents report feeling less satisfied with family life and have lower levels of psychological well-being. This study examined self-determination theory as the potential underlying mechanism explaining this relationship. College students (N = 297) completed measures of helicopter parenting, autonomy supportive parenting, depression, anxiety, satisfaction with life, and basic psychological needs satisfaction. Students who reported having over-controlling parents reported significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction with life. Furthermore, the negative effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being were largely explained by the perceived violation of students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence.

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Correspondence to Holly H. Schiffrin.

Appendix: Helicopter Parenting Behaviors

Appendix: Helicopter Parenting Behaviors

Please answer the following questions thinking about your mother on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).

1. My mother had/will have a say in what major I chose/will choose
2. My mother encourages me to discuss any academic problems I am having with my professor
3. My mother monitors my exercise schedule
4. When I am home with my mother, I have a curfew (a certain time that I must be home by every night)
5. My mother has given me tips on how to shop for groceries economically
6. My mother encourages me to make my own decisions and take the responsibility for the choices I have made
7. My mother regularly wants me to call or text her to let her know where I am
8. My mother encourages me to deal with any interpersonal problems between myself and my roommate or my friends on my own
9. If I were to receive a low grade that I felt was unfair, my mother would call the professor
10. My mother monitors my diet
11. My mother monitors who I spend time with
12. My mother encourages me to keep a budget and manage my own finances
13. My mother calls me to track my schoolwork (i.e., how I’m doing in school, what my grades are like, etc.)
14. If I am having an issue with my roommate, my mother would try to intervene
15. My mother encourages me to choose my own classes
  1. Scale coding: Helicopter parenting: 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14; Autonomy support: 2, 5, 6, 8, 12, 15

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Schiffrin, H.H., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H. et al. Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being. J Child Fam Stud 23, 548–557 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3

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Keywords

  • Helicopter parenting
  • Depression
  • Satisfaction with life
  • Basic psychological needs
  • Self-determination theory