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Relationships between Helicopter Parenting, Psychological Needs Satisfaction, and Prosocial Behaviors in Emerging Adults

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine whether psychological needs satisfaction mediated the association between helicopter parenting and emerging adults’ prosocial tendencies. There were 288 participants with an average age of 19.72 (SD = 1.77) who completed an online survey including measures of maternal and paternal helicopter parenting; satisfaction of the psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness; as well as the prosocial outcomes of empathic concern, perspective-taking, and helping others. There was an indirect effect of maternal helicopter parenting on empathetic concern, perspective-taking, and prosocial behaviors through autonomy. There was also an indirect effect of both maternal and paternal helicopter parenting on empathetic concern through relatedness. Helicopter parenting was associated with less autonomy and sense of relatedness, which were both associated with fewer prosocial tendencies among emerging adults. There were no other direct or indirect effects of maternal or paternal helicopter parenting on emerging adults’ prosocial tendencies. Given that satisfaction of psychological needs has been found to promote intrinsically motivated behavior and facilitate the internal regulation of behavior that is extrinsically motivated in prior research, the relationship between helicopter parenting and decreased psychological needs satisfaction found in this study is concerning. If helicopter parenting shifts emerging adults’ motivation for prosocial behavior from more intrinsic to extrinsic sources, then they may engage in fewer prosocial behaviors and may not experience the sense of well-being typically associated with doing them.

Highlights

  • No direct relationship was found between helicopter parenting and various prosocial tendencies, but an indirect effect was found through psychological needs satisfaction.

  • Maternal helicopter parenting was associated with decreased empathetic concern, perspective-taking, and prosocial behaviors in emerging adults through its negative impact on their sense of autonomy.

  • Both maternal and paternal helicopter parenting were associated with decreased empathetic concern among emerging adults due to its negative association with their sense of relatedness.

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Schiffrin, H.H., Batte-Futrell, M.L., Boigegrain, N.M. et al. Relationships between Helicopter Parenting, Psychological Needs Satisfaction, and Prosocial Behaviors in Emerging Adults. J Child Fam Stud 30, 966–977 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-01925-3

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Keywords

  • Helicopter parenting
  • Basic psychological needs
  • Empathetic concern
  • Perspective-taking
  • Prosocial behaviors