Researchers at Southern Methodist University studied college age kids who were either raised by helicopter parents — those that hover over everything their kids do — as well as parents who just didn’t encourage independence.
What they found was surprising because it fell on gender lines. From the study press release:
The researchers found that young women are negatively affected by helicopter parenting, while young men suffer when parents don’t encourage independence.
“The sex difference was surprising,” said family dynamics expert Chrystyna Kouros, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and an author on the study. “In Western culture in particular, boys are socialized more to be independent, assertive and take charge, while girls are more socialized toward relationships, caring for others, and being expressive and compliant. Our findings showed that a lack of autonomy support — failure to encourage independence — was more problematic for males, but didn’t affect the well-being of females. Conversely, helicopter parenting — parents who are overinvolved — proved problematic for girls, but not boys.”
Young men that reported more autonomy support, measured stronger well-being in the form of less social anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms.
For young women, helicopter parenting predicted lower psychological well-being. They were less optimistic, felt less satisfaction with accomplishments, and were not looking forward to things with enjoyment, nor feeling hopeful. In contrast, lacking autonomy support wasn’t related to negative outcomes in females.
“The take-away is we have to adjust our parenting as our kids get older,” said Kouros. “Being involved with our child is really important. But we have to adapt how we are involved as they are growing up, particularly going off to college.”
The findings were reported in the article “Helicopter Parenting, Autonomy Support, and College Students’ Mental Health and Well-being: The Moderating Role of Sex and Ethnicity,” in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.