Helicopter Parenting Delays Independence for Young Adults

The term “helicopter parent” was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. It became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. Helicopter parenting most often applies to parents who help high school or college-aged students with tasks they’re capable of doing alone. Examples of helicopter parenting could be calling a professor about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, or managing daily life tasks such as cooking or cleaning.

Helicopter parenting through adolescence is a road paved with good intentions. Parents want the best for their child, so they set expectations for them to succeed and are willing to offer any support they can in order to help them meet those expectations, whether or not they are consistent with their child’s goals. According to research conducted by West Virginia University, when this involved parenting style continues through young adulthood, it can delay independence for young adults by leading to low mastery, self-regulation, and social competence.

What is an Appropriate Level of Parent Support for Young Adults?

The Pew Research Center asked members of their American Trends Panel whether they thought that the parents of young adults, ages 18 to 29, were doing too much for them, too little, or the right amount. Only a third of them (34%) said that parents were doing the right amount for their children. An overwhelming 55% of parents thought they were doing too much for their grown kids, compared to just 10% who said that the parents were doing too little. 

However, only 31% of young adults in the same age group believed that they were overly dependent on their parents. This suggests that there may be a generational gap in expectations of the appropriate amount of support for young adults, especially as today’s generation of young adults is taking longer to become fully independent.

This survey defines parent support as:

  • Paying rent and other bills
  • Living at home
  • Giving an allowance 
  • Giving advice 
  • Finding them a job
  • Making decisions for them
  • Rescuing from problems

What If My Child Isn’t Ready to Be Independent?

Involved parenting can feel like a Catch-22 when it comes to adults. Parents want their children to be independent, but if they show signs that they are not ready, parents want to step in to support them. However, the more young adults depend on parents to take care of them and solve problems for them, the less likely they are to learn how to support themselves on their own. 

Most young adults agree that there is not a specific age where they expect to be fully independent and that the level of parent support they need varies depending on their emotional and financial needs. As more young adults are going to college or taking longer to move out of their parents’ home, it is reasonable to expect that they may take longer to launch into independence, among other developmental milestones. 

The Dangers of Helicopter Parenting

Supporting and looking out for your child is a good thing, but some parents may reach a point where they have overextended themselves into their child’s life. The helicopter parenting style may actually have some negative effects on young adults: 

  • Decreased confidence and self-esteem: When parents constantly step in to take over choices or challenges in their child’s life, it sends the message that you do not believe that your child can handle situations on their own or make their own decisions. This can lead to a lack of confidence. 
  • Undeveloped coping skills: Mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of life, but when young adults are not given the opportunity to solve their problems, they do not have the chance to develop healthy coping skills. When a problem arises, instead of being able to think objectively or do some creative problem solving, they may just wait and hope that someone else will solve their problem. 
  • Increased anxiety: A study from the University of Mary Washington has shown that over-parenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression. Helicopter parents may lead to feelings of constant pressure both internally and externally. Young adults may believe that since they can not make good choices without the help of a parent, that they will ultimately fail. 
  • Sense of entitlement: Young adults who have always had their social, academic, and athletic lives adjusted by their parents can become accustomed to always having their way and thus they develop a sense of entitlement. They may assume that everyone should be actively working to help them or believe that they are entitled to extra attention or care. 
  • Undeveloped life skills: Parents who always tie shoes, clear plates, pack lunches, launder clothes, and monitor school progress—even after children are mentally and physically capable of doing the task—prevent them from mastering these skills themselves. The same goes for parents of young adults who still cook every meal, wash their young adult’s dishes, and then do their laundry. These are crucial life skills that young adults need to learn in order to be successfully independent in adulthood. 

What is Failure to Launch?

Poor academic performance, depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and trouble with executive functioning skills can contribute to a phenomenon known as failure to launch. For young adults going through transitional periods, it can be hard to determine if they are taking initiative to change their situation or if they are taking advantage of their parents’ support, especially if they are not complaining about the level of their parent’s involvement in their lives. 

The study conducted by West Virginia University suggests that failure to launch is surprisingly more common among young adults who have been set up for success by being sheltered from dealing with problems. Many of them have grown up in controlled environments and been encouraged to put a lot of energy into school and extracurriculars, which has limited their opportunities for unsupervised self-exploration. Often, this pressure to be perfect backfires, especially if young adults have not been taught how to cope with this pressure in a healthy way. 

“Young adults might figure out problems on their own, but their parents often reach out before they have the opportunity to learn for themselves,” describes Kristin Moilanen, associate professor of child development and family studies and lead author of the study. “Collateral side effects of the child’s continued lack of autonomy could be heightened anxiety and internalizing problems, as well as leading to the belief that they are incapable of living independently and their outcomes are primarily shaped by external forces instead of their own decisions.”

Taking Steps Towards Independence

After residential treatment, transitional living programs provide young adults the opportunity to practice living on their own while learning practical life skills in a real-world setting. These programs offer parent coaching calls to help parents set healthy boundaries with their children without enabling their unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Transitional living programs teach young adults independent living skills like:

  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Job-searching
  • Budgeting
  • Self-care
  • Emotion-regulation
  • Conflict-resolution
  • Relationship-building

Foundations Asheville functions as a supportive community of students, therapists, educators, community liaisons, and mentors who collaborate to establish achievable goals for each young man or young woman in the program, all the while working side-by-side toward realizing those goals. Upon arrival, an array of assessment tools will be employed which will help each student design their own individual action plan. This action plan will comprise short and long-term goals, strategies, and activities that will help make each and every day at Foundations both challenging and rewarding. As a result, the young adults enrolled at Foundations learn to develop their strengths, address life’s challenges, and follow through with their interests and passions.

For students who need academic support, Foundations offers several options for continuing their education. Many chose to enroll in college courses at AB Tech. , which has been ranked the best Community College in the state of North Carolina. And for those who are still looking to obtain their high school diploma, we offer opportunities to obtain their diploma as well. 

The traditional college or university path isn’t made for everyone. We understand that. This is why we try to help our students find what interests them in a career path and pair them with resources in Asheville to help them get valuable job experience, internships, or volunteer opportunities. We allow the students to focus on their strengths to find a path for success.

Foundations Asheville regards each student as a unique individual. As such, a treatment plan, education plan, and independence plan are designed in concert with the student to meet their personal goals. Highly experienced, licensed clinicians help each young adult identify life goals and support him in seeing them through to completion.

Foundations Asheville can help

Foundations Asheville is a program for young adults ages 18-24 who are struggling to launch into adulthood. This program is committed to helping young adults develop and sharpen the skills they need to be successful in the real world. There is a focus on teaching students how to enter the workforce, develop vocational trades, and functional living skills. Many of the students who come to Foundations are struggling with anxiety, depression, executive functioning, and experiencing challenging family dynamics.

Foundations empowers its clients to explore life and engage in new experiences designed to provide meaning and perspective. During their tenure at Foundations, it is not uncommon that clients become passionate about a new hobby or develop a long-term goal. Foundations Asheville gives young adults the opportunity to gain confidence, find their purpose, and learn useful skills that will help them navigate through the adult years.

Contact us at (877) 318 – 7273 for more information. We can help your family today!

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