No one is a perfect parent. That’s about the only thing I know for sure about parenting. And that’s okay because we love our kids and we try every day (when we are not dreaming about an electronic gadget that hangs up wet towels – parents’ fantasies are the best).
Actually, I do know something else. I know there is a time to let go. That’s your job, give them the skills they need to stand a chance in this brilliant but sometimes brutal game of life and then push them out of the nest and watch them open those glorious wings and fly to spectacular places and do amazing things.
Only we are not doing that.
Well, so many parents aren’t doing that. A study from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) released this month, Overparenting and Homework: The Student’s Task, But Everyone’s Responsibility, conducted by clinical psychologist Dr Judith Locke, found that the parents who do their children’s homework at school, are following them to university.
While we used to read similar studies from overseas, Australia has caught on and according to the Herald Sun, “Helicopter Parents” are turning up at universities and becoming intimately involved in their child’s assessments and timetables.
These parents are waking adult children for lectures, doing their university assignments, contacting lecturers over issues, picking them up at “the school gate”, ironing out any obstacle that gets in their offspring’s way, giving their adult child everything they can. They hover, interfere, fret, fix and shadow until their adult child – who surely they want to live in the light – is so fragile, powerless and needy they are really living in the dark.
You can’t fly if you’re 23 and you still need mum to wash your Lion King lunchbox.
Bill Maher discusses helicopter parenting below. Post continues after video.
Dr Locke studied 866 Brisbane high-school parents and warns that Helicopter Parenting can do more harm than good, with children who are over-parented being unable to “fully develop academic responsibility and self-regulation skills”.
Dr Locke said American studies have found parental over-involvement in a student’s university life to be extremely destructive.
“Some parents choose their adult child’s subjects, edit or complete their assignments and badger lecturers to improve their child’s grades,” she said.
“When parents are making these decisions or providing academic pressure it has been found the adult student disengages from their education and often has increased depression and decreased satisfaction with life.
“We know from recent research, that there may be a point where high levels of parental assistance ceases to be beneficial, especially as children reach adolescence and young adulthood, and can result in poor resilience, entitlement and reduced sense of responsibility.”
I’ve seen overparenting at university first hand. Until recently I was studying at a Sydney university and I heard some students joke that their mum or dad wasn’t happy with the assignment mark they got – “they’d worked hard on that and they only got 76”.
Ha Ha. Funny. Especially for all the people who were doing their own assignments.
They would let slip that their mum drove them 50 minutes to their lecture because they slept in as they were up late binge watching TV (we’re talking about 11am lectures). They would half moan that their parents don’t want them to have a part-time job so they can devote all their time to study. They would mention that their parents were really angry with their lecturer for not structuring content properly. They would talk about snapping constantly at their mum around exam time because they were really “stressed” and because, apparently, that is what you do when you are 21 and your mum walks in the kitchen and asks you a question about where the laptop charger is.
There were some whose worlds were so carefully curated by their parents, I kind of imagined they weren’t real human beings. They were accomplished waxwork figures with mobile phones and laptops at the end of their hands. They were the centre of the universe because they were still the centre of their parents’ universe but, even worse to me, was the moral issues of passing off someone else’s work as your own and of a parent being complicit in their child handing in work that wasn’t their own.
As long as you get a distinction I suppose.
There is enough evidence, enough clinical studies, enough books on the subject, enough stories of good kids gone bad to understand that over-involved parenting is most probably, in the long term, suffocating children rather than lifting them.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, spent ten years as Dean of Freshman students at Stanford University in the U.S. and says we all must know by now that something is not right with modern parenting – particularly in affluent socio-economic groups.
“Do you really need me to say any of this to you? You know it. We all know it,” Lythcott-Haims asks. “We hear about 20 somethings and 30 somethings failing to launch. We see our children withering under the pressure of the check-listed childhood. We remember our own freer childhoods lived not that long ago. This overly protected, overly directed, overly hand holding way of parenting is harmful to all.”
She said this way of parenting makes children “brittle and old”.
It does. And it’s also making it hard for the parents among us who refuse to enter this race to top marks and a million accomplishments angry.
Even when you expect your child to hand in their own work and you know it’s the right thing. Even when you hope they will find their own passions and fight like crazy to pursue them. Even when you tell them, “It’s not my work it’s yours, I can’t do it for you”, it’s hard when they come home and they’re upset because they haven’t done as well as those kids who haven’t had to do anything at all.
“Life is a long game,” I say to my kids – who can never compete with the work handed in by a skilled adult (or a tutor hired by an adult). “It’s better if you can do things yourself.”
But with all the research, with all the real-life examples of young adults not coping with life, with all the figures showing an increase of mental illness among the young, an important question, beyond the morality of a win at all costs attitude, needs to be asked.
If parents are injecting themselves into their adult child’s university and following them to job interviews and being there always, when does “yourself” begin?
Maybe a Helicopter Parent can write an essay on that.
*Feature image via iStock.