Study: Helicopter Parenting Linked to Emotional Problems in Children

Yet another study has been published that finds helicopter parenting to be unhelpful for children. Dr. Nicole Perry of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities co-authored a piece in Developmental Psychology that examined the relationship between over-controlling parents, and children’s ability to self-regulate emotions.

According to The Guardian, the study looked specifically at the degree to which mothers of toddlers “dominated playtime and showed their child what to do, and then studied how their children behaved over the following eight years.” While many parents have good intentions when intervening in their children’s play, what they are actually doing is denying their kids the opportunity to “to experience a range of emotions and give them space to practice and try managing these emotions independently.” As a result, the children never get a chance to learn to experience and regulate their emotions, and when they go out into the world, they are ill-equipped to do so.

Dr. Perry’s research found that “more controlling behaviour by mothers was linked both to their children having less control over their own emotions and less control over their impulses by the age of five.” As the children grew, this issue was “linked to worse social skills at the age of 10, while lower levels of control over emotions and behaviour were both linked to poorer academic performance.”

The study did not, however, track mothers’ behavior towards their children over time (it only looked at their interaction at the age of 2), and it did not take into account any changes in physical health.

While there is no way to know exactly how much control is too much, especially given the varying environments in which families find themselves, the takeaway from the study is that parents should give their children space when it is safe to do so. The small gesture could result in much more emotionally mature kids over time.