Helicopter Parenting: Coming to an office near you!
September 14, 2012 by Deanna James, LPC, CEDS in Clinical Articles Guest Blog Post by Estelle Shumann
Although helicopter parents’ “hovering” is rooted in love and meant to protect and provide for their children, the steadfast control of helicopter parents may be doing more harm to their children than good. Estelle Shumann, contributing writer to OnlineSchools.org, today investigates the connections between overprotective, over-involved parents and the development of eating disorders in teens and young adults. As both Estelle and the Castlewood Treatment Center blog suggest, a lack of independence from parents may play a role in the development of a child’s eating disorders.
Harming or Helping? Helicopter Parenting’s Possible Role in Teen Eating Disorders
Students today have more pressures than ever when it comes to getting into college, not to mention paying for that education and ultimately landing a job. The shrinking economy has forced individual market participants to do more and go further to stand out from their peers. While many teens are tackling the odds on their own, a growing subset is getting help—often from a very early age—from none other than Mom and Dad.
Parents that hover, micromanage, and overprotect their children are commonly known as “helicopter parents.” Most research suggests that helicopter parenting strategies do more harm than good, producing young adults who fear failure and lack the initiative to make tough decisions on their own. Fewer studies have been done on the emotional harms caused by this sort of constant overbearance, but scholars increasingly wonder whether it may play a role in the development of eating disorders and anxiety complexes. These conditions can be quite dangerous, and are never worth whatever benefits can be gleaned in terms of outward success and resume strength.
The methods and motives of helicopter parents are usually grounded in love. As adults, parents often sense that they have better insights into how the world works, as well as a strong sense of how to set and achieve goals. Some of it is also generational. Today’s parents often did not have the opportunities growing up that children today enjoy, and they want to be sure that their offspring have every possible advantage. Fear, of course, is also part of the equation.
“What could be more natural than worrying that your child might be trampled by the great, scary, globally competitive world into which she will one day be launched?” a Time magazine article asked. “It is this fear that inspires parents to demand homework in preschool, produce the snazzy bilingual campaign video for the third-grader's race for class rep, continue to provide the morning wake-up call long after he's headed off to college.”
Sometimes, the outward results of this pressure are good. Kids get into top colleges, often with scholarships; they land competitive jobs; they find what is, at least to their parents, the paradigm of success. This success often comes at a great personal cost, however. Children who are emotionally fragile or who fear they cannot live up to the enormous expectations of their parents may experience a range of internal struggles.
Eating disorders are complex, and researchers do not know exactly what causes teens and young adults to develop them. It is widely believed that disordered eating is a means of control: sufferers use food as a means of taking charge, and having ultimate authority over at least one aspect of their lives. Children whose courses have been charted since infancy, and whose parents seem an ever-present force demanding excellence, may be at increased risk.
“There appears to be a link between overprotective parenting and anorexia,” an eating disorder centered on self-starvation, the Eating Problems Service says on its website. “Many anorexics come from close-knit families that allow their members little room for individuality. Rebellion against this restrictive environment often takes the form of refusing to eat.”
Helicopter parenting can also lead to a diminished capacity for handling stress, which may also contribute to eating and other anxiety disorders. “Parents who allow their children to deal with life's day-to-day troubles help them develop more resiliency and better coping strategies. Overprotective parents actualize the tendency to anxiety disorder,” Psychology Today said in a report on the ill effects of helicopter parenting.
Helping children navigate an increasingly competitive academic and employment world is often very stressful for parents. Guiding and shepherding offspring along is usually encouraged, but knowing where to draw the line is essential. Raising self-confident, healthy young adults typically requires a balanced approach wherein children have some leeway to make their own mistakes and chart their own paths.