Overinvolved Parenting Creates Unprepared Young Adults, Part 1

mother-and-teen-sonIn the last few years, colleges and employers have complained that today’s young adults lack the necessary skills needed for success. Colleges and employers feel it is “very important” that high school graduates possess a high level of responsibility and accountability, a strong work ethic, good communication skills, the ability to work in a team, and good problem solving skills. Yet, many of today’s high school graduates do not have these very basic skill sets, setting them up for failure into adulthood. This is an important problem for the success of the next generation, and Middle Earth’s blog plans to tackle this issue in two parts. Today’s blog will discuss the causes and the results of our unprepared youth. Next week, Part 2 will provide tips for parents on how to make sure your teen is prepared for independence.

There can be many reasons for why our youth lack the important skills they need to be successful adults, and every individual situation is different, but many experts point to a parenting style, called “helicopter parenting,” as a major source of the problem. The term refers to parents that “hover” or are overinvolved in their children’s lives, and swoop in to rescue the child at the first sign of challenge, disappointment, or failure. The parents that use this parenting style typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences, successes, or failures.

Justifications for Helicopter Parenting

Parents never choose to become “helicopter parents” with bad intentions. On the contrary, they usually have understandable rationalizations for their style of child rearing. For example:

  • Anxiety for their teens’ future. The world is a more competitive, complex, and difficult place now, which makes success seem harder.
  • Fear of dire consequences. Parents are worried their teens will make a bad choice that will negatively impact their future, such as bad grades, unsafe driving, drugs, alcohol, crime, and sex.
  • Guilt over making mistakes. Parents might feel guilty for making a choice that impacted their child in a disappointing way.
  • Fear of failure. Some parents subconsciously believe that a child’s failure is really a reflection on them or a failure of their parenting.
  • Desire for close connection. Parents might want to continue the close bond they had when their children were younger, and it can be difficult to carve out a new parenting role as their children mature.
  • Overcompensation for neglect. Some parents suffered through neglect during their own childhood and are trying to create a more loving environment for their child. Other parents feel that they don’t spend enough time with their kids because they work, so they become overinvolved in the little amount of time they do have.
  • Peer Pressure. Sometimes when we see other parents being overinvolved in their teen’s life, it makes us doubt ourselves and feel that we aren’t being good parents unless we are equally committed to our teen.

Parents who “helicopter” are almost always acting that way due to a strong desire to ensure their children are successful and to shield them from harm or failure.

Results of Helicopter Parenting

Unfortunately, studies show that, while this type of parenting may result in short-term success, it actually sets children up for failure in their adulthood. Research demonstrates that teens with overprotective parents:

  • are more anxious,
  • have poor problem-solving and critical thinking skills,
  • are less socially skilled,
  • are more irresponsible,
  • are less likely to transition well to college or employment,
  • have poor coping skills and resiliency,
  • suffer from a lack of confidence and low self-esteem, and
  • have higher rates of depression.

All of these characteristics hamper an individual’s ability to succeed in adulthood and enjoy their lives.

Despite parents’ best intentions, overinvolved parenting impedes the important developmental steps a teen must take to become a young adult who can think for himself, be responsible for his success, and navigate through life’s difficulties. When parents are overinvolved, teens often:

  • believe their parents think they are incompetent or don’t trust them,
  • are afraid of making a mistake which can cause them anxiety or even an inability to make decisions and/or move forward,
  • feel unable to handle disappointment,
  • blame others because they never learned responsibility, and
  • feel helpless.

As much as parents want to protect their children from the mean world, they can’t. Eventually the child becomes an adult who must face the world we live in. Those that have relied on their parents throughout their young life are unable to cope when they discover the world doesn’t cater to them as their parents did. Individuals whose parents allowed them to experience mistakes and gradually exposed them to the challenges of the world in an age-appropriate manner have developed the skills they need to succeed.

Final Thoughts…

Parents often believe they should “help” their teen through their daily lives because, in the short-term, they receive a good payoff. When a parent does the work for their child, everything goes smoothly, so they are achieving good outcomes. The problem lies in the long-term cost: they have robbed their child of the lessons they need to become an independent adult. These parents aren’t seeing the big picture. The entire point of parenting is to raise a child who is capable of becoming a successful member of the community. Parents must develop a parenting style that strategizes for the long-term well-being of their children, which empowers teens to make good choices for themselves and experience the consequences of those choices.

Tune in to next week’s blog, Part 2, to find out specific actions parents can take to prepare their teens for successful adulthood.

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