Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students

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Updated: Mar 27, 2021
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The term “helicopter parenting” has recently become a reoccurring term used, especially in media and schools (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 8). Universities have brought helicopter parenting to the attention of many as the reason for college students having a difficult time transitioning into college. Practitioners, college administrators, and professors have become very concerned about this generation of college students (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3136). This generation is considered to be the “Millennial” generation. This generation of students has been considered to be the most coddled and protected generation of children in the United States to date (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 399). This is due to numerous factors that are unique to the era this generation grew up. The use of electronics is one factor that encourages the helicopter parent’s behaviors. The cell-phone and other messaging and social media accounts have now allowed parents to repeatedly check on their children at all times (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 400).

Also, today, adulthood has been postponed, meaning, the transition into adulthood has been delayed (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2290). The emerging adult population is no longer committing to purchasing a home, starting families, or working full-time until at an older age (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2290). This has resulted in parents involvement with their young adult children to continue longer than in the past (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2290). College is supposed to be a transition period where the emerging adult will experience development in areas such as increasing self-reliance, self-exploration, and independence (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 939). This is where the parents of the millennial college students struggle to decipher what their role is within their relationship. If parents do choose a helicopter parenting technique, numerous factors negatively affect their child.

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These factors have been displaying themselves through the student within the universities. Helicopter parenting can be very harmful to adolescent children entering the emerging adulthood stage (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 939). It can weaken the child’s sense of self-reliance and autonomy among other things (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 939). Many universities and their administration are worried that this will affect factors like their decision-making skills and social skills later on in life. In this paper, helicopter parenting effects will be addressed. This will include an overview of what helicopter parenting, effects on mental health, academic motivation, and peer attachment/communication.

Overview of Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting can be described in numerous ways. However, one characteristic that is commonly associated with helicopter parenting is “hovering.” These parents are identified as helicopters due to their close watchful eye that is always overhead, hovering and monitoring their children to keep them out of harm’s way (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 7). This also continues to apply when the children transition into emerging adulthood and college. Therefore, it is evident in the parent’s child’s college institution (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 7). The helicopter parent includes different varieties of known parenting styles (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2292).

Many researchers believe helicopter parents are similar to authoritative parents due to being warm but controlling (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2292). Also, a helicopter parent has a difficult time allowing the child to develop and have autonomy (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3145). This type of parent feels that they need to have control by completing their children’s tasks in order for the child to gain success (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2292). The term “micromanaging” is commonly used in association to helicopter parenting (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 400). These parents make decisions for their children and meddle in different areas of their lives (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3137). These areas typically include education and any area of competitiveness or achievement (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 402.) This typically means that the helicopter parents are encouraging dependence instead of independence (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 8).

The reasoning behind this behavior is that these parents worry about their child’s well-being and success in life (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 940). In some cases, these parents experience separation anxiety when their children leave the home for college, which results in parents participating in helicopter behaviors because they are unable to detach from their children (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 400). Also, college students have reported that they most commonly communicate with their mother, demonstrating that mothers have more of an opportunity to participate in helicopter parent behaviors (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3146). However, different cultural groups can produce a variety of parenting characteristics and child outcomes because parent behaviors are determined by one’s cultural family (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 941). The middle to upper-class population is where helicopter parenting has been more commonly seen (Schiffrin et al., 2013, p. 555). However, there is still more research to be done to properly determine this.

Mental Health

A college students’ mental health has been founded to be easily influenced by helicopter parenting. Higher anxiety and depressive symptoms have been identified in college students who reported having helicopter parents (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 940). In the “Helicopter Parenting and Emerging Adult Self-Efficacy: Implications for Mental and Physical Health” study, directors reported an 89% increase in student anxiety diagnoses, and student clinical depression increased by 58% (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3136). Stress and lowered life satisfaction have also been reported among college students (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3137). These students have experienced a lower self-efficacy, higher sense of entitlement, and a lower ability to control (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2016, p. 940). It has also been reported that there was an increase in self-injury behaviors by 35% (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3136).

These symptoms have also led to inappropriate medication use. For example, it has been founded that helicopter parenting has been connected to an increase of use of medications for the mental health diagnoses of anxiety and depression (Schiffrin & Liss, 2017, p. 1472). College students who exhibited having helicopter parents were predicted to be 3.13 times more likely to have a prescription for either anxiety or depression (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 411). Also, this population of college students has been linked to the misuse of prescription drugs (Kouros, Pruitt, Ekas, Kiriaki, & Sunderland, 2017, p. 940). It was founded in a study that students with helicopter parents were 1.73 times more likely to have taken non-prescribed pain pills for something else besides pain (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 411). The students’ ability to develop coping mechanisms has been obstructed by overcontrolling helicopter parents, meaning students do not feel like they have control over life (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017, p. 2292). This type of parent keeps the child from building confidence in their own abilities (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3138). Many of these types of students have reported that their psychological needs are not being met (Schiffrin et al., 2013, p. 554).

Academic Motivation

Academics and academic motivation is also another thing that is affected by helicopter parents. High schoolers grade levels have been founded in a study to be lower and have regressed (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011, p. 409). Once starting college, a low level of maturation and social competence has already been established, resulting in the dependence on their parents for everyday decisions like purchases or job interviews (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 8). This parenting style can also lead to other contributing factors to the emerging adult’s life. For example, the helicopter parent’s children have a difficult time dealing with consequences. Children of helicopter parents are unable to learn from their poor choices because their parents have always stepped in and did not let their child experience failure (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 8). It has also led to these students having a sense of entitlement. Helicopter parent’s children’s entitlement has been linked to interfering with academic performance (Schiffrin & Liss, 2017, 1472). This is due to receiving assistance from their helicopter parents on homework, which encourages procrastination and results in a decrease in motivation (Schiffrin & Liss, 2017, 1472). It most likely ends with the student depending on this parent to reach future goals (Schiffrin & Liss, 2017, 1472). This entire consequence of helicopter parenting links back to mental health with students having a low confidence in learning and being independent in school.

Peer Attachment/Communication

Communication with professors and administration at the student’s college and the ability to form peer relationships are also an area that can be effected by helicopter parenting. For example, communication with others is an important part of entering emerging adulthood. College students must be able to communicate with others including professors in order to properly gain confidence with speaking with peers. However, helicopter parents are highly associated with communicating with their child’s professors at school (Miller-Ott, 2016, p. 174-175).

Peer relationships are also greatly influenced by helicopter parents. For example, helicopter children have a more difficult time relating to people whom they live with or do extra-curricular activities with (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017). These college students feel alienated and have a difficult time approaching others or groups due to a lack of confidence (Darlow, Norvilitis, & Schuetze, 2017). These students most likely report insecure attachments (Van Ingen et al., 2015, p. 9). The college student has been founded to typically be attention seeking for direction from others and approval (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3138). This has also been proven to affect family functioning. It can decrease family functioning and leave the student with lower levels of family life (Schiffrin et al., 2013, p. 549 & 554). Students reported a rise in emotional problems and decrease in well-being in the family setting (Reed, Duncan, Lucier-Greer, Fixelle, & Ferraro, 2016, p. 3137).


To conclude, helicopter parenting has been proven to have negative consequences on a child’s development, especially when entering adulthood and college. Over-parenting has increased with the rise of technology and media. This provides an understanding of why it has been associated with the millennial generation. Universities in the United States have witnessed the negative effects that helicopter parenting has on a child. The over-parented child has a difficult time fulfilling their independent role of a college student due to the behaviors of their parents. The college student also experiences a wide variety of side effects like a low self-esteem, well-being, peer attachment, and academic motivation. These over-parented college students have also reported an increase in anxiety and depression diagnoses. This information is important for practitioners and college administrators to be aware of in order to better assist these clients/students and their families. Further research is needed in order to properly identify a solution for college students with helicopter parents. 

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Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/effects-of-helicopter-parenting-on-college-students/