The downside of overprotective parents

Students who have overly controlling parents may be more likely to be depressed. This is the suggestion of new research published in Springer's Journal of Child and Family Studies, which showed mums and dads who adopt a 'helicopter' parenting style may be violating their child's need to feel competent and autonomous.

Led by Holly Schiffrin of the University of Mary Washington in the US, the study demonstrated that youngsters with possessive parents tend to be less satisfied with their lives.

The investigation involved an online survey of 297 American undergraduates aged 18 to 23, who were asked to describe the parenting behaviours of their mothers, while the researchers also evaluated the overall life satisfaction of the participants.

It was shown that over-involvement on the part of the parent can lead to negative outcomes for young people, including higher depression and anxiety levels, with people feeling less able to effectively manage their life.

"Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely," the authors added.

Chartered Psychologist Russell Hurn comments:

"This study may describe how a child’s perception of ‘self changes’ with a lack of suitable support for the development of responsibility and self-regulation. Whilst parents should be aware of their children’s behaviour complete control does not support a child to be independent and instead would promote a loss of self-efficacy and lead to a devaluation of their  thoughts, wishes and abilities.

"Over protection may also communicate messages to the child that they cannot be trusted, will always make mistakes and that this is not acceptable. There may then be no opportunity to praise effort and coping strategies. A child may therefore reduce their effort or attempts at managing situations so preventing any possible learning. In a sense you may argue that the safe base which is the goal of good parenting will be something imposed rather than experienced by the child. Emotions are then less likely to be contained by them and not accepted by their parents. The combination of these factors could well lead to a presentation of depression or other mental health problems."

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