'Helicopter parenting' may lead to burnout for kids, new study

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

If you suspect you're guilty of helicopter parenting, you might want to loosen the reigns a little. It could mean the difference between burnout and healthy processing of stress.

A new study of 400 university students by Florida State University has revealed that parent micro-managing can result in burnout in early adulthood and also make for a difficult transition from school to the outside world.

"Helicopter parenting is a style of parenting in which parents excessively monitor their children and often remove obstacles from their paths, instead of helping them develop the skills to handle the inevitable difficulties of life," writes Bill Wellock from FSU.

Published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, the researchers examined how helicopter parenting can affect a person's young adulthood.

What was discovered is that helicopter-style parenting hinders crucial development around emotion and behaviour self-regulation. If young adults lack these skills when they enter the workforce, they are much more prone to burnout.

Students aged 18 to 29 were asked about their upbringings and how they felt about school. They were asked to rank statements about parenting and their current university experiences according to how accurate they thought they were.

The statements included, "I think my father/mother is too overly involved in my life," "I wish I had more self-discipline" and "I feel emotionally drained from my studies."

The researchers focused on issues around helicopter parenting and found burnout occurred more when the overparenting came from the father.

It's an effect that researchers say leads to negative emotions and attitudes around learning, invoking "helpless, hopeless, and resentful" feelings.


"Burnout is a response to ongoing stress that is important, because it saps the student's energy, reduces their productivity, and leaves them with a diminished sense of accomplishment," said Professor Frank Fincham, an FSU Eminent Scholar and director of the FSU Family Institute.

"They feel increasingly helpless, hopeless, and resentful, exerting less effort on their studies, which leads to lower grades. In some cases, students end up dropping out of [university]," he added.

Hayley Love, study author told CNBC Make It that micro-managed kids lack "self control skills."

"Helicopter parenting signals to kids that their parents will make all major life decisions for them, including planning for their future and monitoring their performance. Over time, kids will feel like everything they do is for their parents, so they lose any personal motivation to succeed," writes Cory Steig.

The best thing parents can do is "provide plenty of autonomy and independence to help facilitate healthy development," Love says.

"Guiding kids to develop self-control skills not only allows them to flourish as adults, but also can help mitigate the effects of burnout," she adds.

"If you think you're behaving in a way that's counter-productive, take a moment and reflect," says study co-author Ross May.

"We talk about mindfulness a lot. We've seen that mindfulness helps for outcomes. Take a second, reflect on what's happening, understand your surroundings, know the context and then evaluate your behaviour."