As college students leave fall semester in the rear view mirror, spring semester sparkles with the excitement of new classes and experiences.   But students whose parents have a difficult time cutting ties may face an unexpected burden.

A new study by sociology faculty at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga says “helicopter parenting” a college-aged child may be the most damaging time to over-parent or micromanage an offspring’s life.  Some college administrators are worried enough about this phenomenon that they’ve spent precious funds to hire staff to deal with the adverse effects, according to the study.

Dr. Terri LeMoyne and Dr. Tom Buchanan surveyed 317 students in general education classes who ranged from 18 to 25 years old.  They found helicopter parenting is “negatively related to psychological well-being and positively related to prescription medication use for anxiety/depression and the recreational consumption of pain pills.”

“Does ‘Hovering’ Matter? Helicopter Parenting and Its Effect on Well-Being” was published in Sociological Spectrum (July/August 2011)

LeMoyne and Buchanan focused their study on students of the Millennial generation.  Born between 1982 and 1995, some experts believe these are the children who are most protected by their parents.

Helicopter parenting doesn’t sound like a good thing, but the UTC researchers wanted evidence. LeMoyne and Buchanan acknowledge this over-involvement in children’s lives does not begin in college, but early in a child’s life.  As the child grows, the researchers are interested in the sociological implications, for instance, the effects of helicopter parenting on a child’s decision making process in college and later as they enter the work force.

Their survey inquired about the well-being of these students, asking how the students felt they were functioning.  Were they organized, socially adjusted, achieving goals?

“We found persistent anxiety and depression were more likely among those who experienced helicopter parenting,” Buchanan said.

The study explains that parents tend to exert the most influence in areas of education and future competitiveness.  Sometimes their college-age children are happy to have their parents’ assistance.

“We have observed that when college students have trouble with a class or a grade, instead of handling the situation themselves, they sick their parents on their professors,” Buchanan said.

The researchers have also observed students struggle when they must think on their own.

“In my classes, I see students who need way more instruction than they used to, they have a much more difficult time working independently.  If they are not given instruction to the letter they keep coming back for more direction–they want study guides, they want the answers to essays.  They are very anxious when they face uncertainties,” Buchanan said.

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