Community-based youth programs frequently rely on volunteers and thrive through dedicated parent involvement. Effective youth program professionals must recognize the delicate balance between encouraging supportive parents and discouraging over-involved parenting behaviors. Successful youth programs can help the parenting community establish norms that support positive youth development. Increasing the responsibilities and autonomy granted to youth as they mature is an important expectation of positive youth development. Parents may require additional support and education in this practice.
Over-Involved Parenting: What is it?
Over-involved parents (originally labeled “helicopter parents” by Haim Ginott in 1969) are defined by psychologist Ann Dunnewold (2007) as “’being involved in a child’s life in a way that is over-controlling, over-protecting, and over-perfecting in excess of responsible parenting.” Being involved in a child’s upbringing is necessary, the key difference in over-involved parenting are qualifiers such as: excessive, frequent and constant.
College administrators began using the term “helicopter parent” in the early 2000s, as the Millennial Generation began attending college. Faculty and administration began noticing an increase in practices such as parents calling their children every morning to wake them up for class, and confronting the professors about their children’s grades. In addition, summer camp staff increasingly report more parents who demand daily phone contact with their children who are away at camp.
This style of parenting is not new, but has been increasingly noted in popular press, youth programs, and research. While every parent naturally desires to have a successful child, the over-involved parent makes a habit of stepping in to solve their child’s problems, completing their child’s tasks, and defending their child’s efforts. Competitive events, in particular, may quickly elicit negative and combative responses from over-involved parents, as they seek to protect their child, ensure their child’s success, or jockey their child’s position and opportunities in a youth program or educational system.
Is it an Issue?
The over-involved parent’s assistance may interfere with the child’s developing sense of autonomy (LeMoyne and Buchanan 2011). In America and other developed countries, adolescence has now been cited by some developmental psychologists to begin at age twelve and last into the mid-twenties (Weinberger et al. 2005). Due to this extension of adolescence, individuals between 18 and 25 years old have been termed “emerging adults” (Arnett 2000).
Emerging adulthood is a period characterized by instability and a focus on the self—characteristics that used to be assigned to teenagers. Emerging adults may be influenced by over-involved parents for significantly longer periods of time as their path to independence is delayed.
Some current research of young adults in college is uncovering an association between increased cell phone use, daily contact with parents, and social anxiety (Lepp et al. 2014), and approximately 80% of college students now return to live with their parents after graduation—a number that has been steadily increasing over the past few years (Ogunwole 2009).
By their late twenties, emerging adults who have been denied the opportunity to develop autonomy may not possess the life skills required to function independently as young adults (Bayless 2015). Opportunities to develop autonomy and decision-making skills are necessary for healthy adult functioning. Growing children require increasing opportunities to act and speak for themselves.
Research has begun to identify developmental and psychological issues in some emerging adults raised by excessively over-involved parents. These issues include under-developed coping skills, performance anxiety, decreased self-confidence, and depression (Bayless 2015). Over-controlling parental behavior may interfere with motivation and learning (Ryan and Deci 2003), lead to increased rebellious teen behavior and risk taking (Weybright et al. 2014), and create stresses on the parent’s health (Dunnewold 2007).
For youth development programs, over-involved parents may create hostile social environments that are not conducive to positive growth and learning (Hong et al. 2014).