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  • Cheryl Karp Eskin

The Perils of “Overparenting”

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

This post was originally published by Teen Line in November 2015. You can find the original post here.

I just read an article in the Washington Post about Julie Lythcott-Haims’ new book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Lythcott-Haims draws from her decade of experience as the dean of freshmen at Stanford University. She discusses the recent trend she has seen of freshmen being ill equipped to handle the emotional pressures of college life, especially in terms of self-sufficiency.

Similar stories emerge from others working with college-age youth. Statistics also speak loudly. Rates of depression and anxiety are higher than ever before in college students, and school counseling centers are overwhelmed.

So, why is this? What’s going on that college age students are so fragile? Many say it’s due to “overparenting,” or “helicopter” parents. Many factors have contributed to a phenomenon in which parents are more intimately involved in their teens’ lives than ever before. Lythcott-Haims offers a few suggestions to determine if you are a “helicopter” parent.

  1. Observe your language. Do you often say “we” when referencing your child’s activities (i.e. “we are training for the Olympics?”)

  2. Observe your interactions with other adults in your child’s life. Are you the one arguing with the coach when they didn’t get enough play time or the teacher when they get a bad grade?

  3. Are you doing their homework or helping excessively with projects and time management?

The adolescent years are supposed to be a time of graduated separation and individuation from parents. It is normal and healthy for a teen to want to separate from their parents, and their parents’ job to let them do so. Parents also need to teach their children to advocate for themselves. If you are the one always arguing with their teachers or coach, they are not developing the skills to do so. This results in a college age student who doesn’t know how to self-advocate and an adult who does not feel competent.

Similarly, if you are managing their time and doing their projects, they are not learning to be responsible for themselves. You may think you are helping them, but really you are sending a message that they can’t take care of themselves without you, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

As parents, our job is to believe in our children, to set them up for success, and to be there when they fail. If we do not allow them the experience of safely failing while under our roofs, we are doing them a disservice. One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to detach and let our children make their own mistakes, but it is also one of the most crucial steps in learning competence. So, the next time you feel a need to remind your teen of their homework due tomorrow, stop for a moment, and ask yourself if you are setting them for success or difficulty down the road?

At Teen Line we work to provide personal teen-to-teen education and support before problems become a crisis, using our national hotline and community outreach. Visit our Parents & Caregivers page for more resources and information to help you understand and support teens’ mental health as well as promote overall well being.

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