I would love to see a long term study about the relationships between college students and their parents and how that has been affected by changing technology.  I doubt it exists, though.  Based on my own observations, I’ve got a strong hypotheses that modern technology literally makes it too easy for young adults to be in constant contact with their parents and thereby hinders their personal maturity and independence.  It’s good to be close to your parents, but it really does seem crazy to me that 20-year olds are talking to their parents multiple times per day or texting with them all day long (then again, maybe I’ll feel differently when David is 20).

When I was at Duke 20+ years ago, times were such that most all of us still worried about the costs of long distance.  My mom and I were really close and had a great relationship, but I still only talked to her once a week unless something really big came up.  And my sense was that was pretty typical. And sure, N of 1 and anecdotal, but it certainly seemed to me that it did me some real and lasting good to not be so dependent upon my mom.  I can’t help but wonder if modern technologically-enabled relationships aren’t stunting the maturity of many a current college student.

Thus, I really enjoyed this NYT opinion piece on helicopter parenting:

AMERICAN parents are more involved in our children’s lives than ever: we schedule play dates, assist with homework and even choose college courses.

We know that all of this assistance has costs — depleted bank balances, constricted social lives — but we endure them happily, believing we are doing what is best for our children.

What if, however, the costs included harming our children?

That unsettling possibility is suggested by a paper published in February in the American Sociological Review. The study, led by the sociologist Laura T. Hamilton of the University of California, Merced, finds that the more money parents spend on their child’s college education, the worse grades the child earns.

separate study, published the same month in the Journal of Child and Family Studies and led by the psychologist Holly H. Shiffrin at the University of Mary Washington, finds that the more parents are involved in schoolwork and selection of college majors — that is, the more helicopter parenting they do — the less satisfied college students feel with their lives.

Why would parents help produce these negative outcomes? It seems that certain forms of help can dilute recipients’ sense of accountability for their own success. The college student might think: If Mom and Dad are always around to solve my problems, why spend three straight nights in the library during finals rather than hanging out with my friends? …

So yes, by all means, parents, help your children. But don’t let your action replace their action. Support, don’t substitute. Your children will be more likely to achieve their goals — and, who knows, you might even find some time to get your own social life back on track.

I’ll be really curious to see just how much I can let David stand on his own when he goes to college.  And to be honest, both of us are already really scared he’s going to fall flat on his face.  So, I’m planning on much support, but I do plan on doing my damnedest to see that he (and then his siblings) really establishes his own sense of self and personal accountability when heading off to college (if not before!).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Over-parenting

  1. itchy says:

    This is the biggest challenge my wife and I face as parents. We work constantly to force ourselves to force our daughter, who just turned 9, to be independent, and so far, she’s mostly great. But we also realize we’re providing 100x the assistance our parents gave us. (That said, our parents aren’t exactly emulation material.)

    In many ways, my daughter is far more mature than I was at her age. She’s able to navigate social and friendship situations better than I can even now. But she also is frustratingly dependent in ways that cause my wife and I to look at each other and think, “We NEVER asked for help with that!”

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