(The following post The Hidden Costs Of Overparenting by Diane Dreher, Ph.D., recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Too many college students are anxious and insecure, lacking the confidence to declare their own majors, plan their schedules, or handle assignments on their own (American College Health Association, 2008). Believing that outside forces control their lives, today’s college students have a more external locus of control than 80% of their peers in the 1960s and 70s (Twenge, Zhang, & Im, 2004).
Locus of control (LOC) reveals how we relate to the world. With an internal LOC, we believe our efforts and actions make a difference. Students with an internal LOC get better grades, cope effectively with stress, and are mentally and physically healthier, while those with an external LOC feel that powerful others or a quirk of fate controls their lives (Twenge et al., 2004). Feeling helpless and dependent upon external authorities, these students have poorer health and higher levels of anxiety and depression (Burger, 1984; Chorpita, 2001, Peterson, 1979; Peterson & Stunkard, 1989; Twenge, 2000; Twenge et al, 2004).
What’s responsible for this unhealthy trend? Two possibilities are overcontrolling parents and electronic communication.
Since the 1990s, we have witnessed the rise of “helicopter parents,” who hover over their children, inhibiting their natural urge to explore the world. My research (Dreher, Feldman, & Numan, 2014) has revealed that college students who’ve grown up with controlling parents have significantly higher external LOC and lower emotional maturity, hope, and optimism. Not a healthy combination.
Advances in communication technology have produced an “electronic tether” that links college students to their parents on a daily basis (Hofer, Souder, Kennedy, Fullman, & Hurd, 2009). Students bring cell phones in to advising appointments to ask “Mom” or “Dad” what courses they should take. Parents monitor their students’ assignments on their syllabi and even write their papers, sending them along in e-mail attachments (Hofer et al, 2009). Insecure students seek instant “answers” on the Internet, often downloading texts and committing plagiarism. Electronic access to external authorities and easy answers does not reinforce students for thinking for themselves, for making their own decisions—vital skills needed for success not only in college but as adult citizens in a complex world.
To reverse this unhealthy trend, Gloria DeGaetano, founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute and author of Parenting Well in a Media Age, advises parents to limit their children’s screen time while encouraging them to explore, follow their natural curiosity, develop their inner lives and interpersonal skills, and cultivate their creative imagination. She emphasizes the importance of a loving parent-child bond coupled with reading, physical exercise, unstructured time, and cooperative play to support children’s growth in autonomy and self-reliance.