What happens to children when they reach adulthood who were raised by a “helicopter parent?” A recent study at Florida State University surveyed 460 college students ages 18-25 on their mother’s role in their decision-making during their childhoods. The researchers concluded that those students who had a parent who made most of the decisions for them had a more difficult time handling adverse situations and had less self-confidence. The students also showed higher levels of anxiety and depression, along with lower life satisfaction and poorer physical health. The students didn’t learn mastery, coping skills, and how to deal with failure since their parents stepped in to fix situations that were stressful. The movie “Failure to Launch,” typifies this scenario whereby the son never grows up or leaves the house because his parents enable him and stunt his maturity. Of course, the parents have good intentions, but they prevent autonomy and self-reliance.
Sometimes parents feel guilty about something bad that occurred in their child’s life, like divorce or a loss, and look to compensate for a bad situation. In some cases, the child or young adult has learned to manipulate and abuse the system or the generosity of the parent as a means of avoiding responsibility. We can probably generate multiple motives on the part of the parents or child as to why they choose to be in a codependent relationship, but the bottom line is that it prevents healthy development. Remember, we learn more from our mistakes and failures than our successes. In our attempt to love, support, and help our children, the best thing we can do is to let them make their own age-appropriate decisions. If we start early in their lives by giving them some choice or control over certain decisions then we can gradually expand their realm of self-reliance.
Sometimes it is very difficult for us, myself included, to allow our young adult children to make their own decisions, especially when we disagree with their choices and fear a negative consequence. However, it is important to support and encourage them, but avoid preventing failure (unless safety is at risk) and teach them about resilience. Another important skill we can teach and reinforce is how to cope with stress, failure, and conflict. Modeling assertive communication, conflict resolution, and stress management strategies can provide them with awareness and hope that they can use the same skills. Lastly, build them up, praise them, and help them to believe in themselves. Confidence breeds confidence.