Health and Wellness

Kids with 'helicopter parents' more likely to burn out, have a harder time transitioning to 'real world'

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In many ways, the college admissions scandal, aka "Operation Varsity Blues," was a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents get too involved in their children's school careers.

Although most parents don't break the law or pay millions of dollars to get their kids into prestigious schools, "helicopter parenting" is far more common, and it can have lasting psychological effects.

A new study from Florida State University found that kids who had helicopter parents were more likely to experience burnout from schoolwork, and they had a harder time transitioning from school to the real world.

For the study, researchers from Florida State University surveyed 427 college students (ages 18 to 29) about their upbringing and how they felt about their performance in school.

Students ranked how much they identified with statements like, "I think my father/mother is too overly involved in my life," "I wish I had more self-discipline" and "I feel emotionally drained from my studies."

Those who had helicopter parents also had higher levels of burnout in school. And these effects were more pronounced when their fathers were the ones hovering compared to mothers.

Researchers define helicopter parents as those who "excessively monitor" their kids and are overly involved or controlling in a way that's inappropriate for parents of adults. Instead of teaching their kids how to handle obstacles, helicopter parents often just clear the way for them. For example, a helicopter parent might do their kid's laundry or speak to their child's professor about their grades.

Most of the time, helicopter parents behave this way because they don't want their kids to fail, or because they feel personally invested in their child's success, the study authors wrote.

The irony is, when kids are micro-managed by their parents, they don't develop "self-control skills" that are necessary for reaching long-term goals and coping with academic stressors, Hayley Love, study author tells CNBC Make It.

"Students may be experiencing academic pressures to succeed for their parents, however they do not have the self-regulatory resources to cope with the stress," Love says.

As a result, they might feel "increasingly helpless, hopeless and resentful, exerting less effort on their studies, which leads to lower grades," Frank Fincham, director of the FSU Family Institute said in a release. "In some cases, students end up dropping out of college."

What does burnout look like in a kid? The researchers defined it as "exhaustion due to school work, cynical attitudes toward school and perceived inadequacy in school-related accomplishments."

Beyond school, "this research really highlights the salience of parenting even as children move out of the home," Love says.

Helicopter parenting signals to kids that their parents will make all major life decisions for them, including planning for their future and monitoring their performance, the study authors wrote. Over time, kids will feel like everything they do is for their parents, so they lose any personal motivation to succeed.

This is particularly troubling for adults who are transitioning from school to the "real world" and from high school to college. Other studies have shown that young adults (in their college years) who have helicopter parents have lower levels of self efficacy, which is the personal belief that they're capable of handling tough life tasks and decisions. They also experience more anxiety and depression, and lower levels of life satisfaction and physical health.

The best thing parents can do is "provide plenty of autonomy and independence to help facilitate healthy development," Love says. Guiding kids to develop self-control skills not only allows them to flourish as adults, but also can help mitigate the effects of burnout, she adds.

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