As excited college freshman prepare to move to campus, nervous parents are wondering how their children will adapt to living on their own. Although it is natural for parents to show concern and a desire to be involved in their adult children’s lives, can too much involvement actually be harmful?

Kelly Odenweller, a West Virginia University doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies, and Dr. Melanie Booth-Butterfield, Peggy Rardin McConnell Professor of Communication Studies, recently researched the effects of helicopter parenting from college students’ perspectives.

Helicopter parenting refers to parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives through over communication, making decisions on their children’s behalf, and interfering with their children’s ability to learn through personal experience.

Surveys with different series of questions were given to both males and females between the ages of 18 and 25. Odenweller, with the help of Keith Weber, Ph.D., developed the scale titled, “The New Helicopter Parenting Instrument.” This scale involves 10 questions and asks information such as “My parent monitors my daily activities,” “My parent thinks he/she should remove obstacles that impede my success,” and “My parent discourages me from making decisions that he/she disagrees with.”

The results have demonstrated Odenweller and Booth-Butterfield’s hypotheses were correct. Helicopter parenting can interfere with the process of children becoming independent and has negative and potentially damaging effects on children’s development. They also found that perceptions of helicopter parenting are associated with an authoritarian parenting style, a style in which parents enforce stricter rules, have high expectations and use power over negotiation with their children. This can impede children’s social and emotional development and problem solving abilities as well.

What can you do to avoid becoming a helicopter parent? Odenweller and Booth-Butterfield suggest parents lower their frequency of contact on “the small stuff.” For example, do not call your child three times a day just to check up. Set boundaries with your child and give them room to solve their own problems, grow, and find their individuality.

“Let the child solve the trivial problems and learn from mistakes. If the problem isn’t going to result in a dangerous consequence, let them figure it out on their own,” Odenweller said.

The team will present their research at the National Communication Association Conference in November in Orlando, Fla. In the future, Odenweller and Booth-Butterfield plan to conduct a follow-up study on the parents’ perspectives and ways to prevent or reduce helicopter parenting behaviors.

Odenweller became involved in the topic of helicopter parenting because of her interest in family communication. After taking Booth-Butterfield’s Interpersonal Communication class, she focused on the interpersonal relationships within a family, more specifically between parents and children.

Booth-Butterfield received her doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her research areas include interpersonal and relational communication, humor enactment and emotion and cognition.

For more information, contact Kelly Odenweller, at 304-293-3905 or kodenwel@mix.wvu.edu

-WVU-

gd/8/14/12

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