Helicopter Parenting Can Lead to Impulsive, Unkind College Kids, Study Says


Overbearing parents are putting their children at risk for health issues and poor future parent-child relationships, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Vermont. Their report suggests that other detrimental effects occur from parenting that controls and manipulates children, including children being stressed and unkind to their friends.

The researchers recruited 180 college students, the majority of whom were females, reports Justin Caba, writing for Medical Daily. Jamie Abaied, who was the lead researcher. Her team conducted interviews that asked students to discuss a disturbing event that involved someone close to them.

The incident could be a disagreement with a roommate or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. After describing the experience, the participants’ sweat levels were measured to reveal their stress responses to that particular event. More perspiration meant higher arousal and a higher level of being upset.

Those subjects who measured at the highly aroused level were considered to be hot-tempered and more likely to respond impulsively, such as sending a nasty email before thinking. Students who perspired less were displaying “blunted arousal,” meaning they were capable of remaining calm and thinking before acting or making a hasty choice.

A questionnaire, which was used to establish levels of parental control, showed that the more controlling parenting led to higher levels of aggression, and having parents who were less controlling pointed to children who were less aggressive.

“Basically, we were trying to get them to relive the difficult experience, said Abaied, an assistant professor of psychological science at UVM, in a statement. “Just to get their bodies to demonstrate their stress response to us. If you’re calm, you can be strategic and planned in your aggression. You can really use your aggression to control your relationship and stay dominant over your peers.”

Since most college students are still dependent on their parents for emotional and financial support, parents can use texts, email, and social media to decide whether they should withdraw money or affection as a penalty to get the result they desire from their children.

This is an unfortunate parenting choice, says Abaied, because it impedes students’ independence. She concludes that parents can “helicopter” from a distance.

UVM’s report reveals that the relationship between two people who love one another but whose actions result in hurt feelings or damaged social status is called “relational aggression,” a topic that has rarely been studied among college students.

The UVM study is also different from others in that it uses physiological determinants. Abaied announced that measuring the minute changes in sweat could result in behavioral therapies that could enhance parent-child relationships in the future.

The research, writes Science 2.0, centered on the effects of various styles of parenting on children when they have entered college. The purpose was to find the link between “parental psychological control” and young adults’ attachment with peers. The study was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Additional relationship problems that result from domineering parents can include excluding a friend or family member from a social event, backstabbing, public embarrassment, or rumor-mongering.

“It seems like good parenting protects them,” she says of college students. “Good parenting prevents them from being aggressive in their peer relationships,” said Abaied.

01 28, 2016
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