Helicopter parenting found to be most common among perfectionists

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Researchers say these parents need their children to succeed to feel successful themselves

Helicopter parenting has been found to affect everything from kids’ independence to parents’ stress levels, and now a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona is looking into why these types of behaviors emerge among parents. 

According to the researchers, those who have perfectionist tendencies are the most likely to over-parent their kids, as they derive the most value from having their kids excel in every possible area. 

“All the research thus far on helicopter parenting, or over-parenting, has focused on what are the outcomes for the children who are the recipients of over-parenting, and no one has been looking at who does this in the first place,” said researcher Chris Segrin. “We think knowing more about the motivations of the parents has important implications for understanding what happens to children.” 

Identifying the trends

The researchers conducted two studies to better understand the trends involved in helicopter parenting. In one study, nearly 300 young adults were surveyed about their parents’ parenting style. In the second study, researchers had over 300 parents respond to statements that assessed their personality types and engagement as a parent. 

Both studies revealed that there was a close link between those with high levels of perfectionism and those who were the most likely to over-parent their kids. 

“Over-parenting is when you apply what we call developmentally inappropriate parenting or guidance structure for the child,” said Segrin. “By developmentally inappropriate, we mean we’re providing to the child that which the child could easily do him or herself. People who engage in over-parenting are not adjusting their parenting and letting the child have greater autonomy; they still want to control the child’s outcomes.” 

When thinking about how perfectionism comes into play, the researchers explained that parents push their kids to get the best results and then see their kids’ victory as a victory of their own. 

“They want to live vicariously through their children’s achievements,” Segrin said. “They want to see their children achieve because it makes them look good. I’m not saying they don’t care about their children; of course they do. But they measure their self-worth by the success of their children. That’s the yardstick that they use to measure their own success as a parent.” 

Finding a healthy balance

The researchers explained that it’s crucial for parents to have some kind of separation between their identities and their kids’ identities, as this can help them set more realistic expectations and foster more independence for their young ones. 

“I think those blurred boundaries between parent and child can be harmful to the psychological landscape of the parent,” said Segrin. “We need the parents to realize they have some element of their own life -- whether it’s their career, their personal relationships, their hobbies -- that’s independent of their role as a parent, so they don’t get caught up in this trap of wanting to just keep parenting their children until they’re 40 years old.” 

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