By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Turbo-charged parents still running their university-aged children's schedules, laundry and vacations could be doing more harm than good with a study on Wednesday showing these students were more likely to be depressed and dissatisfied with life.
Researcher Holly Schiffrin from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia found so-called helicopter parenting negatively affected college students by undermining their need to feel autonomous and competent.
Her study found students with over-controlling parents were more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives while the number of hyper-parents was increasing with economic fears fuelling concerns over youngsters' chances of success.
"You expect parents with younger kids to be very involved but the problem is that these children are old enough to look after themselves and their parents are not backing off," Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology, told Reuters.
"To find parents so closely involved with their college lives, contacting their tutors and running their schedules, is something new and on the increase. It does not allow independence and the chance to learn from mistakes."
Schiffrin's study, published in Springer's Journal of Child and Family Studies, was based on an online survey of 297 U.S. undergraduate students in which students described their mothers' parenting behavior and their own autonomy and researchers assessed their happiness and satisfaction levels.
The study comes as debate rises over how much parents should run their children's lives to make them succeed.
Schiffrin said the increase in technology had changed the involvement of parents in their children's college lives as the once-a-week phone call home was replaced with regular texting, emails and messaging.
The competitive marketplace and jostling for top college slots and the best jobs has also boosted the involvement of parents in college lives.
She said to counteract this, rising numbers of universities were starting to run parental orientation days parallel to events for students to help encourage parents to give their children more freedom.
LEARN FROM MISTAKES
In the UK, a housemaster from top British public school, Eton College, is involved in a campaign to get parents to slow down a little, arguing that hyper-parenting may in fact demotivate a child and even cause psychological damage.
Mike Grenier said the increase in helicopter parenting in the past 10 years had accompanied a changing attitude towards childhood, with more anxiety and fear over youngsters now seen as being at risk and vulnerable if confronted with failure.
The greater focus on testing and success at exams has fuelled this and raised anxiety levels further.
"There is a very fine line between the helicopter parent and the committed and caring parent while at the other end of the spectrum is the negligent parent which can be more dangerous," Grenier told Reuters.
"But this time of austerity seems to be ratcheting up the tension with more competition for jobs."
Grenier said it was disconcerting to see parents putting children as young as 3 or 4 into tutoring to ensure they get into the best schools and remain in the best schools to get top university places.
"There is the fear that if they don't get the right school and don't get the right university then they won't get the opportunity to fight for the best jobs," he said. "The stakes are higher in people's minds."
Grenier is an advocate of a movement called "slow education", a concept adapted from the Italian culinary movement that has prompted a wider philosophical approach to travel, business, living and now schooling.
"The real danger of hyper-parenting is that it is intrusive and parents don't let their children make their own decisions, take risks and learn for themselves," he said.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casciato)