Helicopter parenting will turn your kid into a brat, study says

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If the kid is alright, let it be. 

So says a new study on parenting which found that micromanaging focused children can do far more harm than good. 

“Parents have been conditioned to find ways to involve themselves, even when kids are on task and actively playing or doing what they’ve been asked to do,” said Stanford Graduate School of Education associate professor and lead author Jelena Obradović in a press release for the study, which was published Thursday in the Journal of Family Psychology. 

More involvement, however, is not always better.

“[Too] much direct engagement can come at a cost to kids’ abilities to control their own attention, behavior and emotions. When parents let kids take the lead in their interactions, children practice self-regulation skills and build independence,” Obradović went on. 

In other words, parents, maybe don’t do your kids’ science fair projects for them.

For the research, Obradović and her team studied a group of 102 children aged 4 to 6 and their primary caregivers over the course of two and a half hours at a Stanford lab. The children were given various tasks intended to study their self-regulation. Researchers found that, especially for more emotional tasks, when children were appropriately on task, parents being very involved — asking questions, making suggestions, corrections, offering further instruction — was correlated with the child having more trouble and behavioral issues.

When children were only passively engaged, and not actively on task, researchers didn’t find a link between parental over-engagement and children behaviorally struggling more. 

The finding comes at a time, the release notes, when the conversation around parenting is increasingly critical of “helicopter” and “snowplow” parenting which, despite its often good intentions, can end up being counterproductive to kids’ development. 

Obradović hopes parents don’t interpret her findings as critical of parents engaging with children.

“When we talk about parental over-engagement, we’re not saying it’s bad or obviously intrusive engagement,” she clarified. “There’s nothing wrong with suggesting ideas or giving tips to children.”

Parents should, however, “try to find opportunities to let [kids] take the lead.”

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