Partly because of social media/internet culture and partly because of celebrity activism, millennials are probably the most educated generation that there’s ever been when it comes to mental health. They’re more able to recognize signs of mental illness, more willing to seek out help, and less judgmental of mental illness than any generation before.
But if you’re a millennial who suffers from anxiety and/or depression, there’s a possible reason for your mental health difficulties that you may not have considered: a helicopter parent.
Helicopter parents are parents that are overly involved in their children’s lives. This could take many different forms, including:
- Making decisions for the child instead of with the child. For instance, a helicopter parent might force their child to play football instead of an act in a school musical because they’re only concerned about the child’s scholarship chances.
- Commandeering the child’s communications. A helicopter parent would likely volunteer to talk to their child’s teachers, coaches, or even friends on the child’s behalf.
- Helping the child to avoid consequences for their actions. If a child stayed up late playing video games instead of studying for a test, for instance, the helicopter parent might allow them to stay home from school “sick” to avoid the test.
- Withdrawing signs of affections when the child fails. If the child doesn’t meet the parent’s standards for success, the helicopter parent is likely to withdraw normal signs of affection in an effort to make the child feel bad and do better the next time.
- Placing a strong emphasis on the child as an “investment.” A helicopter parent might call up a student’s college professor to request a grade change, for instance, and justify this intrusive, enabling behavior by saying that they’re “paying good money” for their child to receive a college education.
If you’re an adult now, you might be wondering what this has to do with you. “I’ve been on my own now for a while,” you might be thinking, “and my parents’ behavior doesn’t affect me anymore.”
But recent studies show that this might not be the case.
Bloggers writing for Psychology Today, Psych Central, Science Daily, and Huffington Post all report on recent (last 10 years) studies that have shown at least 2 clear negative effects of helicopter parenting: increased anxiety and depression.
These common effects happen so regularly because helicopter parenting usually has the reverse effect that parents want it to have. Parents want their children to be successful, confident adults. But instead of fostering these traits, the helicopter parent’s actions send the child the message that they are incapable of handling their own problems, not particularly talented, and only loved if they meet someone else’s definition of success. These messages don’t go away just because you move away from home; if you internalized them throughout your whole childhood, then they’re likely to stick with you and become part of your identity as an adult.
Ask yourself if any of the following descriptive statements sounds like you:
- I feel as if I constantly have to prove my worth to my SO and friends. I know theoretically that friends and SOs are people who are supposed to love you unconditionally, but I feel very concerned that I’m going to lose these people’s love.
- I don’t like trying things if I think I’ll fail at them.
- Problems and obstacles often feel overwhelming to me and I am very indecisive when it comes to generating solutions.
If you identified with these statements, then you’re probably still feeling the effects of a helicopter parent. But don’t give up hope – there are things you can do to help yourself! One of the most important things you can do first is to realize that your helicopter parent had their own issues that were not your fault in any way. Writing for Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano explains that helicopter parents often crave the close parent-child bond they shared with their child during the early years of the child’s life, so they seek to keep it going even after it’s no longer healthy to be so dependent. Then again, some parents are just trying to avoid starting a new “empty nest” stage of life themselves because they don’t want to be getting older. Some even try to use their children to fill the gaps in their lives from unsatisfactory marriages or social lives.
So the first step is to accept that even though your parent’s style of parenting might have felt like a personal attack against you, they were likely just trying to redirect their own fears and insecurities. After you’ve realized that, you can try to take other practical steps, such as:
- Deliberately do something you might fail at. It can be something small, like trying a new hobby or joining a friend’s weekend basketball league. The idea is to get past the impulse to only do things you’ll succeed at by practicing failure in a low-stakes way. If you can do this and see that the world doesn’t end, then you can start enjoying life more by lowering your parent-created fear of failure.
- Avoid giving in to all of your parent’s demands. Lots of helicopter parents try to set up rules for their children even in adulthood, such as visits every week or phone calls every day. Some studies found that helicopter parents even try to control adult children’s diets and friend choices. Remember that you don’t owe your parent anything that hurts your own sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy.
- Practice solving problems by yourself. There’s a difference between seeking advice from others and seeking solutions from others. Seeking advice is a good thing if you go to the right people; it helps you make wiser choices. But what you want to avoid is the impulse to do what a helicopter parent might have enabled you to do, which is take any problem you run into and dump it into someone else’s lap, like a roommate, friend or SO. Shifting the person you bring all your problems to from a parent to a different person isn’t growth; if a parent-led you to believe you can’t solve your own problems, the only way you’ll get past this idea is to practice solving your own problems.
A helicopter parent’s actions can cause damaging long-term effects, but they don’t have to ruin your entire future. If you’re willing to put in some work, then you can move past the negative feelings that parents left you with and begin having more happiness, freedom, and confidence.
Helicopter parents’ actions can leave scars that last into adulthood. If you’re struggling to get past the anxiety and depression that can come from having a helicopter parent, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 15-minute Clarity Consult.