We all have those mornings. Racing to get out the door while our three or four or five-year-old moseys along. We tell her to put her shoes on for the third time and then finally give up and put them on her ourselves because she’s taking too long for us. She can put her own shoes on. She can even tie them. But we don’t let her. And not just that one time like we might tell ourselves, but every single time we’re in a hurry. Sometimes we do it just because it’s easier. But what if that one seemingly meaningless decision combined with similar decisions to do things for our children leads to panic attacks and depression for her when she reaches college?

The Numbers

A 2013 study of college students’ mental health found that anxiety is the biggest concern among college students. 41.6% of students reported dealing with anxiety, while 36.4% consider themselves depressed. In addition, 24.5% were taking psychotropic medications.

Also in 2013, 100,000 college students were surveyed by the American College Health Association. The results showed that at any time during the previous year:

  • 84.3% of the students felt overwhelmed
  • 79.1% felt exhausted
  • 46.5% felt hopeless
  • 60.5% felt very sad
  • 57% felt very lonely
  • 51.3% felt overwhelming anxiety

These numbers don’t tell us why college-aged children are feeling like this. However, other studies point to helicopter parenting as a major cause.

In 2010, researcher Neil Montgomery surveyed college freshman with a questionnaire created to specifically assess helicoptering parenting. Students had to rate statements such as, “My parents have contacted a school official on my behalf to solve problems for me.”

Those who had helicopter parents were less open to new ideas. They were also more anxious and more self-conscious. But their peers, who were raised by more “free range” style parents, were the opposite.

Are You a Helicopter Parent?

As much as I would love to consider myself a free-range parent, I often find myself doing things for my children instead of letting them do for themselves. I’ve even caught myself telling them how to draw a picture.

A helicopter parent is one who pays an extreme amount of attention to their child’s efforts, particularly with school. A helicopter parent doesn’t let their child make decisions or problem solve. They hand their child the solutions.

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege makes it simple, we know we are helicopter parents if we can answer yes to one of these questions:

  • Do we perform tasks for our children that they can do themselves?
  • Do we do tasks for our children that they are learning to do themselves?
  • Is how we are parenting our children motivated by our own ego?

According to the experts, when we parent this way, our children don’t get to be creative, to solve problems, to learn how to cope in the world, or even to figure out who they are and what they want in life.

And when we send them off to college, they simply can’t handle it. Never having to do things for themselves, having their parents handle problems with teachers or coaches, or having their parents “fix” their homework, have all led up to this moment when we send them out on their own and they simply don’t know what to do.

We aren’t raising children, we are raising adults. And we need to prepare them to live like as such. If you think you've been helicopter parenting your children, try to ease up a bit. Give your children a chance to do things for themselves. Give them responsibility. You'll be surprised at how much your children will impress you.