Overparenting Contributes to a Child’s Negative Adjustment

Overparenting takes many forms, but is most often practiced with the best intentions. Parents who engage in over-parenting of emerging adult children and adolescents might immerse themselves in their children’s academic and extracurricular pursuits. They may be the type of parents who help their children fill out job applications and even engage in salary negotiations. Although parents often do these things in an effort to help their children, some believe that overparenting can actually have negative repercussions.

In an effort to examine how overparenting affects young adult children and what causes overparenting behavior, Chris Segrin of the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona recently led a study assessing the emotional states of 653 parent-child pairs. The parents were evaluated for levels of anxiety and regret to determine if these emotions increased overparenting behavior. The children were evaluated for levels of anxiety and stress and also reported what coping styles they used.

Segrin found that anxious parents were more likely to be overly involved in the parenting of adult children. Even though there was no direct link between a parent’s own regret about accomplishments or prior parenting abilities, the anxiety that the regret caused led to more overparenting. The children of overly involved parents reported high levels of stress and anxiety as a result. Additionally, these children were more likely to engage in negative coping strategies and to distance themselves from their parents when compared to children of less-involved parents.

Segrin said, “The results of this study showed that there is a significant association between parents’ anxiety and over-parenting.” Parents who worry about their children’s financial, emotional, or academic well-being, and especially those who have regrets about their own similar conditions may inadvertently transfer that anxiety to their children by way of overparenting.

Segrin believes that even though emotional support provided by overly involved parents may benefit these children, the negative outcomes of stress, distancing, internalizing, and ineffective coping mechanisms far outweigh any benefits. He hopes that future work will explore this effect and focus on identifying those parents at risk of engaging in overparenting behavior so that their own insecurities can be addressed rather than transferred to their children.

Segrin, Chris, et al. (2013). Parent and child traits associated with overparenting. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.6 (2013): 569-95. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Kristen

    July 6th, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    I work with a lady who is the classic definition of an over parenter. Both children (almost 30) still live at home with her and her husband, along with a grandchild. She makes their appointments, doesn’t really make either of them pay rent or contribute in any way in the household, and I just feel strongly that she is setting them up for a lifetime of failure. She has already done that! They have no responsibility and don’t really feel the need to take any on. Why would they when mom still takes care of everything? I feel bad for her in some ways because she works so hard but has created two truly worthless kids, but I don’t think that it is my place to say anything because I like her as a co worker and friend. I guess she won’t change until she becomes unhappy with the situation, so until that time I try to keep my mouth shut.

  • Saba

    July 20th, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    Kristen, I’m 20, my mum is half blind, has arthritis, diabetes, has deteriorated lungs, and takes a cocktail of 5 or 6 tablets for all of this pain everyday, and has done so my whole life. My dad doesn’t really care about her. I’m going to uni, in second year, and I stay with my parents for the moment. I’ve been working in customer service for a little less than half my life. I srarted working when I was 14 and 7 months old. I’m not working at the moment, because I’ve failed 3 out of the 7 units I did last year, and I don’t want to keep failing. My parents refuse to accept rent contributions. I clean the house, do the laundry, wash the dishes, help my mum medically, mow the lawn, cut trees down, wash the bathroom, scrub the toilet, clean the kitchen, sweep, mop, and vacuum the floors, do some of the grocery shopping for the house, pay two of my own bills. I would cook the food too, but my mum says I’m ‘dirty’, I’n not, I’ve worked in food service, and won’t eat it. Are gou going to think the same things about me that you think about those almost 30 year olds? I *want* to leave. My parents are Muslim. For them, a girl living on her on outside of wedlock, is sinning. I want to find a partner and live with them, but they wouldn’t let me see them, or visit my house, because the only thing they believe in is arranged marriages. My dad is freaking 74. My mum is 60. I’m also afraid that the moment I turn my back to leave, that they’lk drop dead. What would you say to my situation? Am I worthless person? I’ve worked for nearly half of my life.

  • Fallon

    July 8th, 2013 at 4:30 AM

    I hope that a lot of parents out there are reading this closely. There is this trend today of getting hyper involved in the lives of our children, but I think that the only thing that this is causing is more stress in our kids! I think that they are forced to feel like they have to try so hard to please us and make us happy that they forget to just be allowed to be kids! I want my children to do well and be involved; of course I do. I think that any parent wants this for their kids. There are many families though who take this to the extreme and this isn’t healthy for the family as a whole. There gets to be this weird dynamic of disappointment that starts to set in and that is not a great environment for the family to succeed within.

  • Marva Caldwell MA, LMHC, NCC

    July 8th, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    Good article and highlights the helicopter parenting trend and the longer term effects. Working with moms that have anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum pregnancy,it makes you wonder about the long term effects untreated anxiety in a pregnant or new mom? Pregnancy and post pregnancy anxiety is something many expectant and new moms suffer with alone and in silence. As moms, we all are encouraged to be hyper-vigilant by the medical,community and culturally to watch everything we put in our mouths and expose ourselves and baby to. There is so much stress, pressure and information overload for a new mom. Are our culturally expectations unattainable? Expectant and new moms have more demands to be a “Super Mom” and “Super Parent” than every before in our history. There is research that shows the impact of anxiety during pregnancy and post pregnancy on the baby and outcomes can result in behavioral and learning difficulties for children from preschool to adolescents(O’Connor,T., G., J. Heron and V. Glover. 202. Antenatal anxiety predicts child behavioral/emotional problems independently of postnatal depression, Journal of the american Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).
    Talking about prenatal and post natal anxiety is key. Prevention is the answer and wish that this was understood. Some of these parenting struggles and outcomes may be prevented with early intervention and in turn help young adults to have healthy, relationships with their parents, self confidence and independence. Talking about anxiety and normalizing that many women struggle with it during pregnancy and post pregnancy would help to foster healthy parents and children. Breaking down the shame is hard to do and sad that so many moms are suffering. Here is a question…Culturally are we fostering anxiety and over-parenting/helicopter parent by the unrealistic expectations we are putting on parents? Parents can’t help but be fearful and anxious about everything. Especially in this new age of instant information, technology and media. I hope we can start to talk about this more openly. This may result in preventing helicopter parenting and increase confidence in teen and adult children. Anxiety is one of the top reasons people seek therapy. It is not easy being a parent and understanding that letting go, fostering independence and responsibility is just as important as protecting your child.

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