Expert Commentary

Helicopter parents and landing pad kids: Intense parental support of grown children

2012 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family on the causes and effects of helicopter parenting .

Helicopter parent (iStock)

“Helicopter parents” — so called because they’re seen as overprotective or excessively interested in their children — have been both praised and criticized: They can improve students’ academic performance, but also dominate their children’s college and workplace interactions.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, “Helicopter Parents and Landing Pad Kids: Intense Parental Support of Grown Children,” assesses the impact of intensive parental support — including listening, advice, practical and financial support and socializing. The researchers, from Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, UT-Austin and the University of Pennsylvania, interviewed 399 parents and nearly 600 of their children ages 18 to 33.

The study concludes that:

  • Nearly 30% of parents reported providing intense support for at least one of their grown children; 21% of children reported receiving this type of support.
  • Intense parental support is provided more by mothers (26.8%) than fathers (15.0%). Mothers and daughters were more likely to participate in this dynamic than other parent-child combinations.
  • “Parents who had two or more children … typically offered intense support to only one child.” Adult children living with their parents were more likely to receive and benefit from intense parental support, particularly those still in school without children of their own. “Parental support may be most beneficial in helping grown children transition into adulthood.”
  • While 16.6% of grown children reported they received “more or a little more support than they would like,” these children also reported having better-defined goals and higher life satisfaction than their less intensely-parented peers, regardless of whether parental contact occurred on a daily or weekly basis.
  • The well-being of helicopter parents, in contrast, appears not to be linked to their parenting style. Parents who perceived that their children required more support reported lower life satisfaction. “Parents also fare worse when they believe their grown children are doing poorly.”

The authors conclude that “norms for intergenerational ties have deteriorated over the past decades, leaving parents and children adrift in expectations regarding their relationships.”

A related 2011 study from UCLA provides perspective on how generational changes in personal time allocation and management are affecting family dynamics and changing in particular the work-life balance of American women.

Keywords: youth, parenting, women and work

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