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Helicopter Parenting is Bad for Girls but Not Boys

It's easy to see how having a helicopter parent could harm a child's emotional growth, but a new research shows that the effect isn't the same for boys and girls.

Professor of psychology Chrystyna Kouros at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, measured the impact of helicopter parenting and fostering independence (or autonomy support) and discovered that the two have different effects on the sexes.

It turns out that helicopter parenting harms girls more than boys, and the lack of fostering independence has the opposite effect:

“Just because mom and dad aren’t helicopter parents, doesn’t necessarily mean they are supporting their young adult in making his or her own choices,” Kouros said. “The parent may be uninvolved, so we also wanted to know if parents are actually encouraging their student to be independent and make their own choices.”

The researchers found that young women are negatively affected by helicopter parenting, while young men suffer when parents don’t encourage independence.

“The sex difference was surprising,” said Kouros, an expert in adolescent depression. “In Western culture in particular, boys are socialized more to be independent, assertive and take charge, while girls are more socialized toward relationships, caring for others, and being expressive and compliant. Our findings showed that a lack of autonomy support — failure to encourage independence — was more problematic for males, but didn’t affect the well-being of females. Conversely, helicopter parenting — parents who are overinvolved — proved problematic for girls, but not boys.”

Read the full story over at SMU Research News - Thanks Margaret Allen! (image: LOVE (is in the air) by Shamus Beyale)


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Good points. Social studies are a bit harder to parse for me (my background is in biochemistry, where we have things like control), but I found the gender-specific outcome surprising.

Or maybe I really shouldn't be surprised because boys and girls are different, and would react to helicopter parenting in different manners.
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It's the "while" (or "whereas" in the researcher's abstract). That is to say, not helicopter-parenting is still tacitly encouraging independence.

I think what they are trying to say is:

- Both sexes fare better when pushed toward independence specifically through autonomy support.

- College women do better when they handle their own helicopter affairs (grades, wages), although due to social norms aren't adversely-affected if not actively pushed toward independence. My guess is that this is just an alternate route to learning independence, but I'm no fancy-schmancy researcher. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

- College men aren't negatively-affected if someone else handles those helicopter items, but suffer when not pushed toward independence. Traditional path is gone and social/emotional reasons may have blocked desire to find independence. Pretty much Pink Floyd's Mother. If there are indeed any autonomy-supported men who let parents negotiate their wages, I very much doubt they spoke of it with their peers.

Also keep in mind something like 98 of the 118 tested were young women.
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