Researchers Give Helicopter Parenting Another Whirl

New research by Miriam Liss and Holly Schiffrin has them back in the news.

Soon after recovering from a media swarm surrounding a study they published last June, UMW Associate Professors of Psychology Holly Hollomon Schiffrin ’94 and Miriam Liss made headlines again.,, and The Chronicle of Higher Education clamored after the pair when their original research on intensive parenting ran in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. That project, co-authored with then-undergraduate student Kathryn Rizzo ’12, revealed that overinvolved parenting – sometimes called “helicopter parenting” – can negatively affect a mother’s health.

Schiffrin and Liss continued to research the phenomenon, shifting their focus to college students.

In an online survey, nearly 300 participants ages 18 to 23 agreed or disagreed with statements like “My mother monitors my diet,” “My mother does my laundry when I come home,” and “My mother had a say in what major I chose.”

The results, published in February in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, showed that, rather than helping their grown children, overinvolved parents may contribute to a decreased sense of competence and autonomy. This, in turn, seemed to be related to depression and dissatisfaction.

“By not allowing children to try, and, yes, also to fail, they may never develop the skills necessary to succeed in the future,” Schiffrin and Liss wrote in a Mother’s Day opinion piece for The Free Lance-Star. “Parents may be sending an unintentional message that they don’t believe their children are capable of solving their own problems.”

UMW Associate Professor of Psychology Mindy J. Erchull, Haley Miles-McLean ’13, Katherine A. Geary ’12, and Taryn Tashner ’12 also participated in the study.

Liss and Schiffrin will reveal more of their findings in a book they’re writing about parenting and the work-family balance. It will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.