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Hyper-parenting connected to depression in college students, study suggests

College-aged students with “hover parents” are more likely to be depressed, a recent study suggests. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HEATHER GOLDIN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
College-aged students with “hover parents” are more likely to be depressed, a recent study suggests. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HEATHER GOLDIN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Over-controlling parents may cause depression and other negative psychological effects in college students, according to a recent study. Boston University faculty said this trend of “hovering parents” and its repercussions could be tied to the cost of college.

“On a societal level, it could be partly the rising costs of college education,” said Julian Go, a BU sociology professor. “Parents are rightfully thinking of education as an investment. It pushes parents to be more concerned, or intrusive, in their investment.”

Researchers studied about 300 college students between the ages of 18 and 23 at a public liberal arts college and found those with overactive parents reported significantly greater depression and a lesser sense of fulfillment, according to a study released in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Child and Family studies.

“Our data suggest that an inappropriate level of parental behavioral control is associated with negative child outcomes,” the study stated. “Specifically, we found that helicopter parenting behaviors were related to higher levels of depression and decreased satisfaction with life.”

Hovering parenting is defined as a highly involved, intensive and hands-on method of parenting, according to the study.

Parents’ over-involvement affects students when children feel their autonomy and competence have been compromised, according to the study. Students surveyed who felt they have a lack of control were more likely to feel symptoms of depression.

Prescription drug use among college-age students can also be linked to hovering parents, the study found.

Go said the negativity surrounding hovering parents is an American phenomenon.

“In certain other cultures it wouldn’t be seen as a problem,” he said.

Go also said while parents’ level of concern might not have increased in recent years, connectivity with their children has, making it easier for parents to hover.

“It could be partly technologically driven if it [hovering parenting] is more prevalent than before,” he said. “It’s easier to contact kids.”

Jeremy Bernier, a School of Education sophomore, said while some students have overactive parents, others are not significantly influenced by their parents.

“It’s very polarized,” Bernier said. “Our generation has getting into college as a big priority. For stable families, their goal is to make sure their kids get into college, get a degree and get a job. For families with parents working multiple jobs, they don’t have time.”

College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Chrissie Sugg said technological advances contribute to the omnipresence of parents.

“With Facebook, it’s like all of our parents can watch us,” she said. “Facebook is an easy way to know what we’re doing.”

Sugg said she is thankful her parents no longer hover over her like they did when she was in middle school.

“My parents are very good at letting me fly the coop,” she said.

Jennifer Kim, a Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences senior, said while many parents hover over their children in an effort to quell rebellion, their attempts often do not work.

“Parents are more destructive in parenting now — there are not many stable parents,” Kim said. “There should be a comprehensive parenting strategy for future generations. Parents should be more inviting of opinions.”

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