Helicopter parenting: How to prevent mental health issues in teens
Helicopter parenting: How to prevent mental health issues in teens

Helicopter parents causing mental health issues in kids

Controlling parents who kept strict tabs on their children could cause lifelong damage, according to world first Australian research.

And wealthy parents are the worst offenders, the Australian Catholic University (ACU) study found, by stamping out autonomy which can lead to dire consequences for teens' mental health

The research asked young people in years 8 to 12 across 16 Australian schools how their parents behaved when they sought more independence. The results showed parents need to set boundaries - which should be developed with their teenager - but avoid engaging in controlling-style parenting, including surveillance-type activities, guilting or threats to withdraw love.

Jim and Tas Vassos with their teen daughters Nikola, 19, and Kristen, 16, are very liberal in allowing their girls to have some freedom. Picture: Alex Coppel.
Jim and Tas Vassos with their teen daughters Nikola, 19, and Kristen, 16, are very liberal in allowing their girls to have some freedom. Picture: Alex Coppel.

It is one of the only studies of its kind to show that wealthier parent behaviour is actually linked to worse developmental outcomes in teens.

Professor Joseph Ciarrochi from ACU's Institute for Positive Psychology and Education said their study found that affluent parents were more likely to adopt a collaborative parenting style earlier on - as they tended to have more time - but as teens neared senior years they started to put the pressure on.

"But we found the everyday working class parents didn't do that.

"They (wealthier parents) probably have good intentions," he said.

"But we know students self esteem will drop and their mental health will get worse."

Professor Joseph Ciarrochi, with daughter Grace, says parents need to be consistent. Picture: Darren Leigh Roberts
Professor Joseph Ciarrochi, with daughter Grace, says parents need to be consistent. Picture: Darren Leigh Roberts

Professor Ciarrochi said it is natural for teenagers to start to agitate for more freedom as they grow and parents need to be careful in how they respond.

"Teenagers increasingly want to have a say in what they can and cannot do. They want to express their own opinions,' he said.

"Many lifelong mental health disorders start in the teen years. Coercion is a poor way to motivate youth and has huge costs. Conversely, having a psychologically healthy senior school time can set a young person up for life."

The landmark study found that wealthy parents with a high socio-economic status (SES) are most likely to increase a controlling style of parenting, when compared with parents from middle class and working-class families.

While high SES parents engaged in increasingly less collaborative parenting and more coercion but low SES parents did not tend to show this change and were relatively consistent throughout the teen years.

Kate and Robert Scoble, with kids India, 21 and Octavia, 17, at their home in The Gap in Brisbane. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Kate and Robert Scoble, with kids India, 21 and Octavia, 17, at their home in The Gap in Brisbane. Picture: Liam Kidston.

"Parents need to set clear rules and have clear consequences for rule violations. These rules can be set up in a way that is collaborative and supports increasing independence. Collaborative parenting is generally better for youth mental health than coercive parenting, Professor Ciarrochi said, admitting that as a dad with two teens of his own - it isn't easy.

"The research found that parents, even if they started out being collaborative in Year 7, need to become increasingly collaborative to match their teen's increasing need for autonomy.

"If the parents become coercive, or even if they just remain stable, their young person will experience worsening mental health. Parents need to evolve with their teen and support more autonomy to help their young person develop into a healthy adult."

Professor Ciarrochi said the key for parents is to be assertive but at the same time support autonomy as much as possible.

"You have to have boundaries but you have to give them as much freedom as you can and if you can't make sure you explain the reason behind that.

"It's essentially the opposite approach to: it's my way or the highway."

Kate Scobie has two daughters, 21 and 17, and said the "rollercoaster" of parenting teens is about remembering that "I am not perfect and neither are they".

"I have had to adjust my parenting and adapt and we have had plenty of rows but we also have the best conversations around the dinner table at night.

"I like to think we have standards rather than rules and a lot of it is not letting them walk all over you but also don't walk all over them."

A piece of advice from her own mother when the children were babies has stayed with her and helpful even in their adolescent years.

"They are just learning how to live."

 

 

 

Originally published as Helicopter parents causing mental health issues in kids



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