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YOUR KIDS When Help Hurts You might be a helicopter parent if ... But it’s not a joke.

WHEN THEY FIRST TOOK FLIGHT a decade or so ago, helicopter parents made an easy target for criticism. After all, what kind of parent would call a college professor to dispute his child’s grade or submit a job application on her child’s behalf? The picture became murkier,

though, when academic researchers got involved. Depending on which study you read, the children of heli- copter parents receive poorer grades in college, or they report better psy- chological adjustment, or they take more medications for anxiety and depression, or they have stronger rela- tionships with their parents. What to believe? How can you

support your children—something Scout parents do especially well—

without smothering them? To find out, we talked with two experts in the field: Laura Padilla-Walker, Ph.D., an associate professor in Brigham Young University’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, and Peter Love, Ph.D., an educator and professional learning-disabilities coach in East Hampton, Conn.

A Question of Balance According to decades of research, par- enting has three key dimensions: fsupport shown to the child (accep- tance, nurturance, etc.)

fbehavioral control (supervision, consequences, etc.)

fautonomy granting (giving choices, involving the child in setting rules, etc.)

“How parents balance these three

aspects of parenting really depends on the age of the child,” Padilla-Walker says. “When children are young, behavioral control is higher and autonomy lower.” With college students, on the other

hand, just the reverse should be true, with behavior control all but gone and autonomy very high. Middle- and high-school students fall somewhere in the middle. The problem with helicopter

parents is that they fail to make the shift, says Padilla-Walker.

Low Autonomy, High Anxiety According to Love, anxiety keeps heli- copter parents from ceding control and granting authority, and that anxiety gets communicated to the child. “If [helicoptering] is done from the parents’ anxiety, then that gets communicated to the kid,” he says. In Love’s view, the meta-message—

what parents are really saying when they talk to their kids—is at least as important as the words they use. “Is that meta-message ‘This may be tough, but I know you can handle it’ or is it ‘This is going to be tough, and I’m pretty sure you can’t handle it’?” he says. A child who hears the former

message may grow up to be success- ful, while a child who hears the latter message may become unsure of his abilities. “The extent to which you can feel like there’s a safe place in the universe is the extent to which you’re willing to take risks,” Love says.

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