Study: Helicopter Parenting Can Lead To Lack Of Political Involvement | WGLT

Study: Helicopter Parenting Can Lead To Lack Of Political Involvement

Aug 15, 2018

A recent study co-authored by an Illinois State University professor finds that college-aged adults who were helicopter parented are less likely to get involved in politics than their non-helicopter parented counterparts.

Kerry Milita, assistant professor of political science at ISU, said helicopter parenting is not new, but the late millennial generation and newer generations have exhibited it at a higher rate.

Illinois State University Assistant Professor of Political Science Kerri Milita.
Credit Illinois State University

Helicopter parenting can include doing the child's homework or a project for them, or requiring them to excessively check in while they are out with friends, Milita explained.

"Some of that is good parenting," she said. "But taking away all agency, taking away all independence is where you start to get developmental problems in children which can lead to the rise of anxiety and depression later in life." 

Helicopter parenting can happen at any age, Milita said, but it doesn't always stop when the child leaves for college.

"That's where you start to see these children, who are adults now, and they should be demonstrating all the necessary independence and development of a young adult, but they aren't because not only have they been helicoptered, but they're still being helicoptered," she said.

Going to College

As a college professor, Milita sees helicoptered students in her classroom. Often, she said, she can tell if a student was helicopter parented by how anxious they appear in settings that require independence. And she said the rate of helicopter-parented students in college classrooms is getting worse.

"When I first started teaching college students ... about 8 years ago when I was in grad school, you maybe had one," Milita said. "A parent that would email you on behalf of their student or, if it's a really bad semester, maybe stop by your office. And then what I've noticed is that it's just gotten worse. It's gotten to the point where I at least get two a semester now."

Helicopter parenting falls on a scale, Milita explained. There are parents who check in from time to time on their college kid, and then there are "extremely helicopter parented" students.

"The very people that we need to be getting involved in politics are kind of being conditioned out of it."

"These are students that have signed privacy waivers that allows their parents to communicate with their professors and school administrators, go with them to academic advising meetings, register for classes for them, remind them of exam dates, remind them to study," Milita said.

Effect On Political Views

The report shows that "extremely helicopter parented" students are more likely to have strongly conservative, authoritarian policy preferences, regardless of their voiced political affiliation.

Milita said essentially, they are replacing their parent's control with government overreaching.

According to the study, students who were or are helicopter parented are also linked with having an external locus of control.

"It's an inability to assess blame on yourself," Milita explains. "And helicoptered students tend to have a very strongly developed external locus of control where they have what seems like an inability to assess themselves as being responsible for negative things happening in their lives."

In contrast, she said, less helicoptered or un-helicopter parented students tend to have an internal locus of control. Milita said those are students who after failing a test would think, "What did I do wrong to fail this test?" rather than saying, "The teacher didn't go over the material enough for the class to be prepared."

As for the implications, Milita said only time will tell because we are just now seeing the first groups of the affected generations entering into the workforce.

There are stories of parents doing their child's job negotiations or attending interviews, which Milita said is not good.

"As more and more of these people enter adulthood and enter the electorate and political science, unless at some point you stop helicoptering ... and then how long does it take for those effects to wear off?" she said. "But assuming they don't or it takes time to wear off, we would definitely be looking at public opinion moving in a more authoritarian direction in the future."

The study shows politics could be even more impacted because helicoptered young adults are showing an added lack of interest about getting involved in politics.

Milita said it all goes back to that external locus of control.

"It's this feeling of a lack of agency, a lack of independence, a lack of control over the events in your life and how they unfold," she said. "You just don't see yourself running for office as being something that would make any difference. ... You don't have control over the problems in the world."

Milita explained this could be disastrous because the goal of politics is to elect officials who represent the demographics of their area.

"Congress and state legislators tend to be whiter and then tend to be more male and much older than the typical median demographic. And unfortunately what these findings suggest is that that's very unlikely to get any better any time soon because the very people that we need to be getting involved in politics are kind of being conditioned out of it," she said.

A lot weighs on finding out how long the effects of helicopter parenting will last, Milita said, but that could take years.

Milita co-authored “Helicopter Parenting and the Policy Attitudes of College Students” with Jaclyn Bunch from the University of South Alabama.

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