What is Overparenting?
Growing up, children benefit academically, emotionally, and socially from having highly involved parents in their lives. However, when the level of parent involvement is not developmentally appropriate, challenges with family differentiation arise and overparenting occurs.
Differentiation is an age-appropriate balance between distance and closeness within a family (Rousseau & Scharf, 2015). Overparenting is a set of developmentally inappropriate behavior patterns that characteristically (Segrin et al. 2013):
Provide excessive advice and directive support to a young adult (overbearing).
Demonstrate hypervigilance by anticipating problems or concerns facing a young adult and sometimes preventing them from occurring.
Offer excessive resources such as money and time.
Are anxiously preoccupied with a young adult’s success and keeping the young adult out of harm’s way (overprotective).
College administrators identified the following statements as examples of developmentally inappropriate behaviors for parents of college-age students: “My mother monitors who I spend time with” and “If I were to receive a low grade that I felt was unfair; my mother would call the professor” (Schiffrin et al., 2014).
As children grow older they begin to establish a sense of autonomy, feel free to make their own choices, and feel confident in their abilities and accomplishments. However, when parents engage in overparenting they deprive their children of the chance to develop their own conflict resolution and coping skills and their children tend to report a diminished sense of competence. Overparenting conveys the message that parents do not believe in their child’s ability to navigate a problem themselves.
Consequences of Overparenting
Overparenting practices are associated with lower levels of self-efficacy and life satisfaction, higher levels of entitlement and narcissism, dependent personality traits, withdrawn and depressive tendencies, and higher levels of anxiety in young adults (Segrin et al., 2013).
Young adults that experience overparenting report decreased satisfaction with family life and psychological distance from their parents (Schiffrin et al, 2014). In addition, these young adults report higher levels of interpersonal sensitivity, defined as excessive and unreasonable sensitivity to and awareness of the behaviors and feelings of others (Rousseau & Scharf, 2015).
Am I Overparenting?
How do you know when you are overparenting and how does the literature account for differences in culture, temperament, and disability status? Overparenting results in negative outcomes for the parents and their children when they themselves perceive the parenting practices as burdensome and excessive.
For parents, the first step to determine if they’re overparenting would be to self-reflect; regularly assess whether their parenting practices are responsive to their child, teen, and young adult’s development; and inquire whether their teen or young adult perceives their parenting as inflexible (Rousseau & Scharf, 2015).
Overparenting is commonly associated with a parent’s feelings of inadequacy, sadness about parenting failures, regrets about missing parenting opportunities, and the desire to experience vicarious success through their child (Segrin et al. 2013). Development literature finds that parents intergenerationally transmit their anxiety to their children when they engage in overparenting patterns of behavior.
Making Positive Changes
Parents who recognize their overparenting and are anxiously preoccupied with keeping their teen or young adult child from experiencing failure or harm, may benefit from working through these issues with the help of a mental health professional.
Goals for therapy may include:
Coping with anxiety.
Creating age-appropriate boundaries.
Increasing healthy parent-child communication.
Increasing confidence and coping with feelings of inadequacy.
Changing the parent-child dynamic from overparenting to differentiation will lead to better mental health outcomes for both parents and their children. Navigating the transition from childhood to young adulthood can be overwhelming for parents and children, but does not have to be done alone.
About the Author
Hello! My name is Kelsye Turner. I am the Client Care Coordinator for Dr. Jessica Aron’s practice. I attend Wayne State University’s Master’s Program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and I am eager to explore topics related to my coursework with this blog. Stay tuned for more posts exploring topics related to parenting, attachment styles and romantic relationships, and friendships.
Thank you for reading! If you would like to learn more about overparenting, I suggest starting with checking out the referred articles below.
Rousseau, S., Scharf, M. (2015). “I will guide you” The Indirect Link between Overparenting and Young Adults׳ Adjustment. Psychiatry Research, 228 (3), 826-834. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.05.016.
Schiffrin, H. H., Liss, M., Miles-mclean, H., Geary, K. A., Erchull, M. J., & Tashner, T. (2014). Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students' Well-Being. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23(3), 548-557. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3
Segrin, C., Woszidlo, A., Givertz, M., & Montgomery, N. (2013). Parent and Child Traits Associated with Overparenting. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(6), 569-595.https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2013.32.6.569