6 Things Overprotective Parents Do Wrong

4 minute read

Anyone who’s ever been to a school science fair and seen the elaborate projects that obviously weren’t conceived by a child’s brain knows that parents are more involved than ever. New research shows that some surprisingly common things parents do to help their children succeed might not be doing their kids much good. And according to a new cover story by Hanna Rosin for The Atlantic, the overprotective instincts of modern parents are destroying children’s independence, trapping them in a hyper-controlled bubble that they might never escape. (This behavior is not doing parents much good either; one study indicates that helicopter mothers are more likely to be unhappy.)

Here are six things mothers and fathers do that seem like responsible parenting, but might not be so great for some children after all:

1) Limiting Risk-Taking (Makes Your Kid a Scaredy-Cat): Rosin cites research out of Norway that shows that kids are evolutionarily programmed to be risk takers, because risks are how children learned to survive in a pre-helicopter parent era. Kids who take risks while they’re young tend to be less fearful, more independent adults, and kids who don’t take risks end up being nervous nellies. “Our fear of children being harmed…may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology,” writes Ellen Sandseter, who studied the effects of risk-taking in young kids. She says things like climbing, playing with sharp objects, playing near elements like fire, wrestling and exploring alone are essential in helping kids conquer small challenges so they can prepare for bigger ones.

2.) Helping With Homework (Doesn’t Make Middle-Schoolers Smarter): New research shows that helping middle school kids with their homework leads to no measurable increase in test scores, and in some cases parental interference may actually lower students’ scores. Meeting with teachers and punishing kids for bad grades also doesn’t actually help kids do well, it just makes them more anxious. The study showed that practically the only things parents could do to give their kids an edge at school was read to young children and discuss college possibilities with high schoolers.

3. ) Helicopter Parenting at School (Won’t Help Your Child Improve): The children of parents who met often with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve more quickly than their academically comparable peers whose parents aren’t at school as much, according to a new study out of Duke and the University of Texas at Austin that looked at data from the National Center for Education Statistics. And forget about disciplining kids for not doing their homework. That’s useless too.

4.) Making Snacks (Makes Your Teen Entitled): Making snacks for a 5-year old is one thing. Making snacks for a 16-year old is very different. Seems obvious, but catering to your adolescent’s every culinary desire won’t help him become more independent. As Randye Hoder writes, making her teenage son sandwiches all the time has “enabled his helplessness,” and trapped her in a cycle of endless sandwich-making.

5) Helping Pick a Major (Makes College Students Less Excited About School): Research shows that the more parents help their kids select a college major, the less satisfied the student is with that major. So much for your son the doctor.

6) Go To Job Interviews (Makes Your Adult Offspring Look Stupid): This one should be obvious. Just don’t. It makes your kid look like “that guy” at work. Ditto making them sandwiches to bring to the office (see #4.) They probably won’t be able to cope with the disappointment when it gets stolen out of the office fridge.

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com