Perfectionism may be viewed as a positive trait that increases a person’s chances of success yet it can also lead to self-defeating behaviors and thoughts. People who strive for perfection may do things out of feelings of failure or inadequacy. Studies have also shown that high levels of perfectionism are associated with several negative clinical outcomes, from depression, to fibromyalgia, to eating disorders, and even suicide.
A new study conducted by University of Arizona researchers also suggests that perfectionism could be one driver of overparenting. Just as they have high standards for themselves, they also tend to have high standards for their children and in their quest for perfection, they may be more prone to helicopter parenting.
Perfectionism and helicopter parenting
Overparenting also referred to as helicopter, snowplow, or hothouse parenting manifested a combination of old-fashioned spoiling, unrealistic achievement goals, and excessive anxiety. It is an attempt by a parent to micromanage their kid’s life. They constantly hover over their child to make sure they are making good decisions, prevent them from facing the consequences of their behavior, and protect them from emotional or physical discomfort. While such a parenting style may have well-intentioned goals, ongoing overindulgence and hypervigilance can also have serious consequences. It can cause the child to be overly dependent or stunt the child’s development.
In the new study, the authors also mentioned that overparenting applies a “developmentally inappropriate” guidance structure or parenting for the child. It means parents are providing something to the child which the latter could easily do to him or herself. Co-author Chris Segrin said via Medical Xpress that those who engage in overparenting are allowing the child to have greater autonomy or are not adjusting their parenting style. As the child grows, they still want to control all the outcomes of their child.
Other studies have already shown the negative effects of helicopter parenting. For instance, it can lead to poor adjustment, narcissism, psychological distress, drug and alcohol use, and other behavioral problems that emerge in adults ages 18 to 25. However, little is known about why some individuals become helicopter parents.
Why some become a helicopter parent
Segrin and co-authors from the University of Nebraska and Texas State University found that perfectionism could be one driver of helicopter parenting. This is because perfectionism is a psychological trait of wanting success, have positive accolades, and wanting to be perfect. As parents, they may see their kids’ success as a reflection of their own so they may engage in helicopter parenting in an effort that their kid will also achieve “perfect” results.
These kinds of parents measure their self-worth based also on the success of their kids. They wanted their children to achieve as it also makes them look good. This does not mean they don’t care about their kids. It’s only that they live vicariously through the achievement of their children.
Two studies conducted by the team
The researchers involved 302 parents of young kids in their first study and 290 young adult-parent pairs in study 2. In the first study, parents were asked to rate a series of statements meant to measure their levels of perfectionism and engagement in over-parenting. For the second study, the young adults were also asked to rate statements meant to measure their belief about the parenting style they grow up in.
Both studies show that perfectionism is linked with helicopter parenting. They also found that anxious parents can be prone to overparenting. Segrin opined that it is important to know what drives overparenting so that people can also know how to intervene in such potentially harmful behavior.
Thus far, all studies on overparenting primarily focused on the outcomes for the kids who were recipients of such kind of parenting. Yet, no one has looked at the people who do helicopter parenting in the first place. Segrin added that knowing more about the drivers or motivations of overparenting has significant implications for knowing what can happen to the kids.
Raising trophy kids?
While they did not particularly address it in their study, the team suspects that middle-aged dads and moms who grew up in the 1970s to 1980s “self-esteem era.” During that time, kids’ bad behavior was usually blamed on low self-esteem and the remedy was praise. Trophies were given to children even for just being on the team and not because they achieved something. Thirty-five to 40 years later, those once-children have become adults and they also have kids of their own. Since they were raised in a culture, where they were told they are perfect, great, and special, these words have fueled perfectionism. They started believing that if they are great or special, then their children also better be great and special too. If not, then it means they are not a good parent.
In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, they found that US parents across demographic groups believe that being a parent is central to who they are as a person. However, the ways they approach parenting differ in some significant ways between fathers and mothers across generations, socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial groups.
Hispanic and Black parents are found to be more likely to see their children’s successes and failures as a reflection of their parenting. On the other hand, Whites are more likely to consider it as a reflection of their children’s strengths and weaknesses.
A majority (62%) of US parents admit they can sometimes be overprotective, especially among mothers. Some 68% of mothers consider themselves overprotective compared to 54% of dads. A third of dads and one-in-five moms also say that they are the kind of parents who sometimes gives too much freedom to their children.
Only 4% of American parents say they use spanking as a discipline to their children while 75% said they would rather explain to their kids why their behavior was not appropriate and 43% take away their children’s privileges as a way of discipline. Furthermore, 71% of surveyed parents say it is extremely significant to raise kids that will become ethical and honest as adults.
Perfectionists set unrealistically high expectations for themselves and others. On the part of perfectionism-driven parents, they should change their views and recognize that their value is not dependent on that of their children.