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Overparenting has some teens ill-prepared for adulthood

Overparenting has some teens ill-prepared for adulthood

May 18, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

As high school graduates prepare for their next big step, going to college, parents might be wondering whether their children are ready to be off on their own.

Psychologists say if you want your children to be ready for adult life, give them room to breathe.

"Too often, parents micromanage," said Dr. Sherry Benton, who co-authored a separate study on student mental health and depression for the American Psychological Association in 2003.

"Sometimes, you have to let them scrape their knees," said Benton, who added that overparenting is just as bad as not providing enough parenting. "They need to learn some things on their own."

Not only does overparenting have the potential to compromise a child's ability to function as a responsible adult, but psychologists are now concerned about the sharp increase in young adults with mental health problems, such as depression, as they aren't psychologically equipped to handle the stress of adult life.


Up until 1994, relationship problems - a typical developmental issue among young adults - were the most frequently reported problem among college students, Benton said.

But now, anxiety tops the list, and depression also is rising, Benton said. "Relationship issues are a distant third."

Parents also feel the effects of overparenting.

According to researchers at a University of Pennsylvania think tank, Network on Transitions to Adulthood, parents are spending more time and money on their adult children, who are living at home longer and are delaying marriage and family.

While there's a growing demand for mental-health care among students, Benton said mental-health resources are shrinking - all the more reason that parents need to make sure their children are ready to live as independent adults.

"(Children) need to have some experience on making decisions on their own," Benton said.

More young adults with mental problems

One result of overparenting is students who can't make decisions on their own once they enter college, which leads to stress, which can often lead to depression.

Benton's study examined the patterns of change in students' mental problems between 1988 and 2001, just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, examining 13,257 students who sought help at Kansas State University's counseling center.

According to the study, the counseling center saw an average of 1,020 students a year. The number of students with depression more than doubled, going from roughly 10 percent of all the clients in the 1988-89 school year to around 25 percent in 2001, according to the study.

The American College Health Association issues National College Health Assessments each year. The most recent, conducted in the spring of 2006, surveyed 94,806 students at 117 campuses nationwide.

According to the survey, stress ranked as the No. 1 cause of students' poor academic performance. Alcohol use ranked 10th. The results were published in The Journal of American College Health.

Don't micromanage your kids

We might be, as a 2004 article in Psychology Today put it, "on our way to creating a nation of wimps."

The article, headlined "A Nation of Wimps," queried leading psychologists and sociologists in the U.S., who suggest that parents' heavy-handed urge to protect their children makes kids more psychologically fragile and prolongs the developmental process of reaching adulthood.

Even on campus, where students are physically away from home, some "helicopter parents" remain involved with nearly every aspect of their children's' lives, said Benton, who also is the assistant director of Kansas State's counseling center.

"I definitely see a difference in this generation of parents," Benton said. "When I was in college, it was the standard, 10-minute phone call every Saturday afternoon. Now, with cell phones, these kids and parents talk to each other all the time."

How adult are you?

Take the Epstein-Dumas Test of Adultness (EDTA) at and find out.

The 140-question test will score you across 14 different skill sets, such as "leadership," "self management," and "love." The closer to 100 percent, the better, according to the Web site.

The test's creator, psychologist Robert Epstein, founded the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts. Epstein recently authored "The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen."

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