When I was 19 years old and in my second year of college, I found myself in the emergency room at Women’s College Hospital in downtown Toronto. The weeks leading up to my arrival at the ER had been a haze of sleepless nights, panic attacks and loss of interest in friendships. After watching me struggle through this, a friend picked me up in the middle of the night and drove me to the hospital. Looking back, I can easily identify all of those uncharacteristic behaviours as symptoms of depression, but at the time, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Luckily, my friend and the doctors could.
Just as there wasn’t one particular treatment to help me manage my depression, there also wasn’t one specific cause. With 20 years of hindsight, I could say it was the stress of working part-time and going to school full-time, or being far away from home or, chemically speaking, my brain just wasn’t working the way “typical” brains do. The one thing I couldn’t blame my depression on was being raised by helicopter parents.
As a child of the ’80s, I lived the quintessential free-range childhood: days filled with risky outdoor play and little parental supervision. My siblings and I were left to our own devices most of the time—not because free-range parenting was trendy at the time, but because we were the kids of a single mom who simply didn’t have time to hover over us to make sure we were doing our homework.
I’m giving you this glimpse into my personal history because this week’s Slate article “Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out” went viral. The post is an excerpt from Julie Lythcott-Haims’ new book How to Raise an Adult, where she writes about her time as a dean at Stanford University, her work on the school’s mental health task force and the mental health issues she saw in students.
Citing stats from a 2013 survey of college counselling-centre directors in the U.S. (where 95 percent said the number of students with psychological problems is a growing concern), Lythcott-Haims links parenting styles with depression and anxiety in young adults.
“The increase in mental health problems among college students may reflect the lengths to which we push kids toward academic achievement, but since they are happening to kids who end up at hundreds of schools in every tier, they appear to stem not from what it takes to get into the most elite schools but from some facet of American childhood itself,” writes Lythcott-Haims.
She also goes on to say that while there are no studies that prove helicopter parenting causes psychological problems in college students, there are indeed studies showing correlation between the two. Most recently, researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga discovered that students with helicopter parents were more likely to be medicated for anxiety or depression later.
Admittedly, I’m one of the first people to accuse helicopter parents of all sorts of things (like having kids who are afraid to climb trees or roam their neighbourhoods), but in this case, I think more time and research is needed. Diagnosis and treatment for mental illness is filled with so many intricacies that it’s not fair to pin the blame solely on helicopter parents. In the meantime, the best we can do is support our youth who are struggling—and their parents, too.
Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.