How to Avoid Ruining a Kid’s Future


As parents, we must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. Dr. Tim Elmore offers four simple principles to put into practice.

You’d think parents would have read and heard enough about “helicopters” and “snowplows” (parenting styles) by now that they would have backed off of their kids a little. But, alas, some are getting worse. I continue to hear of parents who move into the apartment with their freshman daughter, call the college president when their child has a squabble with his roommate, or join their son at job interviews. I read recently that the average parent is in touch with their college student eleven times a day.

I’ve written about “over-functioning parents and staff” for years now, yet I still hear stories from parents who seem “proud” of their involvement in their college student’s affairs.

We now see just what the damage can be.

A study published recently in the journal Education + Training found there’s an important line to draw between parental involvement and over-parenting. “While parental involvement might be the extra boost that students need to build their own confidence and abilities, over-parenting appears to do the converse in creating a sense that one cannot accomplish things socially or in general on one’s own,” wrote the authors, two professors from California State University Fresno. The authors of “Helicopter Parents: An Examination of the Correlates of Over-parenting of College Students,” Jill C. Bradley-Geist and Julie B. Olson-Buchanan, go on to detail how over-parenting can actually ruin a child’s abilities to deal with the workplace.

Bradley-Geist and Olson-Buchanan, both management professors, surveyed more than 450 undergraduate students who were asked to “rate their level of self-efficacy, the frequency of parental involvement, how involved parents were in their daily lives, and their response to certain workplace scenarios.” The study showed that those college students with “helicopter parents” had a hard time believing in their own ability to accomplish goals. They were more dependent on others, had poor coping strategies, and didn’t have soft skills like responsibility and conscientiousness throughout college.

“I had a mom ask to sit in on a disciplinary meeting [when a student was failing]”, said Marla Vannucci, an associate professor at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago who was that student’s academic adviser. Her team let the mom sit in, but in the end, it doesn’t help. “It really breeds helplessness,” she said.

Vannucci also had a college-aged client whose parents did her homework for her. The client’s mother explained that she didn’t want her daughter to struggle the same way she had. The daughter, however, “has grown up to be an adult who has anxiety attacks anytime someone asks her to do something challenging.” She never learned how to handle anything on her own.

Four Simple Principles Parents Must Buy Into…

  1. Pay Now, Play Later.

If parents are willing to bite the bullet now and not give in to every whim their child has, they actually build a healthy son or daughter who is ready for a happy life as an adult. Think “invest,” not “spend.”

  1. The Further Out I Can See, the Better the Decision I Make Today.

If parents will consider the long-term impact of their decision to rescue their child from hardship or prevent any difficulty from happening, they will be better leaders. Think long-term readiness, not short-term happiness.

  1. It’s Better to Prepare a Child Than Repair an Adult.

Parents are not raising children—they are raising future adults. Always think: I am a trainer. Everything we do each day either prepares them for their future or fails to do so. It builds their self-esteem or depletes it.

  1. Don’t Parent to Make You Happy—Parent to Make Them Healthy.

Let’s face it. Some of what we do for our children, we do because it makes us feel better as a provider, as a caretaker, and as a person who vicariously lives out some of our kids’ joys. Be sure what you do isn’t for you, but for them.

Remember: We must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

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