Hara Estroff Marano’s A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting (2008, Broadway Books) takes a critical look at the costs of “over-parenting” one’s child. Perfect for all involved in high education including parents, students, administrators and professors, this well-researched book offers case studies and longitudinal results which provide an in-depth explanation of the negative consequences of the “helicopter parent.”
A parent tries to do the best for their child, but does a parent ever do too much? If so, “hovering” occurs, thus, making one a helicopter parent, a phrased coined when Baby Boomers’ kids entered adolescence. Taking a developmental perspective from elementary age through college, Marano pinpoints several critical years in a student’s development and the consequences, often times unintended, of overly invasive parenting. With pressure to have the “perfect child,” this book argues that parents create a stressful environment from birth, leaving a child conditioned to believe one must never fail, and as having never failed – either through the fear of risk-taking or constant rescuing from a parent – the child never learns resilience necessary for the real world. Even a benign request in middle school such as “Mom, I forgot my gym shoes, can you bring them” can give off a message that mom will always be there to rescue you, even though not having your gym shoes for one day may result in a few points off your grade, but certainly life will go on. This book points out that more and more, parents are calling colleges to request schedule changes, inquire about why a course is offered during a time where a potential assistantship exists, or tell the coach their kid deserves more playing time, causing stress for all involved. Even at an appropriate developmental time-point to address issues such as roommates, dining hall plans, or parking spaces, parents are the ones stepping in and fixing it for their young adult child, further perpetuating the notion that “parents will fix it for you.”
Morano explains that more serious consequences may evolve over time, including chronic anxiety, depression, and lack of confidence in one’s ability to solve their own problems. These byproducts become especially apparent in the college years and post-grad life, as there has been a huge increase in students being seen in college mental health centers for issues greater than “my boyfriend dumped me.” Additionally, a student may be plagued with a fear of taking chances, or even of disappointing a parent with choice of job, location, or further graduate school plans.As a result, critical problem solving skills and independence may never have been fostered through high school and even into college.
While the content of this book may be difficult for parents to accept, it is a necessary read for anyone with a college-bound student. The delivery of this topic is informative, not critical, and provides perspective from leading higher education and psychological professionals, as well as students who have experienced these issues, with helpful suggestions for fostering adaptive ability in any stage of a child’s development. This creates an open dialogue with parents as opposed to an attack, which may have unwanted negative backlash. Students, too, can learn a lot from this book, as an adult child also has the responsibility to create a healthy set of boundaries and express their needs without being concerned about being feeling shame or selfishness (a typical byproduct when a child grows up attempting to fill the expectations of the parent and not themselves). A quick read with useful information and a fantastic index, this book should serve as a reference for those in the field of higher education for years to come.