Over-Involved Parenting and Competition in Youth Development Programs

Over-Involved Parenting and Competition in Youth Development Programs

Download PDF
Michael Wallace, M.Ed., WSU Extension Regional Specialist, WSU Extension Youth and Families Program, Elizabeth Weybright, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, WSU Department of Human Development and Extension Youth and Families Program, Bridget Rohner, M.Ed., County Director, WSU Lincoln County, WSU Extension Youth and Families Program, Jenn Crawford, MPA, Extension Educator, WSU Extension Youth and Families Program
Without a doubt, parenting is a difficult life project. And, while every parent wants their child to be successful, an over-involved parent steps in to solve their child’s problems, complete their child’s tasks, and defend their child’s efforts. Competitive events, in particular, can elicit negative and combative responses from over-involved parents, as they seek to protect their child or ensure their child’s success. This publication discusses over-involved parenting and presents approaches for youth program volunteers who may encounter such parents.
Section 3 Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Mauris sit amet pulvinar massa, vel suscipit turpis. Vestibulum sollicitudin felis sit amet mi luctus, sed malesuada nibh ultricies. Nam sit amet accumsan dui, vitae placerat tortor. Vestibulum facilisis fermentum dignissim. Maecenas ultrices cursus diam, eu volutpat urna viverra non.




Community-based youth programs frequently rely on volunteers and thrive through dedicated parent involvement. Effective youth program professionals must recognize the delicate balance between encouraging supportive parents and discouraging over-involved parenting behaviors. Successful youth programs can help the parenting community establish norms that support positive youth development. Increasing the responsibilities and autonomy granted to youth as they mature is an important expectation of positive youth development. Parents may require additional support and education in this practice.

Over-Involved Parenting: What is it?

Over-involved parents (originally labeled “helicopter parents” by Haim Ginott in 1969) are defined by psychologist Ann Dunnewold (2007) as “’being involved in a child’s life in a way that is over-controlling, over-protecting, and over-perfecting in excess of responsible parenting.” Being involved in a child’s upbringing is necessary, the key difference in over-involved parenting are qualifiers such as: excessive, frequent and constant.

College administrators began using the term “helicopter parent” in the early 2000s, as the Millennial Generation began attending college. Faculty and administration began noticing an increase in practices such as parents calling their children every morning to wake them up for class, and confronting the professors about their children’s grades. In addition, summer camp staff increasingly report more parents who demand daily phone contact with their children who are away at camp.

This style of parenting is not new, but has been increasingly noted in popular press, youth programs, and research. While every parent naturally desires to have a successful child, the over-involved parent makes a habit of stepping in to solve their child’s problems, completing their child’s tasks, and defending their child’s efforts. Competitive events, in particular, may quickly elicit negative and combative responses from over-involved parents, as they seek to protect their child, ensure their child’s success, or jockey their child’s position and opportunities in a youth program or educational system.


Is it an Issue?

The over-involved parent’s assistance may interfere with the child’s developing sense of autonomy (LeMoyne and Buchanan 2011). In America and other developed countries, adolescence has now been cited by some developmental psychologists to begin at age twelve and last into the mid-twenties (Weinberger et al. 2005). Due to this extension of adolescence, individuals between 18 and 25 years old have been termed “emerging adults” (Arnett 2000).

Emerging adulthood is a period characterized by instability and a focus on the self—characteristics that used to be assigned to teenagers. Emerging adults may be influenced by over-involved parents for significantly longer periods of time as their path to independence is delayed.

Some current research of young adults in college is uncovering an association between increased cell phone use, daily contact with parents, and social anxiety (Lepp et al. 2014), and approximately 80% of college students now return to live with their parents after graduation—a number that has been steadily increasing over the past few years (Ogunwole 2009).

By their late twenties, emerging adults who have been denied the opportunity to develop autonomy may not possess the life skills required to function independently as young adults (Bayless 2015). Opportunities to develop autonomy and decision-making skills are necessary for healthy adult functioning. Growing children require increasing opportunities to act and speak for themselves.

Research has begun to identify developmental and psychological issues in some emerging adults raised by excessively over-involved parents. These issues include under-developed coping skills, performance anxiety, decreased self-confidence, and depression (Bayless 2015). Over-controlling parental behavior may interfere with motivation and learning (Ryan and Deci 2003), lead to increased rebellious teen behavior and risk taking (Weybright et al. 2014), and create stresses on the parent’s health (Dunnewold 2007).

For youth development programs, over-involved parents may create hostile social environments that are not conducive to positive growth and learning (Hong et al. 2014).



Copyright 2015 Washington State University

WSU Extension bulletins contain material written and produced for public distribution. Alternate formats of our educational materials are available upon request for persons with disabilities. Please contact Washington State University Extension for more information

Issued by Washington State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Extension programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination regarding race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, and national or ethnic origin; physical, mental, or sensory disability; marital status or sexual orientation; and status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local WSU Extension office. Trade names have been used to simplify information; no endorsement is intended.