When helping your child can harm their cognitive development

Parents are becoming more and more involved in their children’s lives – they do their homework for them, they call their college-age kids multiple times a day, and swoop in to personally intervene whenever something difficult happened. WATCH

However, is all this extra support actually harming our children? Research tells us that all this extra helping actually has the potential to undermine a child’s ability and need to master life’s stresses and strains in the times when you are not around.

A key skill that is missing in children of helicopter parents is the ability to self-direct their behavior – to set goals, identify what is important and work towards that. Some researchers have coined the phrase “grit”, -perseverance and passion for long-term goals

A recent study of 6-7 year-olds found that those who were surrounded with more structured activities (led by someone) were less able to use their brain power to direct their own play. This is an important skill – it helps them be self advocates in life.

Without it, we are raising children who are reliant on others to fight their own battles and accomplish them their goals (feeling a sense of entitlement). A study of over 400 adolescents found that kids with helicopter parents were more likely to skip class and turn papers in late.

It’s not just children – college students are also affected.

  • 71% of parents send at least 3 texts per day to their child at college.
  • About half of parents call their child at college more than three times per day. 
  • 50% of parents say they communicate the same amount with their child even though the child is out of the home.

Multiple studies have found that college students who have helicopter parents have lowered sense of self-efficacy—the belief that they are capable of meeting life’s demands and solving their own problems. 

They also struggle to respond well in stressful workplace situations, such as when they receive a negative performance review from an employer. Instead of responding by saying they would listen to the criticism and try to improve -  they were more likely to say that they would quit the job or even ask a parent to call the manager on their behalf.

What can you do to help our children establish independence?

·       Test Boundaries

Take them to the playground and avoid helicopter parenting. If they are old enough, let them use their own judgment about the risks they take. You can always step in if you think it is necessary. Indoor climbing walls are great places for them to learn to control their fear in a safe setting.

·       Follow your child’s lead— Let them be proactive in decision making in some situations.

·       Let them solve small problems on their own – don’t be so quick to intervene. Let them learn to speak up for themselves.

Back to School Topics: Are early school start times hurting students? Should parents help with homework?

It’s the start of a new school year and the homework has already started piling up. A recent survey found that students cited homework as the number 1 cause of stress in their life!

So does homework actually improve academic performance and should parents get involved?

A review of 20 years of research found the following:

  • In High School – 1 hour of homework resulted in better academic performance
  • In Junior high – less than 1 hour of homework resulted in better academic performance. But if they are doing 1-2 hours a night – the benefits fade.
  • In grade school (K-6), the link between homework and good grades is less clear.



  1. Research shows that parental involvement has a positive benefit – but only for elementary and high school; not for middle school

Why not in middle school? Children are going through a major developmental transition where they are seeking independence and autonomy so there can be conflict between the parent and the child that affects homework completion.

  1. What kind of parental involvement is helpful?

Direct aid – parental instruction, helping the child with time-on-task, guide them

  1. What kind of parental involvement is NOT helpful?

Monitoring - Beware the helicopter parent. This kind of involvement is often viewed as controlling rather than helpful.


Sleep Deprivation Undermines Classroom Performance.

When over 500 high school students kept journals of their sleep habits for two weeks, one study found:

  • Less Sleep = worse performance.

WHY? Working Memory does double duty – it has to do it’s job PLUS the job of the brain’s language center (think of the tip of the tongue phenomenon when you are tired)

TIPS for your child to get better sleep

  • Learn before bedtime – one study found that when participants learned information just before bedtime, they remembered it better than those who learned the same information during the day.


  • Turn of the blue light (light emitted from electronics, computers)
    • Blue light suppresses production of Melatonin – regulates sleep cycle
    • Result: Increase feeling of sleepiness