When people go off to college, they’re essentially “leaving the nest.” For the last 18 years they’ve lived in arm’s length of their parents, and then suddenly… it’s time to fly solo. This rang mostly true for me: upon moving into my dorm, I embraced a newfound independence. But I didn’t completely take flight until a year later when I moved again—only this time across the globe.

I lived abroad for three months during undergrad. Homebase was a hostel in Switzerland, but I spent most of my time roaming Europe: visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris; peering in awe over the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland; and boating through the channels of Italy. The world was my classroom and my homework was to explore… but it didn’t go without some additional assigned reading—I was still a student, anyhow. While I must admit that I can’t recall a majority of those readings, there is one that stuck with me: an article about “coddling” and how this affects kids. Coddling is essentially the act of overprotecting. And the gist of the article was that parents who coddle their children—sometimes referred to as “helicopter parents”—can hinder their kids’ growth and development.

I couldn’t have read this article at a more relevant time. My journey out of the country was testing my abilities, my values, and my maturity—all of which I developed over the last decade with a little help from my mom and dad. In my opinion, they mastered the art of parenting: they knew when and how much to give; they stepped in when I needed their expertise; and most importantly, they let me live and learn. Thanks to them and the parenting style they assumed, I was equipped for my trip—and ultimately for adulthood. But that isn’t always the case. Parents may just as easily adapt harmful habits such as coddling, which can negatively affect their kids, as explained in that article I read years ago. Here are four of those potential harmful effects:

    1) Low self-esteem

    An individual’s self-esteem relies heavily on tackling goals or challenges and accomplishing those feats on their own. This, however, is unlikely to happen if an overprotective parent is in the picture. Consider the following: Curtis was just taken out of his soccer game after only a few minutes of play-time. Before he can talk to his coach about it, his angry mother steps in and criticizes Coach Jeffrey, while Curtis stands idly by. Curtis’s mother shouldn’t have swooped in; she should’ve given her son the chance to handle it. Assessing and managing situations of the like are crucial to the development of a child’s self-esteem.

    2) Entitlement

    Helicopter parents often cultivate a sense of entitlement in their children: they rarely (if ever) say the word “no,” they cater to their kid’s every request, and they do whatever it takes to protect them from getting disappointed. Parents may sincerely believe they’re doing it for the betterment of their child—but what often results is an entitled individual,
    who expects to be handed everything they want in life. Instead, parents should allow their child to experience a little disappointment (nobody said you couldn’t comfort them) and teach them that nothing’s to be taken for granted—they must work for it.

    3) Risky Behavior

    If parents hover too close, they run the risk of raising a risk-taking child or teenager. Kids who feel overwhelmed by their parents are more likely to engage in risky behavior when presented the opportunity because they’ve been denied that freedom and independence for so long. They’ll jump at every opportunity to take control and test the boundaries, which may involve dangerous activities like experimenting with drugs and alcohol. To prevent your child from engaging in risky behavior, it is important parents given them room to breathe and help them develop a sense of responsibility.

    4) Anxiety

    Coddling your kids can even lead to the development of certain mental illnesses, such as anxiety. It’s understandable for a parent to hesitate loosening the leash… freeing their child to make their own decisions, to learn from their own mistakes—but doing so is essential to a child’s development. If you instead step in to catch every curveball thrown their way, they’ll prove ill-equipped and afraid to take on the slightest of challenges alone. Ease up on that grip, knowing it’s in the best interest of your child, their development, and their mental health.