By Patti Richards
Most American parents work hard to make sure their kids excel in every way. From sports travel teams and private tutoring to advanced placement classes and community volunteering, parents know the doors high achievement can open for their children.
But the pressure to achieve in college at the same level as secondary school can quickly send young adults searching for ways to boost performance. This is especially true for children who’ve lived most of their lives with what are commonly known as “helicopter parents.”
The term “helicopter parent” was first coined in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 parenting book Parents and Teenagers. In the book, teens said their parents hovered over them like helicopters.1 In other words, parents who are overly focused on their children step in to do things they think the children can’t do for themselves, especially when it involves a decision or action they think can make or break a child’s future. This type of parenting sees adults taking too much responsibility for their children’s successes or failures, to the point of overcontrolling and overprotecting in every area.1
Question of Independence
Going from an environment where helicopter parents handle everything — from daily schedules to completing challenging projects — to an environment where time management is the sole responsibility of the college freshman can be shocking. During high school, helicopter parents are so aware of the demands on their children’s time and talents they step in when things become difficult. Rather than allowing children to struggle with a decision, make a choice or deal with interpersonal relationships, parents swoop in and solve problems.
Never having followed a situation through to its natural conclusion causes college students to panic. Drugs like Adderall, used to help increase the mental focus of those struggling with ADD or ADHD, may seem like a good alternative for dealing with the stress of newfound independence. But Adderall and other stimulant medications are highly habit-forming and can quickly lead to addiction when used in ways other than prescribed by a physician.
A recent U.S. News & World Report article suggests that young adults may have a false sense of security when it comes to trying stimulant drugs to increase performance. Many students have taken Adderall for years to help with ADD/ADHD symptoms, and some are more than willing to share or sell their prescription drugs to friends who need help. The sense that these drugs are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor may make experimenting with them seem less dangerous.2
According to a recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, prescriptions written for Adderall between the study periods of 2006 to 2011 were essentially unchanged. However, during this same period of time, the non-medical use of Adderall rose 67 percent, with emergency room visits increasing by 156 percent. The study also found that the major source for non-medical use of Adderall was family or close friends who had the medication prescribed to them.3
How You Can Help
If you tended to be an overprotective parent during your child’s school years and you see her struggling with the stress of college life, it’s never too late to help her become more independent.
Let her know that finding a balance between academics, social life, rest and healthy exercise is an important part of becoming an adult. Show her that you trust her ability to make good choices by stepping back and giving your opinion only when asked. Share with her that you expect her best effort always, but that her best may look different than it did in high school. Talk to her about the dangers of drug use and the implications for her future if she misuses a prescription substance.
And perhaps most importantly, accept the fact that she will make both good and bad choices and that your support, rather than your control, will help her weather life’s storms and come out stronger.
Finding Help for Substance Abuse
If you are the parent of a young adult who is struggling with substance abuse, we’re here for you. Call us 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about the treatment options that are available to you and your loved ones.
1 Bayless, Kate. “What Is Helicopter Parenting?” Parents, June 11, 2015.
2 Pannoni, Alexandra. “3 Things Parents of High Schoolers Need to Know About ‘Study Drugs’.” U.S. News & World Report, February 22, 2016.