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The Perils of Too Much Parenting

Traditionally, being dropped off at college, moving into that dorm room, has been a liberating moment for kids -- but not so much anymore.


On "The Early Show", Barbara K. Hofer, co-author of "The iConnected Parent" (read an excerpt) and a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, said it's all because of the unlimited cell phone plan.

"So much changed just a few years ago," Hofer said. "When you think about what happened when kids went away to college: They called home maybe once a week, but what I started observing was that kids were walking out of class, flipping up their cell phones and, rather than calling their friends, they were calling Mom and Dad to say, 'I got a "C" on the calculus test' or 'Wait until you hear what happened with my roommate last night!"'

But isn't it a good thing that children want to stay connected to their parents?

Hofer said, "There are good and bad points on this. I was interested in what's good about this in terms of this new relationship kids have with their parents, but also what are some of the negative consequences: What does it mean when kids are so connected that they're not autonomous, independent and growing into adulthood the way they should."

Hofer found the ones who talk the most with their parents are the least autonomous, and are the least likely to regulate their own behavior.

Child and adolescent psychologist and "Early Show" contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein said these kids are not becoming adults.

"Essentially, they are really having a very hard time becoming the independent thinkers that we hope moving through adolescence and going to college will allow them to be," she explained. "They're still relying on their parents to help make big decisions, maybe changes, figure out how to handle situations that we hope that, while they're in college, you're learning to handle on their own."

In fact, in Hofer's study, 19 percent of kids were e-mailing papers home for their parents to check.

Why do some parents feel they have to be so connected?

"I think parents are so over-involved," Hartstein said. "We learn very early, be part of PTA, be part of activities, be the coach, so we learn early be involved, and then all of a sudden, we're moving through and it's, 'OK, don't be involved anymore.' So I think there is this need to know what's happening at all times, and how do you learn as a parent, as much as a kid, to step back from that. And that's the challenge."

In fact, the connectivity Hofer found in her studies increased dramatically following college. Parents and kids, she found, connected 13 times a week during the college years and 17 times a week after college ended.

Hofer said parents and kids connect for a variety of reasons at this stage in their lives.

"'Do I boil the water before I put the spaghetti in?' 'How do I separate the laundry?' -- Whatever it might be. The parents are live and available for this kind of consultation," Hofer said.

So when do kids become adults?

"This is what worries us," Hofer said, adding, "They do become adults if the parents learn to back off a little bit. And it's not just about letting go, which is what parents have been told to do. It's about letting go while staying connected, and how to stay connected in healthy ways."

How should parents make sure they give them the love and the kicks out the out the door?

Hartstein said, "We want to teach early how they can schedule their own time. They go college, they have lots of free time. Do they know what to do with it? Can they get up in the morning, get to practice, all that stuff. We also want to teach them how to manage money. They don't know. Now they're at school, and they have a budget, but they can burn through money quickly. So you want to teach that early, also."

In addition, Hartstein said, parents need to teach kids to ask for help when they need it.

"This is hard for adults to do, but if kids are starting to feel like they're over their head, we want to teach them that it's OK, validate their worry about that, and try to help them problem-solve themselves instead of solving it for them."

As for the kids who can become more independent, Hofer said her research showed they are more successful. For instance, they have higher grade point averages, procrastinate less and have better relationships with their parents.

Hofer said, "By contrast, the parents who are still regulating their kids, still call to go remind them, 'I have your syllabus, and I can see that you have a test this week -- have you studied for it?' -- they're the ones still having a difficult time, and they're not as happy with the college experience."