Helicopter parents are putting children at risk of eating disorders

Helicopter parents are putting their children at risk of eating disorders, new study suggests

  • Over-intrusion and involvement in a child’s life is known as ‘helicopter parenting’
  • It has been linked to unhealthy behaviors in children, such as body dysmorphia
  •  READ MORE: The risks of Kourtney Kardashian’s ‘attachment’ parenting style

‘Momager’ Kris Jenner is famously overly involved in her children’s lives. She admitted in an Instagram video: ‘I’m an old-fashioned helicopter mom’

Children of overbearing and controlling parents are more likely to develop body dysmorphia than others, a new study has shown. 

The mental health problem involves obsessing over perceived flaws in appearence, and is a leading risk factor for eating disorders.

The findings published in The Journal of Affective Disorders show that over-involved parents- often referred to as ‘helicopter parenting’ – are associated with unhealthy behaviors in children, like compulsive skin-picking and an extreme focus on their appearance.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of over-involved parenting comes from reality star ‘momager’ Kris Jenner. The mother of-six admitted in an Instagram video: ‘I’m an old-fashioned helicopter mom.’

An online survey was conducted with more than 700 Italian men and women aged 18-77.

Different questionnaires were used to assess body dysmorphia, how overcontrolling  parents were and exposure to different types of childhood trauma.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental illness where an individual is obsessed with a perceived flaw in appearance. There are more than 200,000 cases of BDD diagnosed in America every year.

Studies show that up to 38 per cent of people with BDD also have an eating disorder, or are at risk of developing one. 

Parental over-control was linked to more severe dysmorphic symptoms, the researchers confirmed using statistical analysis.

Research found that intrusion into a child’s life – often referred to as ‘helicopter parenting’ – is associated with unhealthy behaviors in children, like an extreme focus on perceived flaws in their appearance

This was found to be true independent of other factors, such as traumatic experiences, alcohol and tobacco use.

The authors of the study, from the European University of Rome, Italy, said: ‘Parental attitudes of replacing the child in managing his or her own life may create a sense of defectiveness, frailty and inadequacy, and may foster perceptions of the world as demanding, threatening, [and] judgmental. 

‘Involving body image, these altered internal representations would explain dysmorphic concern through shame, anxiety, and the expectation of social rejection.’

Overbearing parents can result in their child developing feelings of weakness and inadequacy, which may manifest in embarrassment of and or anxiety toward their body.

The researchers also said that ‘parental intrusiveness’ could ‘undermine the child’s ability to manage internal states, leading to dysfunctional coping strategies, including restrictive eating.

Previous research has linked parental overcontrol to eating disorders. A 2020 review of research reported that multiple studies found dysfunctional parental bonding characterized by excessive overcontrol in individuals with eating disorders.

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