Parent and Child

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how giving children less autonomy puts them at higher risk for anxiety.

Now a group of psychologists in Australia have proposed a solution to this problem: online interventions for overprotective parents.

The researchers have long been interested in how interventions can help parents cultivate independence, but their latest study on the topic looks at whether these interventions can be done online for the sake of convenience.

In the study, 433 parents were accepted into a program designed to teach strategies to lower “avoidant coping” in children, “encourage child independence,” and “reduce parental overprotection.” All of the parents had children with “inhibited temperaments” who were deemed to be at risk for anxiety disorders. The online program included eight sections on parenting techniques and was supplemented with the option to consult a psychologist on the phone.

When the researchers surveyed participants at the half way point and the end of the program, they found that the intervention seemed to help. Compared children whose parents hadn’t participated in the intervention, those whose parents had reported fewer anxiety symptoms and lower rates of anxiety disorders. The intervention was an online version of an in-person intervention the researchers are also testing, so it remains to be seen how the two types of interventions will compare.

But the results suggest that even online interventions that help parents encourage independence could lower children’s risk for anxiety disorders.

Overprotective parenting has been cited as one way mental health problems are transmitted across generations. For example, a 2016 study found that mothers with borderline personality disorder are more likely to display overprotective parenting as well as hostile and insensitive parenting, which in turn raises children’s risk for depression, emotional dysregulation and symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact online interventions can have in breaking these kinds of cycles. But the new study suggests that at the very least they can’t hurt, and they could actually lower children’s risk for developing psychiatric disorders.

Image: Flickr/Baloozer