Helicopter Parents concern of higher education


College and university administrators have voiced concern about parents who are overly involved in their child's higher education.

Some of these schools have put boundaries into place to restrict parents, nicknamed Helicopter Parents, who hover overhead constantly, trying to smooth the way by barraging campus offices with special requests and intervening with professors about assignments or grading.

Beverly Low, dean of the first-year class at Colgate University, noted, according to a recent "60 Minutes" report, "Where before parents would drop their kids off to college and get out of the way, parents now constantly call her office intervening in a roommate dispute or questioning a professor's grading system."

Oftentimes, the student is not aware of the parent's effort, and when it is revealed, he or she is outright embarrassed.

These parents most often complain about the immoral or sloppy behavior of assigned roommates and exaggerate health issues and other concerns to get their child's assigned dormitory changed. Some parents are determined to find out why their child cannot be placed in the already closed class of a specific professor whose positive ratings they have researched on the "Rate My Professor Web Site," a dubious resource in and of itself.

Several colleges have become so alarmed by this trend they have issued statements outlining proper parental behavior.

A newsletter published by the University of New Hampshire stated, "Unproductive involvement is when a parent condemns our actions when a student has misbehaved or when a parent gets involved when there is disagreement about a grade in class."

One would assume these edicts are common sense. And yet, what, then, are the reasons given for this trend? One obvious source is said to be a payback for the high cost of a college education.

This perspective can be rationalized: when a family is shelling out well over $100,000 over four years at a private school or close to $50,000 at many state colleges, why should they not have a say about issues such as class size and whether or not their child is taught almost exclusively by teaching assistants?

Mary Elizabeth Hughes, a sociologist at Duke University, believes, "Helicopter parenting may be an outward sign of economic anxiety, particularly when parents consider the uncertain job market that may await their children."

Competition to be accepted by competitive colleges has been a central focus of child rearing over the past several decades. Hours that in the past might have been spent relaxing at friend's home, doing one's homework at a desk or sitting down for a family dinner have been supplanted by involvement in a barrage of resume-building activities.

Many students spend more hours in the family SUV going to soccer games, eating fast food meals and doing homework in a car then at home.

Once established, the pattern of frenetic parenting is difficult to break. Students not accustomed to independent action grow to request or demand their parents take on too much responsibility for their lives.

Dr. Mel Levine, the noted professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, has written extensively on the topic. He describes children born between 1982 and 1995 as "over-managed," "very pressured" and treated by their parents as pieces of "Baccarat crystal or something that could somehow shatter at any point."

It is, therefore, understandable that when such a programmed child reaches college age, it is difficult for them to adjust to newfound independence and for the parent to step back and let them learn by trial and error.

Dr. Levine warns today's children "may well shatter" if they have not learned how to accept responsibility, success and failure. These children have been overprotected and are actually more vulnerable than some that have acquired independence as they grew up.

The parents of young children would do well to heed these warnings.

How then does a parent know when enough is enough? Parent involvement in a child's life is to be commended, of course. However, by the time a child reaches college, they should be independent enough to handle most situations.

It is necessary for all parents to determine what is a healthy concern and where they cross the line into overprotective excess. Examples of positive parental involvement throughout the years abound from joining committees, organizing events and offering requested support.

However, being involved does not mean children should not have specific, independent, age-appropriate responsibilities. Independence and responsibility can be successfully integrated into child rearing and, if applied consistently, will be much more beneficial and bring more happiness to both parent and child than the helicopter model.