Editor's Note (The View From Here)

The Helicopters

September is here, the students are back … and so are the parents! Some of the biggest challenges faced by college administrators and staff are not the students, but the parents (a.k.a. helicopter parents, lawnmower parents, snowplow parents, bulldozer parents, cosseting parents) trying to control every aspect of their child’s life.

Being an involved parent is one thing, but over-parenting is a totally different issue. Helicopter parents believe that their intervention will protect their child, keep them happy and prevent struggles or failures. The issue is that struggles and failures are an important part of growing up and are necessary for developing life, coping and survival skills. Instead, many students are suffering from anxiety, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, which will hamper their ability to handle what life is going to throw at them.

Add to that the issues of entitlement and lack of personal responsibility. Many students (and parents) feel they are entitled to good grades (despite the fact that it is not uncommon for 30 to 40 percent of college students to skip any given class). They have no problem demanding professors lower their standards, or publicly complaining or harassing them (in person or online) if they don’t.

Each year when we do our survey on college housing, the number of housing directors who point to entitlement issues and issues with helicopter parenting grows. When asked the question, “What is the biggest change you have seen in residence halls in the last five years?” the answers are telling. The attitude of the students and parents; student and parent expectations; the maturity level of students; less independence and more students are having mom and dad handling their business.

Other surveys show that 93 percent of student affairs professionals reported an increase in interaction with parents in the last five years (Merriman, 2007). Seventy-four percent of parents communicate with their college-student children at least two to three times weekly, with fully a third communicating daily (College Parents of America Survey, 2006). A 2013 Clark University poll found that two-thirds of moms and more than half of fathers say they have some form of contact with their adult child almost every day.

Parental support is undeniably good. But personally I have never felt the need to live my children’s lives for them. It was my job to help them understand that sometimes they will fail, that there is value in hard work, that there is no elevator to the top and that once they reached the age of maturity, the responsibility was theirs — not mine.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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