Don’t Ruin Your College Kid’s Life With Helicopter Parenting

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helicopter-in-flightBy the time you send your kids to college, even the most over-protective parents have got to land their helicopters. Part of the deal with having kids is, or is supposed to be, helping them grow into human beings who are able to function when they’re out from under your shadow: children need parental attention, but they also need the space to make choices, make mistakes, and learn how to be people. I can pretty well guarantee that this kind of space is severely lacking in the life of any kid whose mom calls the president of the college he attends in order to discuss the issues he’s having with his roommate.

Jonathan Gibralter is the president of Frostburg State University, and he’s had more than his share of run-ins with low-flying helicopter moms and dads. A parent’s request of the college president to intervene in roommate squabbles is something that should happen exactly never, and yet Gibralter can list multiple examples of the phenomenon. Others have similar stories to share: Marla Vannucci, a professor at the Adler School in Chicago, describes a mom’s insistence on participating in her daughter’s academic disciplinary hearing, as well as the case of another young woman who was saved from the terrible burden of homework by her mom and dad, who didn’t want her to have to struggle. Except, apparently, with the embarrassment of having seriously overbearing parents. How do you think it feels to know that your parents don’t think you’re capable of having a rational discussion with your roommate over the appropriate times of day to play Katy Perry at maximum volume? Or who think your brain would be too traumatized by the perils of homework for you to even attempt it?

I used to work as a teaching assistant, and I had helicopter parents call me, not even in the TA office but on my personal dorm room phone, to argue about their nineteen-year-old’s grades. If it’s more important that your child gets an A in biology than that he understands the subject, all I can do is hope he’s not a pre-med major. Maybe instead of going over his head to talk to his TA, you could talk to him about his grades? Or you could let him get a C+ in biology and realize (or not) that he’s capable of picking up his own academic slack. It’s important to teach your kid to have goals, but what else are you teaching him besides How To Resent You 101 when you micromanage his life this way?

I don’t think this describes the majority of college parents, but if this hits close to home, think carefully. Hopefully your little girl has had a chance to start figuring out what kind of person she’s going to be before she walks across the high school auditorium stage in cap and gown, but if not, her first day of college is well past time for her to put on her big-girl pants. Maybe she can borrow yours, if you’re not going to use them yourself. Constant intervention to smooth the way for your children only teaches them that they can’t get anywhere without out you to hold their hands: a great message when they’re seven years old, but not so much when they’re seventeen. Studies show that helicopter parenting teaches kids helplessness, not happiness. Learning to let go is good for children, it’s good for your relationship with those kids, and it’s good for college presidents who may have better things to do than settle a fight over who used up whose lipstick without replacing it.

(Image: Makushin Alexey/Shutterstock)