Helicopter Parenting

I’m sure you’ve heard the term.

Illustration, Zohar Lazar, Bostonia Magazine

If you haven’t, a helicopter parent is (according to Wikipedia) a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. In other words, one that won’t let the student think for themselves but instead is overly involved in every detail of the student’s life including, in some instances, completing a Master Promissory Note for a student loan (no kidding on that one). It’s ridiculous and it’s got to stop!

I noticed someone remarking online about their conversation with a friend and local business owner. She was lamenting the scarcity of twenty-something employees who could think on their feet. “Can you believe some of their parents call to arrange the job interview?,” she remarked. “These kids can’t make a decision. If there’s an issue in the store and I’m not there, they get right on the phone. They don’t know how to problem solve on the simplest levels.”

Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay coined and defined “helicopter parents” very precisely in a section on “ineffective parenting styles” in their 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility (updated version here). Most recently, TIME Magazine had an article about this very subject. So, here’s the deal folks. It’s not your life you are living vicariously through your children. It is their life. They must take responsibility. They must be involved and an active participant in their own life. The skills that are learned via basic problem solving as a child carry through to adulthood. If these skills aren’t learned the child becomes an ineffective adult.

Yes, it’s important not to just leave the student up to their own devices because they are not the most responsible beings and are prone to lapses in judgement. I understand that. However, there is a fine line. You must remember that this student is well on their way to being an adult and legally they must be in charge of their own finances, etc. You cannot go online and register them in courses each semester “because they are busy” … what happens when they need to go online and pay their mortgage, are you going to do that for them as well because they’re only going to get busier as they age.

Please, for the love of God, stop controlling every little thing they do. Make them call us to inquire about their account. Yes, you can sit right next to them and feed them questions if you have to … but it’s best that they learn for themselves. Allow them to make mistakes. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way or you won’t learn at all. Most important, do not call us up and immediately start in with how you feel we are “screwing over” your student or that you’re prepared to “go to the news” with your disgust. Your disgust is primarily a response to the fact that your student hasn’t followed instructions or made inquiries or basically done what they needed to do.

I’m just being honest here. I know people who managed to go through their entire college career and never visit my office once. Which means, that they looked stuff up and made the appropriate calls and handled their business in a timely manner. It can be done folks. When something is asked for it helps to read the request fully so as not to miss anything. It also helps to read the website or emails or the catalog. READ. It’s not that hard. Of course, shit happens. I get that. Sometimes it can’t be avoided and we’re definitely here to help. When you come in with guns a blazin’ though it really doesn’t make us what to help you at all. And please, if you are 30 years old and in Graduate School … don’t have your mom call to handle your business for you … not cool.