Affirming “Helicopter Parents”: How To Hover Constructively
This is the third of three posts that consider the concept of college helicopter parents. The concept is certainly not new, but it warrants continual examination – and sometimes redefinition. In our first post, we looked at the definition of helicopter parents, as well as some of the motivation behind parental hovering. In our second post, we examined who helicopter parents are and how they operate, and in this post, we consider the consequences of helicoptering and suggest some possible ways in which parents might hover productively.
Helicopter parents, (those parents who hover closely over their children, ready to swoop in at a moment’s notice to rescue the student or attack the enemy) have caused colleges to express concern about parental involvement in college students’ lives. Many colleges clearly send messages to parents to “back off” or “stay away”. In most instances, it doesn’t work. Parents continue to be closely involved in their students’ lives because they feel that they are needed to help the student be successful. Many parents may not fully understand the consequences of excessive involvement or hovering.
What are the negative consequences of hovering too closely?
- Parents who intervene constantly in their student’s college life and experiences may hinder student’s development and growing self-advocacy and independence. One of the goals of the college experience is to allow the student to become an independent adult. When parents jump in too quickly or too often, the student does not have the opportunity to develop his independence.
- Parents who continually check up on their student and who jump in quickly may be sending the student the message that they do not trust her and do not think that she is capable of making decisions or handling her problems.
- Parents who are quick to the rescue are not allowing their student to experience some failures in the relatively safe environment of college. Students learn through their experiences (including the consequences of their actions) and from occasional failures. (Babies fall as they learn to walk, children fall off bikes as they learn to ride, adults lob tennis balls over the fence before they learn to ace the serve.) College is, in some important ways, practice for life. Students who do not have the opportunity to practice making mistakes may make their mistakes later when the stakes are higher.
- Parents who rescue their student throughout his college experience are not helping to prepare him for the “real” world of work following college. Human Resource offices and work supervisors will not be responsive to helicopter parents.
- Parents who hover too closely over their college child are not allowing themselves to move on and to let go. The college years mark a transition for parents as well as for students and some parents may need to work to redefine their role during this time. It is not a lesser role, it is a different role.
Is it possible to hover, or be a helicopter parent, in a positive way?
We believe that the answer to this question is a resounding yes! It is the foundation of the philosophy of College Parent Central. We believe that parents who are perceptive and knowledgeable can and should be involved in their college students’ lives in a positive way.
- Recognize that college marks a transition both for your college student and for you. Examine your motivations for your involvement in your student’s life and take action to help yourself make the transition to a new role in parenting.
- Re-evaluate your foundational goals for your college student. If your goal is for your student to have the opportunity to grow in all aspects of her life, and to gain experience in self-advocacy and independence to prepare her for her life after college, then limiting your involvement will help her attain that long-term goal. Focusing on the long-term rather than short-term goals will help.
- Arm yourself with knowledge. Many parents hover because they do not understand what their student is doing or why the college has certain expectations or institutes certain policies. The more that you, as a college parent, understand about the college experience, the more comfortable you will be with your child’s experiences.
- Find the appropriate level of involvement. This may take some trial and error, but continually evaluating and assessing your actions will help you determine whether you have overstepped or overdistanced.
- Recognize that the college years are a progression. As your student progresses and develops throughout his college experiences he should need you less and less. Recognize that your college junior or senior has come a long way since his freshman year.
- Do more listening than talking. Definitely be there for your student as she turns to you for solace, support or advice, but listen and encourage without acting.
- Whenever possible, keep your communication and involvement with your student rather than with the college directly. You may need to guide and encourage your student in her interactions with the college, but she should take action rather than you.
- Recognize that concern and caring do not require action and micromanagement. When you listen, or offer support, or reassure, or chide or scold, you are actively involved and not passively standing by.
- Be proud of your student and how far she has come and will go. Let her know often that you recognize and value what she is doing and how much she is growing. Let her know that you are there (hovering?) in order to appreciate and support what she is doing. This is definitely productive hovering.