Thursday, November 3, 2011

Helicopter Parents - Guess Who the Enablers are?

You've probably heard the term "helicopter parents"by now - parents who literally hover over their children, taking care of their every need, doing their school projects for with them, and intervening whenever there's a problem. There are so many articles about the whole phenomenon (and the backlash) a quick Google on it will fill you in.

College professors in particular, have a lot to say about these parents. Apparently the term was coined by them as they experienced parents becoming far more involved in the application and admissions process than ever before. They (the profs) tell of parents sleeping on the floor outside the dorm room to make sure the student is settling in OK, and phoning up to ask why their child got a B on a paper instead of an A. Heck, out in the corporate world, we're even hearing about parents wanting to attend interviews with their offspring, and intervening when an appraisal wasn't as glowing as they had anticipated.

As the parent of a freshman (first year) who's currently dealing with a minor issue, it's hard not to pick the phone up, shout loudly and "sort it out", or worse, phone the parent of the other student. I will refrain. I think.

However, as someone new to the whole college thing, I cannot believe how much the parents are involved whether they want to be or not. Of course, most of this is because the colleges are always fund-raising, so we get invited to breakfasts, lunches, meetings etc, all in the attempt to get us to write a check/cheque to the scholarship or endowment fund. I know the game.

What I wasn't quite prepared for was the expectation of an on-going role in my adult daughter's college life. After all, it was made perfectly plain at the beginning that although we are financially responsible for her college education, we can't see her grades unless she signs a form allowing it. (I know. Bloody cheek. She signed.)  Last week, I received a form in the mail encouraging me to sign up to send her a "care package" during finals week, because students who don't receive a care package might feel bad! There's a whole industry around this, called - wait for it - Gift University! Here's another one with the even more ridiculous name of My Favorite Student! (Since I know you're reading this Q, this isn't to say I won't be sending a package, but it won't be this impersonal rubbish.)

In the past couple of weeks I have received several e-mails about campus activities, then yesterday I received an one informing me of some up-coming careers event, and asking me to forward the e-mail to my student. I clicked on the link, out of interest, and found that I wasn't allowed to see it because I don't have a password. So wait? You are literally sending me an e-mail to forward to my kid, even tho' she has a college e-mail account and you have the address?

Colleges. I'm calling you out. Don't complain about helicopter parents and then turn around and bombard us with news about campus life. You're supposed to be weaning parents and their adult children off each other.


  1. I agree totally. My son is a freshman in college. I was determined to be hands off like my parents were - a foundation of experience to fall back upon if needed but not taking care of things. We got to the extent of here's your finances, manage them to pay for what you need. But our college even has a parent webpage, sends out alerts about campus life, and yes the ever present "care package" sales flyers. IF I want to send my son a care package I'll make one and mail it (yep I've done that myself). He's learning to be an adult by life experiences in college. We are there should he need and ask for help but gotta fall and get up a few times on your own when learning to stand on your own two feet.

  2. This post has stressed me out and my daughter is only 13.5! My (step) daughter is at Durham and there doesn't seem to be this level of involvement... but perhaps it's a matter of time. I hope not. I kind of liked sending her little packages every now and then as a surprise, not an organised event!

  3. This sounds crazy! Do you think this is just an American trend?

  4. Oh good grief this all sounds like complete nonsense! I hate it when 3rd party groups get involved - why on earth would you pay a company to send your kid a care package for heavens sake?
    I'm hoping that common sense has prevailed by the time my two go to college :-)

  5. Wow, talk about mixed messages!

  6. All sounds a bit crazy - a sort of continuation of the 'lunchbox message' theme I think. When I went to University, I spoke to my parents once every couple of weeks and certainly didn't receive 'care packages'. Surely going away to college is all about learning to foster your own independence?

  7. Do you know what? This can go on for life!
    Mums always seem to come in handy for baby sitting, advice and many, many things. Just wait and see!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  8. Maggie - so sad that I readily believe you. Sigh!

    Trish - I think that when the UK universities (and parents) get used to the whole fund-raising thing, parents will receive e-mails etc. which are thinly-disguised ways of getting you to donate. It's all about creating a "family" and loyalty. People over here donate to high school and college foundations for the rest of their lives.

    Michelloui - I would like to think UK universities (and parents) wouldn't go this far, but you never know. The whole concept of helicopter parenting is alive and well over at your end!

  9. Update - I have just received an e-mail about the college's lost and found office, which I am encouraged to share with my student. Good lord!

  10. Thanks for the warning: I'll be flying back in January to get Son#1 settled in at University.
    This doesn't surprise me too much, though. I worked as a part-time lecturer at a university in the US a few years ago and was stunned to get e-mails from parents, asking for information about their children's marks in my course (which, of course, I could not legally provide, the children being legal adults.) The 'care package'industry thing I find equally ridiculous. There are similar companies doing the same thing for kids at camp; when the boys went in the summer, we were bombarded with offers from companies who provided care packages to the campers for busy parents. I see this as sending the same message as the notes: "I'm too busy to do anything personal for you, so I'll pay to have someone else pack/write something telling you I care about you."

  11. Wow! I am amazed to hear all of this. The only thing the parents of my students get is a parents evening once a year. The rest is up to the students. And much better I say!!

  12. Hahaha. This sounds so alien to me. And slightly crazy.

  13. Blimey that sounds mad. The only care package most students expect is a bank transfer every now and them and their washing done when they go home isn't it??
    It must be very strange to deal with. I will send Miss E over to sing to you.

  14. I really hope British universities don't do the same thing, or if they send me emails about lost and found offices or whatever, I will be sending one back saying "f*** off, I don't want to know this tripe". And then they will hate me and fail my son out of spite.

    I don't swear as a matter of course, but some things warrant it. It would annoy the hell out of me. I'm sure I'll send Son the odd £20, or take him to the supermarket when I visit or whatever, but really, the rest is up to him. I don't need to know stuff from the college.

    TBH I'm not even very good at knowing what goes on at school. Husband is quite keen on Son going to uni in the States (though I don't think it's an option financially), but if they do that, it's a definite NO!

  15. Haha! I got the same email a few weeks ago, the one about exam care packages, for my own college freshman. Couldn't believe the heavy emotional blackmail - spend $50 on cheap candy so DD doesn't feel left out when her friends are studying with the aid of high fructose corn syrup? I think not. Instead, "Here's an extra few rolls of quarters for the laundry room, and please buy something more nutritious than Dubble Bubble with the money that's saved you."

  16. Seriously? Blimey how do they expect kids to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives?. A friend recently freaked out because I'm letting my daughter go to Brownie camp - with the Brownies! God knows what it'll be like when they reach uni, she will be a floor sleeper!


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