16th 2010

Posted under: childhood, jobs, students, technoskepticism, weirdness

Unsound methods

Is it possible that “helicopter parents” are just responding to incredibly needy and dependent children?  (Is it possible that some children shouldn’t be sent away to college, but continue to live at home while they study?)

Mobile phones and the erasure of long-distance charges has enabled this kind of codependence, or whatever you want to call it.  I also completely understand the urge to answer the phone when a child is calling.  When I was in college, it never dawned on me to call my parents with every question or concern that popped into my head, and not just because it cost more money than it does now.  I was happy to be away from home and my parents–even if it meant screwing up or not taking care of myself as I probably should have. 

I’ve heard that children can get helicopter parents off their backs if the child agrees to check in by phone once or twice a week on a regular schedule.  Maybe some children need to be told to call only once a week on a schedule, unless it’s a real emergency.


73 Responses to “Wow.”

  1. Dr. Crazy on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:14 am #

    You know, I went to college only 1 hour and 15 minutes from where I grew up. It was still the era of long distance charges, so I only talked to my mom once a week, and I accepted that. I do remember, however, wanting to come home to visit during that first semester (I didn’t have a car at school) and my mom refusing to come and get me and telling me that it was time for me to grow up and that I would not be ALLOWED to come home more than like 2 or 3 weekends. It was harsh, but it was *good*. I think if she would have agreed to come get me every weekend – or to let me find a ride home every weekend – that I probably would not have adjusted as well to school and would have ended up moving back home after the first year.

  2. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:20 am #

    Dr. Crazy–I think your mother’s style of parenting is a thing of the past, and not for the better.

    I wonder how many parents of college students these days would feel supported culturally enough to tell their children “no, I won’t come get you?” There’s an element of choice here, but there’s also an element of coercion by cultural expectations.

    For example: I know a number of parents who wish they could just turn their kids outside and let them run wild. But since most other parents in their neighborhoods either keep their kids inside with video games or organize “play dates” for them, there’s no one else for the would-be free-range kids to play with. There are some neighborhoods where the children organize their own play–but I think they’re rare.

  3. squadratomagico on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:21 am #

    OK, that might be one of the most frightening columns I’ve ever read. We’re in serious trouble if this is the next generation…
    Now I better understand the student who inquired, when I asked if there were any questions about the final exam, “Can I use a blue pen?” They’re paralyzed with indecision and fear of making a mistake on their own, because they’ve never had to decide before!

  4. Emma on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:23 am #

    All I can say is thank I never wanted nor had children if this is what you have to do for them.

  5. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Sq.–I think the testing regime of NCLB is a big part of that, too. I’ve noticed a decline in students’ ability and willingness to take risks or to try to solve problems themselves without a great deal of guidance and advice. Students have come of age in a decade in which risk-taking has not been encouraged or rewarded, so we get the students we’ve created. (And by “we” I don’t mean university and college faculty in particular, but the culture in general.)

    Emma, I don’t think parents *have* to parent this way. It’s a choice, but one informed by a lot of other people’s assumptions and expectations.

    All of this is making me think of including a speech on the first day of classes about how they’re responsible for their own work, and that I encourage them to experiment, be creative, and take risks. I need to look at my syllabi to see whether I’m encouraging or rewarding risks enough. (That is, maybe I’m contributing to students’ feelings that they need to ask which color of pen to write in.)

  6. Paul on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:46 am #

    I’ll admit that I went home most weekends throughout my undergraduate years, so I was the kind of overly-dependent kid that most people probably consider kind of pathetic.

    Having said that, even I wouldn’t have called or relied on my parents for some of the things mentioned in the column. Of course, I had no cell phone or email – most college students didn’t have either in the early-mid 90s.

  7. Tom on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:59 am #

    I understand the urge to compare our college experiences with what we perceive about current students’ experiences, but it’s always seemed to me that we need to resist the temptation. For one, writers and readers of this blog were never typical students (in the sense that typical students are not usually headed towards PhDs).

    But also, from at least the late ninth century (I’m thinking of King Alfred’s Preface to the Pastoral Care), it’s been conventional and traditional for educators to complain about the current generation of students and their knowledge, preparation, or whatever. Should we identify the tradition of complaining as a key historical continuity, or simply see the shifting nature of students as another feature of historical change?

  8. GayProf on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:02 am #

    It’s interesting — I actually lived at home for most of my undergraduate years (as University of the Southwest was in my home town). Nonetheless, my parents were only vaguely aware that I was even in college. They had no idea what classes I took from semester to semester or ever inquired about my major, career plans, grades, etc. In the meantime, I was also working full time. I also had a scholarship, so they never paid a dime for anything (nor could they have really afforded to do so at the time (even with USW’s bargain rates)).

    I once dated a guy whose mother was an early adopter of the “helicopter” parenting style. He was a nice man, but a more helpless person I have never met. At age 35, his mother (who lived a thousand miles away) did almost every life skills thing one could imagine short of mailing him prepared meals. She even reminded him when it was time to rotate his tires (I kid you not).

  9. Dr. Crazy on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:02 am #

    H- I get what you’re saying about the cultural pressures on parents to helicopter, particularly when they’re small. The thing that I wonder about people who helicopter their children into college, though, is aren’t they sick of it? Don’t they *want* their kids to grow up? In spite of what it might seem like from my anecdote above about my mom, she was VERY hands-on with me while growing up. (We lived in a VERY bad neighborhood – like, think gangs and wild dogs – and so I didn’t just roam the neighborhood but rather had “play dates” before they were called that; my mom took me to apply for my first job and filled out the application for me, etc.) But, quite frankly, she was excited NOT to do that stuff for me anymore. She was excited for me to take some responsibility for myself. Heck, she was more excited about that than I was – I wanted to be babied and taken care of forever :) The impression that I get is that a good many parents aren’t excited about that? Because seriously: what social pressure is there to give your GROWN CHILD help with navigating the most basic parts of his everyday life?

    (Maybe that pressure is there and I just don’t know about it? Maybe people judge parents of adult children for not being nurturing enough to those children?)

    Another question I have is this: to what extent is gender of the child a factor here? Are children entering college helicoptered differently depending on gender?

  10. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:09 am #

    “The thing that I wonder about people who helicopter their children into college, though, is aren’t they sick of it? Don’t they *want* their kids to grow up?

    Yes, yes, YES! You would think that–but then, I think there are a lot of parents (mothers perhaps especially) who want to continue to feel needed by their children.

    Great questions about gender, and I would add class too. I’m betting that helicopter parenting comes from a lack of other activities (let alone the need to work for money) than parenting. Helicopter parents are more often mothers than fathers, although it may be that if the mothers are under- or unemployed, they’re deployed on behalf of both parents. As for the sex of the students–I’ve heard some pretty egregious stories about both sexes, but in my personal (and very limited) experience, I’ve dealt only with mothers of sons.

    Tom, you’re right that this is a classic complaint. I think it’s useful to talk about, because so many of us here need to deal with 18- to 22-year olds whose expectations of college and of their parents are so different from ours. (But, seriously? Your mommy knows when you’re supposed to be in X or Y class, and knows when you need to rotate your tires? It’s time to back away, don’t you think?)

    For most of the 20th century (and perhaps longer), college was seen as a specific life stage in the transition to adulthood, and most people emphasized the freedom from parental involvement. (In fact, this is what made college so dangerous, according to previous generations.) I think it’s interesting that some classes of students and their parents have apparently given up on that idea.

  11. Meaghan on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:24 am #

    I moved far away (to an island no less, accessible only by air or sea) to go to university and established a once a week only, except for emergencies, calling policy with my parents. It worked out well and now (fifth year) I call about once or twice a month. I was always terrified by fellow students who were in contact with their parents often once or twice a day. It has been my experience, however, that some kids call home, while others have parents who needed to know what their children were doing at all times.

  12. FrauTech on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:54 am #

    Well, I think another thing is, for some unknown to me reason, there’s more of a friendship between millenials and their parents. And I’m sure class plays a significant role, as well as situation of the parents. Not to mention, convenience of how to contact them. I mean twenty years ago your friends didn’t need “status updates” as to what you were doing with your life but now, for young AND older people, it’s normal to be on facebook or twitter. Today’s cell phones are much nicer, much easier to use, and with much better reception than the early ones and now most people carry them with them all the time rather than an emergency phone in the car or something like that. We have cable news networks nowadays and all sorts of other ways for easy access to instant information.

    My parents are retired and I live only a few miles away (my choice, affordable area for homebuying). I see them probably twice a month. We’re planning on moving in another year, probably 15 miles or so out west and my parents keep complaining about how FAR away we’ll be. It’s crazy, I told them I could still visit when I visit but I guess they got used to thinking of me as being close by even if it wasn’t that we were seeing each other often. I had to remind them their other child lives even further away and has this whole time.

    I guess I see a lot of these kinds of posts as an opportunity for anyone to say “you know in MY day, kids were more independent, and so therefore *I* am better than kids today.” It doesn’t even seem to matter how old people are, every age is ready to criticize anyone just a few years younger than them.

  13. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:56 am #

    I lived and went to college on the other side of the same city as my parents — hell, my mom worked one block away from my apartment building — and if I spoke with them more than twice a month it was a miracle. My family was *not* abusive; I just wanted to make my own way in the world.

    So I really have trouble wrapping my head around this phenomenon — twenty year-olds want mom and dad involved in everything?

    Is there a gender difference, I wonder? Perhaps young men are more dependent on their parents to take care of them than we young women were?

  14. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Jul 2010 at 9:57 am #

    (And I realize that I just proved FrauTech’s point. But this is my experience, and it does boggle my mind.)

  15. Matt L on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Yeah, I think I agree with Tom. People with PhDs probably don’t have the best baseline to comment on what college was like for the average student ‘back in the day.’ After all, college clearly did something for us, otherwise we wouldn’t keep coming back and devoting our adult lives to it. Second, the quality of students has indeed been a consistent gripe of the faculty, since the university was invented.

    To echo Meaghan, technology doesn’t cause helicopter parenting, it just makes it easier. It might be cheaper these days, but you don’t have to pick up the phone to “reach out and touch someone.” Nobody makes those college students call their parents on a daily basis or makes them answer the phone when their parents call.

    I remember, sometime in my 30s, having a conversation with my mom about her parenting style. She said two things that I will always remember, and hope to live by if I become a parent. First, her and my father’s goal in having children was that we should grow up to be interesting people, while hopefully avoiding early pregnancy and prison. Second, she said that after about six months she gave up on the parenting advice of Dr. Spock and decided that Machiavelli’s _The Prince_ was a more relevant and practical parenting text (except the bits about the unification of Italy). Me and the siblings all managed to avoid premature pregnancy and felony indictments. So I think my parents did a pretty good job. Besides we are all still talking to one another about once a week.

    I think its all about managing expectations as a parent. Protect your children as best you can from the big pitfalls. Don’t start planning your six-year-old’s future career as a hedge-fund manager and it should all work out ok.

  16. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Well, if we still think independence is a necessary component of adulthood, then it’s a problem if there are some people who are legally adults but are unprepared for the obligations. But, it’s a privilege to be so clueless–as Notorious suggests, the consequences of cluelessness are different for women than for men, and different for first-generation college students than middle-class or elite students whose parents have the income to support them regardless of how college works out.

    This has real implications for what we can expect of our students, in the classroom and out.

  17. Koop on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Isn’t helicopter parenting correlated, among other things, to diminishing family size? It’s pretty hard to keep track of your grown kids’ class schedules if you’ve got four or six or eight children. If you’ve only got one or two kids, on the other hand, you’ve got a fair bit more time to devote to ensuring your offspring’s success.

    I also wonder, too, whether the terrible job market and the increasing cost of an (increasingly indipensible) college degree might make parents less likely to adopt a hands-off approach.

  18. FrauTech on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:21 am #

    Notorious- I see where you’re coming from. Though I do wonder how you paid for an apartment across the same town. I lived at home in college, it was about 20 miles away. My parents and my part time job paid for public school tuition, just barely. So I was able to graduate with no loans. And I realize it’s probably a “great” experience to send your kids “away” to college but I’m often puzzled when people decide it’s better to financially handicap their kids with six figure student loans just for the experience of moving away.

    My husband did the same thing, went to another college in town and lived at home with his parents (though he had financial aid, just not to cover his own place). Now his parents don’t even know where he works and keep forgetting the name of the place or what part of town its in. They have two younger kids at home, so it’s a big disconnect for them. My parents are empty nesters, retired, with time on their hands. They like to see me and tell me about their trips and I like a place I can go and complain about work and get their perspective of what they did during their working years.

    Clearly calling your kids’ teachers or bosses or knowing their schedule by memory and all that are bad things but I think MOST people my age who are close to their parents aren’t necessarily dependent on them. I think I treat my parents like you’d treat good friends or good neighbors. (though thanks to the internet I don’t have to ask as many stupid cooking questions). Also worth mentioning I’m pretty sure this is a phenomenon limited to white, westernized, middle class kids. I know plenty of people my age who are non-white but middle class and do not have this kind of relationship with their parents. Not to mention all the non-middle class (or non-upper class for that matter) whose expectations for working, college and independence are completely different. I have a friend whose family was badgering her to quit college and start working so she could help support her parents.

  19. Dickens Reader on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:25 am #

    I read that entire article and now feel soiled. There was something metaphorically incestuous about the relationship between Alex and his mother. It was painful the way she justified his excuses of laziness with plausibility. It didn’t help when it was highlighted how there would be no consequences if he did not read or whatever. Also, dropping a class because one is too lazy to read the syllabus is just unacceptable. Sure, it is okay in emergencies, such as learning a lesson that one cannot handle 18 hours as one thought. Mister A’s all the time needed that F in Biology as a wakeup call.

  20. Leslie on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Students have come of age in a decade in which risk-taking has not been encouraged or rewarded, so we get the students we’ve created. (And by “we” I don’t mean university and college faculty in particular, but the culture in general.)

    In my growing experience–I teach the 18-22 year old set, but my kid is in preschool–culture/society plays a huge role. At my daughter’s school, children are not allowed on playground equipment unless they are under the direct supervision of one of the staff. Not the parents, the staff. They can’t wear sandals because they might–heaven forbid–get splinters. It’s not a case of the director being over-protective (though I wouldn’t have put that past her) but has to do with state-mandated licensing requirements for the facility, driven by a fear of litigation. I could go on, but won’t. For kindy and elementary school, we have our fingers crossed that enrolling our daughter in the local public alternative school–that claims not to “teach to the test” will spare her the worst of NCLB and/or whatever the newest version of it will be.

    As for the college age kids, I teach in a pretty small program, so it’s hard to say it’s a representative sample. Gender doesn’t seem to enter into it: I’ve seen both men and women with helicopter parents. The thing lately that my colleague and I find most troubling is a sometime lack of initiative and responsibility that seems to come from never ever having to work for things. And I mean that literally….expensive equipment not put away properly, for example.

    For my college years, I chose a place 356 miles from home, which I considered to be the perfect distance: close enough to get home if I really, really wanted to, but far enough away that no-one could expect that of me, particularly since I didn’t have wheels for the first two years…

  21. Paul on 16 Jul 2010 at 10:26 am #

    I also wonder, too, whether the terrible job market and the increasing cost of an (increasingly indipensible) college degree might make parents less likely to adopt a hands-off approach.

    This might have something to do with it for a lot of parents. I can see parents thinking that if they’re paying out larger sums of money than ever before, and that a college degree is now more essential than ever before, then they will take extra steps to make sure their kids succeed.

  22. Geschichte Grad on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Could it also be possible that those doing the teaching are also to blame for underestimating the maturity of our students? I think we sometimes too easily think of our students as “kids” (take a look at the comments so far!) when, in fact, they are adults (seeing as how they can drive, vote, and shoot a person with government sanction). And so when the student runs home to momma, we want to blame the parent instead of recognizing that the student–an adult–has made a choice, and must live with the consequences of that choice: including poor maturity development that might lead to failure in academia.

  23. Koop on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:09 am #

    Another thought: not sure whether assisted reproductive technology is widespread enough to have an impact on parenting culture as a whole, but my acquaintances who have conceived their progeny via IVF or what have you speak of having difficulty “letting go” as they raise their children.

    They’ve had plan so rigidly, often for years, in order to have children at all (often dealing with multiple pregnancy losses along the way), that the need to control and orchestrate becomes a kind of overarching mindset that spills over into their parenting style. The world seems especially precarious to them, and they become quite risk-averse as a consequence, hence the helicopterish hovering.

  24. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:12 am #

    @ Frautech, it was a combination of two part-time jobs (waitressing @ 30 hrs/wk, coffee bar @ 20 hrs/wk), lots of loans, and a roommate situation in a 1-BR where my bed was in the living room. And yes, student loans. I could have continued living at home for about half the rent I was paying, but this way seemed better.

  25. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:18 am #

    And I do think that class probably played a role in my decision: my life wouldn’t have been materially better at my parents’ home, “independence” was always an unquestioned value, and there was the chance to immerse myself in a different world if I moved across town.

  26. Emily on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:19 am #

    Speaking as a member of the generation of overdependent children (20 years old, rising junior) I have to confess that the IHE piece doesn’t sound too different from me in my first semester. When I left to go to college 3,000 miles away from my hometown, it was my first time away from home for more than a few nights. I called my mother nearly every day: sometimes with a mundane question about what kind of electric fan to get, sometimes to talk through the outline of a paper, sometimes just to tell her how homesick I was and how intimidated I was by everyone else at school who was so much smarter than me. Coming home obviously wasn’t an option until the next school break (contrary to what the nurse from University Health Services said when I told her I was depressed!), so I made up for it by talking to my mother about everything, the way I’d done in high school. It’s not as if she was doing my work for me, but she was providing a lot of emotional support.

    A couple years later, I talk to her more by email or instant-messaging than by phone, and it’s a less needy kind of talking. I don’t know whether it’s true for most “millenials,” but my mom and I are friends, or as friendly as a parent-child relationship gets. We talk about funny things that happened to us and try to solve each other’s neuroses and emotional problems. I have a hard time perceiving this as unhealthy, but maybe that’s only by comparison: unlike some of my peers, my mother’s never done my academic work for me (she’s only listened to me brainstorm) and she doesn’t get involved in the particulars of my college life herself, only secondhand through the anecdotes I tell her. I don’t talk to her about indecorous things like drinking/partying, the once or twice a term that I do things like that.

    What I mean to say is that this may be the new normal for students, but that it may not be as inhibiting to the students’ functionality as human beings as it sounds. Over the past couple years I’ve gotten progressively less dependent on my mother, and have my own life that’s separate from hers or the rest of my family’s. By the time I’m a real adult I think I’ll be ready to be as productive a member of society as any recent college graduate.

  27. Leslie on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Could it also be possible that those doing the teaching are also to blame for underestimating the maturity of our students? I think we sometimes too easily think of our students as “kids” (take a look at the comments so far!) when, in fact, they are adults (seeing as how they can drive, vote, and shoot a person with government sanction).

    I see your point, but at the same time, I do think that some of the students really *are* kids, particularly first year students (though out of courtesy, at least, one tries not to say that to their faces). Three months and an 18th (or even 19th) birthday between graduating high school and starting university doesn’t magically complete the maturation process; it’s the expectation that changes. Some students–and parents–weather the change in expectation better than others.

  28. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Jul 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    I’m really enjoying reading these comments, especially Emily’s, and now Leslie’s, both of which are reminding me that adulthood isn’t an instantaneous process, and there’s a big difference between a student (especially a first- or second-year student) who contacts parents frequently for advice or searching for validation, and a student or parent who expects that the parent will always run interference, absolving said student of any responsibility for his/her actions, and preventing hir from growing up.

    Here’s where I’ll take my stand, at least for the moment: from the outside (that is, from a professor’s point of view), it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the two, since we only see part of the picture. And since a few bad encounters (“my dad’s a lawyer!”) tend to make us a bit cynical, we assume the worst when confronted with partial evidence.

    I’m therefore going to try to do a reversal on my own reactions, and try to assume that a student is the former type, unless they’re proven to be the latter. This will be a trial run.

  29. FrauTech on 16 Jul 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Thanks Notorious. With college getting more expensive and student loans (at least now) requiring parent signature, I think like Paul says parents might feel more responsible if they’ve cosigned on a 5 or 6 figure student loan amount. My parents didn’t even give us the option, and I don’t see how I could have gotten loans at 17 on my own. Unless we had gotten scholarships (and my sister, perfect SAT score, 4.7 GPA, straight A’s, afterschool activities, couldn’t get one) going away to college wasn’t an option. Just as my parents had raised us with the expectation that we would definitely go to college, they also applied requirements such as not taking out loans to do so. That meant the best local public university we could get into.

    I think Emily sums up how I feel. And actually, the more helicoptery parents I know have meant less successful kids now that they are “adults”(went away to college, but failed out, living at home and working part time retail jobs with no future now).

    My father came from a family where he worked from about age 14 and was expected to move out and support himself once graduating high school. I’m sure that made him way more independent at that age than I was but he likes to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I “have it together” or am “more successful” now at my age than he was at his age. My parents are nowhere near the level of the author of the article linked. They never went to college so the paperwork, dropping classes, GPA and major requirements were all stuff we had to figure out on our own. But even my parents doubt themselves I think on wanting to be more supportive but also worrying they are not letting me be independent enough. Clearly there’s somewhere in the middle that’s best and if it’s the case that my generation is on average much more guided and supported than previous generations you’d think that would mean the more independent ones would be the most “successful” but that’s not always the case. I think Geschichte Grad has it partially right; every time a teacher changes a grade for a complaining student, or allows makeup work for the squeaky wheel, or every time a manager hires an “overdemanding” or “inexperienced” recent graduate, or tolerates that person’s parents, it’s reinforcing this behavior. Given that it’s nothing new to get a job through your family connections I think some level of this has been financially rewarding for hundreds or thousands of years.

  30. madaha on 16 Jul 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    I just have to say: what is up with her suggesting to her son that there is something shameful about doing the dishes? I have no hope for future men, if this is the standard. I come from a family that seems to insist that women are men’s domestic slaves, and it is totally unacceptable.

    The one thing he IS doing, she criticizes? yuck.

  31. rustonite on 16 Jul 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    To share my personal experience as a helicopter child:
    I did my undergrad from 2000-4. Cell phones were just starting to become widespread (my freshman year, virtually no one had one, but by my junior year, everyone had them), and I think a few people had email before coming to college (I did, but my dad works in technology, so I was a bit different there)

    In my case, the heliocopter parent is my mother, who hasn’t worked since 1981 and only graduated high school; my father went to a little school on the River Charles, perhaps you’ve heard of it? My parents have enough money that my mother hasn’t needed to work or really do much of anything for the past thirty years, so that her whole life revolves around me and my sister. I say revolves, present tense. I’m 28, and my sister is 26. I’m halfway through my PhD, and she just finished her MA and is taking a year off before applying to doctoral programs. You’d think we’d be fully independent adults at this point, but no, because my mother STILL has to know our schedules, the details of our finances, who we’re dating, what we’re eating, etc. I talk with my mother a minimum of once a day, and she has to know absolutely everything.

    This is not a choice on our part. I once made an effort to limit contact with my mother, and received a call from my father, who said that it wouldn’t be fair to him- he would have to deal with an overanxious, often-crying woman. Apparently, if my mother doesn’t hear from me every 24 hours or so, she starts speculating that I may be dead in a gutter or something like that. She refuses to go to therapy for any of this, because she doesn’t see that she’s doing anything wrong. This is just how a good mother should behave.

    I know it’s damaged my life. I’m forced to either lie to her (and I do, a lot) or justify every decision to her. The only person it’s helping is my therapist, who’s probably paid off his boat listening to me talk about my mother.

  32. Lisa Albert on 16 Jul 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    I think that a large part of the helicopter parenting comes from women who decided to give up their careers to raise their child or children. If you give up a high paying career, you have a need to be able to justify it to yourself that it was a “good thing”. And one way to do that is to be a Mom who takes her offspring to all their games, all their practices, makes sure that they are going to all the right schools, taking all the right courses, making all the right decisions — being a helicopter parent.

  33. Feminist Avatar on 16 Jul 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    I thought I’d add a British perspective. I’ve never dealt with the parent of any student I have ever taught and wouldn’t really know what to do if one approached me- and we can go to University at 17. I don’t think this is particularly atypical. In discussion with a colleague the other day, she noted that a student’s mother had called to say he wouldn’t attend an exam as he had been dumped by his girlfriend, and she thought this was ridiculous- both for not coming to the exam and also for having his mother phone (we then agreed htat this can be more traumatic when you’re young). Her only experiences of parents had been in cases of serious illness/ incident where they contacted the department to inform of an absence.

    From my own experience as a student in the early millenium, I lived at home for the first year to save money- but the two hour commute there and the two hour commute back home again was such a killer I eventually moved out (at age 18). But my parents didn’t know what subjects I took let alone when they were or what coursework I had to do. My mother attended university (but a different one) at the same time as me so she had other things to worry about! Having said that I am very close to my parents (even though we can go weeks without talking or seeing each other). They are quite young though- my mother is still in her forties- so I wonder if age gap makes a difference to parent/child relationships?

  34. truffula on 16 Jul 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    Historiann: For most of the 20th century (and perhaps longer), college was seen as a specific life stage in the transition to adulthood, and most people emphasized the freedom from parental involvement.

    Maybe I’m misreading this but I don’t think educational attainment data back up the idea of college as a transition to adulthood for most folks in the U.S. through most of the 20th Century. In 1940, the earliest year for which I can find a value, 4.6% of the population 25 years or older had an undergraduate degree or better. Over the next 30 years, degree attainment about doubles, to 10.7% of the population in 1970. Over the next 30 years the rate of change is about the same, 25.6% of adults over 25 had a college degree in 2000. The number is 29.4% in 2008. It isn’t until the last few decades that college looks to be a significant right of passage into adulthood. (And I imagine that there is a connection to the rise of collegiate binge drinking here.)

    The Census Bureau presents a lot of education demographic data tables here, from which I learned that while more women than men complete high school (87.2% of women, 85.9% of men) and enroll in college, fewer women than men complete the undergraduate degree (28.8% to 30.1% of the population). Don’t look at the mean earnings by degree table, it will only depress you.

    More reports are here.

    On the personal anecdote front, my mother and I wrote letters to each other when I was an undergraduate. Phone calls were expensive! When she was in college in the early 1950′s, she sent her clothes home on the train for her mother to launder. It was what everybody close enough to home did. She still has the metal box.

  35. Fratguy on 16 Jul 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    I assume that the visual reference to “Apocalypse Now” was intentional. 40 years ago freshman orientation for many in their late teens was at the University of Camp Lejeune. How’s that for perspective on what is worth worrying over.

  36. quixote on 16 Jul 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Helicopter parents now, Momma’s boy in the good old days. The breed has a long history. But what seems to have changed is the scope. Before they were a tiny minority, now they’re so common that anyone who teaches college comes across them on a regular basis. I don’t know what, if any, the implications might be. Is there any way for historians to figure out what the commonest outcomes were for “Momma’s” “Boys” in the good old days? (Quotes to imply that specific relatives don’t have to be either mommas or sons.)

  37. takingitoutside on 16 Jul 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    These are all really interesting comments. Newsweek had an article recently about declining creativity amongst American children that might be relevant. The researchers in question define creativity as, among other things, finding solutions to problems. The article as a whole suggests that schools need to incorporate creativity-building work into their class days. Various people argue that teaching to the test has sucked creativity-building activities out of schoolwork. I hadn’t thought of it until I started reading the comment thread here, but a lessened ability to solve one’s own problems in college could be a natural effect of a lessened emphasis on creativity in elementary, middle and high school.

    For my part, I can see both sides of the debate. I’ve known students (ah, I’m 26) who go to their parents for things they really, really don’t need to. For that matter, I’m still living at home, though I am moving out soon – to a condo my mother is buying. On the other hand, I remember asking a English teacher in high school if I could write a paper using a different thesis than the one she gave us, getting permission for the specific thesis I wanted to use and then getting either a C or a D because she didn’t like my thesis. I did not take any risks or try to discover anything on my own in that class again, and I still remember her now, a decade later, as I go into a Ph.D. program.

    Helicopter parenting can get a bad rap, but I can see how it might flow naturally from just trying to be a good parent or child. I’ve always been less-than adept with knives, so for the longest time my parents would cut things like mangoes (crazy slippery, btw) for me. Good parents keep their kids from cutting off their fingers, good kid doesn’t do anything that will stupidly endanger her life, right? (For the record, I have actually cut myself very badly. That was before the following.) One day my mom realized that I would grow up and move out – and probably stab myself. Maybe repeatedly. She started having me cut and slice things while she was preparing dinner, so I eventually got better (well, decent-ish) and she was there to call 911 if it became necessary. I think the trouble lies in realizing when something that maybe worked fine for awhile no longer works so well.

  38. Susan on 16 Jul 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    As someone whose college experience was pre-cell phone, we couldn’t have helicopter parents. I think my mother was curious as to which courses I was taking, but that was about it.

    I thought what was so interesting was the author’s movement between what she knew as a scholar, and her responses as a divorced mother who had spent years making sure her son didn’t suffer. This is definitely about class- many of my students are first generation college, and really clueless. And their parents are too — they think it may be just an extension of high school.

    As for the parent-child thing, this is interesting. I haven’t lived with my mother since the summer before my senior year in college but she has just (yesterday) moved to the city where I live because she’s almost 80 and needs to be closer to her children. Once she’s settled, I don’t imagine we’ll see each other often (she’s very independent), but I confess to being curious about how it works out!

  39. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Truffula: I should have been clearer. I was speaking only of people who went to college, not the majority experience of Americans even now. But, from what I recall from reading this book, students resisting the authority of faculty and administrators as well as of their parents has historically been a big part of college life, at least until now perhaps.

    I think the closeness to parents in the millenial/helicopter generation is something very different from my generation’s (and older generations) relationship with our/their parents. And for the most part I think it’s a wonderful thing. Since I teach at a large, public uni, I don’t have a lot of contact with Helicopter Parents. But, I’m still taken aback by comments from students to the effect of, “my mom read my paper over, so I think it’s pretty good.” Again, on the one hand, close and trusting relationships are great. But–did those students just tell me that their mother helped them do their work for this class? WTF?

    There was a lot of conflict in my family around the time I left for college–I think because my parents were anxious about my impending departure for school and the fact that I was *so eager* to go. I really tested their patience in the six months before I went to college, so in some ways it was a relief for us all when I left. They didn’t have to worry about me every day, and there wasn’t technology yet that could give them information that I didn’t want them to have (electronic records, faceBook, mobile phones, etc.)

    Maybe ignorance was bliss. rustonite’s testimony is something to think about, folks.

  40. undine on 16 Jul 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    About the article: wow. And the commenters saying how heartwarming it was? I thought it was frightening.

    I think your idea about this being a generational difference is right. My college choices were limited by parental concern (I could go anywhere I wanted, as long as it was no more than 90 miles from home), but once I got there, they didn’t expect to hear from me more than a couple of times a month, if that.

  41. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks, undine. I should add: I think it’s strange that I never hear reflections from helicopter parents about how their engagement with their college-aged children is different than their parents’ engagement with them in college (if they went to college.) I wonder–do they think their experience was damaging, or overly difficult? Presumably the parents of today’s college students are baby boomers or now older Gen Xers.

    I keep thinking about Tom’s comment far upthread, about how we here ain’t exactly normal in terms of our engagement with college (since many of us liked it so much we never left.) But, we were presumably aware of our peers in college and their relationships with their parents. (There used to be just one phone on a hallway in dorms, or one phone per room, so it was shared by 2-4 students.) I had *one* friend with a helicopter parent. After my friend refused to revise her freshman fall schedule to her mother’s liking, her mother called the Dean of the college to try to get my friend’s schedule changed, and my friend was totally mortified. (The Dean told the mother to bug off, and called my friend to let her know what had happened. She earned her paycheck that day, that’s for sure.) That was an unheard level of parent-institutional involvement.

  42. Notorious Ph.D. on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    I hope Historiann will forgive me for commenting so many times, but FrauTech brings up an interesting point; namely, the change in financial aid regulations and how that may affect parents’ perception of their roles.

    When I began my undergraduate career, the financial aid rule was this: A student may apply for financial aid independently if no parent had claimed them as a dependent for the previous two tax years. I took two years working before enrolling as an undergrad in order to qualify for this, figuring that even though my parents didn’t make a lot of money, my $9,000 a year would net me a lot more aid than their $40,000. (Plus, my dad was too perpetually disorganized to ever fill out the forms on time.)

    Then, in 1993, the rules changed. Now, a student applied independently if they were 25 years old; if they were younger, their parents were automatically part of the process. I managed to get grandfathered in under the old rules somehow, but at the time I wondered at the assumption that anyone under 25 was still on the parental payroll.

    And I do imagine that that joint paperwork would encourage both parents and students to think of college education as something that both parties were embarking on together. Hm.

  43. Janice on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    I attended the university where my father was on faculty but lived on campus. My parents felt that part of the experience of university was living away from family, even if you could still come home most weeks for Sunday dinner with your roommate in tow.

    I can remember once having my mother pull a helicopter-type move when I was brought to my parents’ house badly sick with mono and needed to resolve some time-sensitive administrative paperwork. She phoned my dean, who was a family friend, to just assure that someone was dealing with it and also got them to contact my course profs so that they’d know I’d need deferred exams.

    Now, because we lived in town, they also did know every detail of my degree program changes and offer advice. They also saw every one of my grade reports and that wasn’t always fun (especially when I was an engineering major!). For me, their advice was invaluable, both having multiple degrees and lots of experience with academic systems. But I did appreciate that they always left me to make my decisions.

    Now eldest is contemplating her university career forthcoming. I’ve told her that she has my U as a certain fallback (tuition is waived for children and partners of faculty and staff) but if she gets a healthy enough scholarship, she can go elsewhere. She consider that incentive!

    Of course, my academic background gives her a huge advantage not only in knowing what’s important when it comes to getting into universities but also how to get scholarships. Not that she always notes that, mind you! I’ve had to remind her, more than once, that she doesn’t have to explain university admissions processes and deadlines to me as she thinks through her choices. She can just skip ahead to the specifics of the programs and institutions she’s considering!

  44. Rad Readr on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    I will have to out myself here as a helicopter of sorts. I regularly post on another web page with the handle Copterguy, so let me anecdotally burst your gendered bubbles ’bout women being the helicopters. In our family, the father is copter, much to the delight of my scoffing spouse. I love that article and can relate. I could practically write my own version and for me here is the key. The author, and I share this with her, thinks she knows best because of her many years of experiencing XY and Z. Coptering is about knowing what is best. For example, my child needs to come up with a list of colleges to where he will apply. Is he better able than I to come up with a list — of course not!! (And I’m only half joking.)

    In the article Patti See had it all worked out for Alex. And she was right — because if a kid like that was in one of my classes I would roll my eyes, invoke the syllabus, and fail him on the test.

  45. Emma on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Regarding IVF, my sister went through IVF technologies and ultimately ended up adopting. She’s anything but a helicopter parent so far. Her kids are pre-teen. They spend the summer in Y Camp, b/c their parents both work. But when I visit them on weekends, the kids spend a lot of time just messing around with each other and friends. I lot like I remember my summers.

    I went to college later, having been in the marines for 4 years first. My parents’ finances were considered both for college and law school financial aid (late 80s/early 90s). I thought then that it was a total travesty.

    By the same token, I think this “health care reform” that allows (requires?) parents to keep their kids on the parents’ health care plan up to age 26 is a huge load of BS. It smacks of dealing with a permanent 10%+ unemployment rate by extending childrens’ dependency on their parents.

    But for the parents who can’t bear to let their little precious ones go, I say if you’re encouraging your kids to think of themselves as not yet “real adults”, then you can keep supporting them. And if it doesn’t bother you, I’m not going to let it bother me on your behalf.

  46. Emma on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    But, then again, my parents certainly have helped me out a lot financially in my life. So I’ve not alwasy been the uber-independent adult I seem to have portrayed myself as. But the goal for me was always to get out on my own and be independent of them. I wonder if these kids of helicopter parents have that goal? Don’t these helicopter kids ever feel like pushing back?

    It just all looks so creepy to me.

  47. Historiann on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    You’re very welcome here, Notorious!

    Most people I know had financial aid, including loans. I don’t remember the details, but I believe that I was only permitted to borrow as much for which I didn’t need a co-sign. That is, my parents refused to co-sign loans for me. They paid a portion of my tuition, board, and fees every year, but I had to make up the difference with grants, fellowships, loans that were all on me, and work.

    I think parents are still largely involved with paperwork–FAFSA or whatever it’s called? Families really have to lay their books out in order to qualify for many loans, so I understand the emotional and person investment on top of the financial one. Universities and colleges can award degrees only to the enrolled member of a family, not a student and hir helicopter support team. The academic work of college must be an individual achievement. Parents, if they can afford it, should help their children pay for college, and it should be help freely given. But, students owe it to their parents–as to any other grant agency or fellowship–to do well in school. Along with helicopter parents, it seems like there are a lot of parents who remain mysteriously cheerful and cooperative about subsidizing the partyparty lifestyles of many of our underachieving students.

    This whole extension of adolescence for a lucky minority of people in their late teens and 20s stands in stark contrast to the move to impose adult sentence on juvenille offenders, for example. Childhood is getting shorter and shorter for many poor kids and for kids who don’t have the advantage of helicopter parents.

  48. truffula on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    I had a student a few years ago who was in her 50′s and finally earning the college degree she’d wanted since high school. Her HS grades were good enough for scholarships and state help but her parents refused to fill out the paperwork required by the state uni (because that was nobody’s business but their own) so that was it, she didn’t go.

    Two things stand out to me in the IHE article:

    1) the young man asking “What’s the point of any of my classes?”

    This is a big part of what I find frustrating in my classes today. Many students are here without really caring to know what the point is. College for these students is just the next step in the progression, nothing more than a rite of passage into adulthood and certainly not an experience meant to better them in some way.

    2) Dad is the voice of parenting reason: “Alex has got to learn to take care of himself” while Mom wrings her hands about urgent care and worries because “my conversation with his dad has made me think I’m one of those awful helicopter mothers.” I’m not sure why advising a freshman about how to get medical care is such a bad thing but in any case, it took both of those parents to produce the young adult.

  49. Sisyphus on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    For half his life he’s had two households; for half his life I’ve lived apart from my son. Of course I pick up every time he calls.

    I thought the fact she was divorced was a *huge* factor here. My parents aren’t divorced, but my sister got divorced and I watched her get extra worried and protective of her daughter, of whether she was doing the right thing or enough parenting (after all, she tried her best with a marriage and screwed it up, so screwing up parenting seems logical, right?)

    Also I think it’s partly about the normalization of technology: you have an instantaneous form of communication, why *not* call the person who you think knows most and you trust the most? Before cell phones, if you didn’t know how to run the washing machine, you’d ask whoever was closest physically (ie me, your roommate), and you may get good advice or you may get told something that totally screws everything up.

    And as a final anecdote: my parents met in college back in the mid-50s. My mom was told her dad would pay for college if she went to the ag school in her home town: she lived at home in her old bedroom, walked or biked to school, worked a part-time job for the money for her clothes and entertainment stuff. My dad came from out of town (not far) and went home almost every week. My grandma would not only do his laundry every week, but bake brownies and pack it in foil on top of the laundry basket. When they got married, neither could cook or do laundry. So it wasn’t *completely* different “in the old days.”

  50. Emily on 16 Jul 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    I think the financial consideration is an important one; for example, when I was applying mostly to selective private colleges (one of which I now attend), one or the other of my parents accompanied me on my college trips because they wanted to know what they were paying for (financial aid covers a lot of my tuition/room/board, but not all of it). I’m aware of how lucky I am to have this opportunity, and what a class signifier it is that my parents can and want to pay for my college education–but so maybe that’s why we tend to see helicopter parenting as a middle-class phenomenon.

    I appreciate what a few people in this thread have said about the risks of imposing the college experience of current academics upon current undergraduates who may not be looking at remaining in academia for the rest of their lives, but at risk (again; my apologies if it’s intrusive) of waving my GenY flag around, my close relationship to my mother isn’t altered by the fact that I do plan to go to graduate school and, if it’s still possible in a decade, to find an academic job. Now, my parents are both university faculty, and so maybe this is why I *do* have a close relationship with them; Janice’s comment reminded me of my own experience, where my parents have very high standards for me but are interested in and supportive of my academic work. *Their* parents, by contrast, had (while alive) no idea what their children did, and my mother’s parents remained bemused about why she waited until after graduate school to get married, and why she held onto her career after her children were born. And my parents were not as close to their parents; they lived in utterly different universes. I live in the same universe as my parents. So maybe this is a “universe” thing, too, and it’s less about going into academia vs. not, and getting different things out of college from the general population, as it is about how easily one’s parents can relate to what one is doing in college, and how easy it is to talk to them about it.

    But of course feel free to ignore anything I’ve said if I sound a tad presumptuous for my age!

  51. kw on 16 Jul 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Just a few comments here–

    -I’ve experience a couple of serious cases of helicoptering at my college, but it’s hardly legion. We’re a place that would be ripe for it, with plenty of alum parents invested in the place. I’d like to know more than anecdotes about this phenomenon.

    -A colleague and dear friend married a man from Cuba. His parents moved in with them immediately. They all wondered why children’s “independence” was so highly prized here in the U.S. And wondered, too, why financial contributions from parents to children didn’t seem to count as “dependence” whereas close emotional connections did.

    -In the special ed. parents’ crowd where I hang out, we work to help our kids (most of them college-bound) be more independent. We know that more diagnoses (of ADHD, Autism etc) must be the result of closer attention/ labeling and also environmental factors. Surely there is a larger population of LD kids in college now than at any other time. In my 20 yr old now successful college about-to-be-sophomore and 4.0 student, I’ve seen huge progress, but it required a lot of parental support. None of which would have been apparent to faculty, but under any definition would have qualified as helicoptering.

  52. The Rebel Lettriste on 16 Jul 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    My two cents:
    My dad was the first person in his family to go to college (my grandma dropped out of the third grade.) He went to the workstudy school downstate, maybe 150 miles away. And he had a special tube with which he would mail his dirty shirts, home, where my grandma would launder and press them and then mail them back. For reals!!

    I had my heart set on going to college abroad; I got in, was all ready to go, and balked. So I went to the fancy SLAC in the next state over. I balked because I was terrified of being so far from my family. And not because we talked everyday. Patti See’s involvement makes my parents’ look seriously neglectful! But because I knew I’d need rescue at some point and if I went abroad I wouldn’t be able to at least come home for Thanksgiving. And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, when you’re 18.

    And word on the student loan thing. If I taught at an expensive school–instead of the open admissions urban place where I do–I’d be awash in helicopter moms. But I just teach kids who work 40 hours a week AND go to school. Are they flakey? Yes. But they never sic mom on me.

  53. Janice on 16 Jul 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    kw, I am looking at something like that further down the road with autistic youngest. I suspect that I will, perforce, need to be much more involved with her educational choices and activities, whatever she decides to pursue, simply because I know she doesn’t yet have the awareness and focus to pursue this at this age the way that eldest does!

  54. thefrogprincess on 16 Jul 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Not much to add here but surely we’re not including the necessary involvement of parents with special needs children in this conversation. I went to college with a guy who had Asperger’s and, although we didn’t see his mother much, I could tell that she was really involved behind the scenes. But without that, he might not have been able to go to college as far away as he did, be part of the traveling music group we were in, and go to graduate school for a PhD.

    As I see “helicopter parenting”, we’re talking about children who don’t need the help they’re getting, which is why I’m less concerned about frequent phone calls (although I don’t understand it) and more concerned with the stories of mothers driving 200 miles to do laundry in someone’s dorm and intense knowledge of someone’s class schedule, etc, etc.

  55. Dr. Crazy on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    I posted over at my place as a riff off of this and the conversation that ensued, but it’s not tracking back. So anyway, here’s the link: http://reassignedtime.blogspot.com/2010/07/closeness-vs-helicoptering-some.html

  56. Timothy (TRiG) on 16 Jul 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    I lived at home for my college studies, but of course you can’t move too far from home and stay within Ireland. It was a bus ride to the next town. Just under an hour’s trip.

    And I discussed my studies with my mother. Not because she could help me (she certainly didn’t know much chemistry), but because it was interesting, and she’s interested in science and academically minded even though she only did her O-Levels in England (she’s been to university since, and qualified as an English/ISL interpreter). I also talked to her about my work because that helped to fix it in my own head. And when cool things about symmetry, or whatever, were explained to me in class, I’d go home and explain it to my mother. And she would at least pretend to be interested.

    In school, I did the same thing with English poetry. I remember standing in the kitchen reading Keats at her.

    And when she was in college I read a lot of her textbooks and talked to her about them, because I found both the sociology and the linguistics fascinating.


  57. Dame Eleanor Hull on 17 Jul 2010 at 12:05 am #

    @rustonite: Your dad is also being inappropriate. Your mother is much more his responsibility than hers. He married her for better, for worse, in sickness, etc. He chose her. You have no choice in your parents. Even though you are in your twenties, they are the adults, the parents; you are the child. Neither of them is doing their job in letting you go, and that is your dad’s job as much as your mom’s. You might want to consider cutting ties (or limiting contact) with both of them, so you can live your own life and they can sort out their issues. I know this is not easy. But I also know whereof I speak: for 5-6 years, no one in my family had my phone number, because of a similar situation. Eventually we got to a better place. Sir John also estranged himself, for somewhat different reasons: even though close family ties are seen as both normal and desirable, I’m trying to say that you do have company here. You are reponsible for you, and your mother is responsible for herself, and she can’t work out her issues as long as she’s leaning on you. I’ll quote Adrienne Rich: “Save yourself; others you cannot save.” Good luck, whatever you do; my heart goes out to you.

    Sorry for the hijack, Historiann, but I really needed to say that to rustonite.

  58. Katrina on 17 Jul 2010 at 12:30 am #

    I agree with everyone who has noted that helicopter parenting is a new phenomenon, facilitated by technology.
    However, the idea that college students are “adults” is also a pretty recent notion. When the age of majority was 21 for everything, colleges were assumed to be in loco parentis far more than they are now (anyone know any dorms these days that enforce curfews? they used to!).
    The ideas behind FERPA, that college students of age 19 are adults who have a right to privacy from their parents is really a very recent one.
    And I notice it is one that colleges have yet to master in their attitudes, on the one hand some are still stuck in the extended-boarding-school mentality (everything is provided for the students), while giving their students far more freedom than previous generations had in the same situation.

  59. Historiann on 17 Jul 2010 at 5:52 am #

    Katrina–I don’t think the adulthood thing is all that recent, but I agree that it’s a phenomenon of the last 40 years. It was in the 1960s that most colleges and unis dropped the parietal rules for dorm life (the in loco parentis stuff), and the “youth culture,” the draft, and the lowering of the voting age to 18 in the U.S. meant that people were having these conversations at about the same time and concluding that 18 = adulthood in a variety of venues.

    What I find ironic–or not???–is that the generation (boomers) who fought parietal rules and for more privileges for younger people (and drugged it up, big time) are the Helicopter Parents who are drug testing their kids, permitting locker searches at school, etc.–creating one of the most surveiled generations. (And since I’m a Gen Xer, I can sit back with cool detachment and judge them all!)

    (In case you can’t tell, that was sarcasm.)

    thefrogprincess is right that I never meant this discussion to include disabled students–we’re talking here about otherwise healthy and/or neurotypical students. But, kw makes an interesting point, which is that there are more and more students with disabilities in universities and colleges these days, and that students who may have a “hidden” disability might have parents who are perceived as Helicopter Parents. I would also add that I’ve had a number of students who didn’t want to document their learning disabilities because they didn’t want to be “marked,” although it would have helped them with their schoolwork.

    This has been really interesting–I’ve got an idea next week for a follow-up post, so stay tuned.

  60. kw on 17 Jul 2010 at 8:05 am #

    Not to say that parents know best, which is almost never the case, alas, but that it’s awfully hard to judge when and how a student we don’t really know is “capable.” I’m sure I’d roll my eyes at a parent who drove 200 miles to do their kid’s laundry, but I also know that my one undergrad. advisee whose mom seemed to show up on campus a lot had just lost her father a few weeks before the term started and she and her mom were obviously struggling both with that grief and also with how she could stay on track academically. Just saying that a phenomenon we might be inclined to assess generally may have distinctive individual explanations even beyond the LD issues I raised earlier.

  61. -k- on 17 Jul 2010 at 8:40 am #

    I want to quickly echo Tom’s early comment about the exceptionality of most of the readers of this blog, and to share a different perspective on a number of the interactions described in the IHE piece. I’m 26 now and moved out of my father’s house just shy of ten years ago, immediately after graduating high school. I worked my way through college, first a CC and then a state school, both chosen for affordability- no dorms, just my own small apartment. Academics were my business and I handled anything that came up myself. I was, and am, about as independent as they come, but you know what? I called my dad frequently, not for “every question or concern that popped into my head”, but for advice on major purchasing decisions or those with legal implications, how to do x, how to fix y (though lord help me if I ever considered washing a chicken with Palmolive)– because there *is* a learning curve in establishing an adult life, and there’s an advisory role there for parents during that transition that’s entirely separate from playing living thesaurus. While I don’t think that we’re going to extremes in any of the comments here, there is middle ground that needs to be factored in (and I’m not even sure my experience is it).

  62. The Rebel Lettriste on 17 Jul 2010 at 10:28 am #

    I think that what TRiG’s discussing is totally not helicoptering. Talking passionately with your family about what you are learning is wonderful. Keats at the kitchen sink! I mean, really, how great is that?

    It’s the parents who know their child’s schedule down to the last minute that scare me.

  63. madaha on 17 Jul 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    yeah, and helping them with their homework. That is so embarrassing for all concerned!

    I think many people 18-22 actually aren’t capable at all, because their parents have been coddling them for so long, rather than preparing them to take care of themselves once outside the home. One would hope college would at least be a venue to “cut the cord”. Do kids these days not do household chores anymore either? I really don’t see “closeness” being an excuse for not knowing how to do your laundry or load the dishwasher, or do your own homework.

    You should know how to do all that stuff at (at least!!) 14/15 yo, let alone college age. My older sister has an 18 and a 16 year old, and they’re functionally helpless. Suffice to say, I don’t understand this at all. One of her problems is that she always said she didn’t want to be a “nag”, so never told them to do anything, just would do it herself. That included their homework. I suppose the question about how she expected them to learn anything ever if they didn’t do it themselves was a moot point. Her avoidance of hearing them complain seemed to take precedence over anything else.

    She’s an extreme case, but I wonder if many of these parents aren’t similar in not wanting to be the “bad guy”. Then perhaps the anxious helicoptering ensues when they realize they’ve sent their child out with absolutely no life skills?

    don’t know, but we are all worried about the niece and nephew in my family.

  64. thefrogprincess on 17 Jul 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    This is funny b/c my parents’ view was that my homework took priority and so I did very little housework growing up. (There was also something about my mother’s mother forcing her to do all the housework and so my mother didn’t want to repeat that.) BUT even if I didn’t do much housework, I knew how to do everything: wash dishes (and we didn’t have a dishwasher), wash and iron clothes, mop, some basic cooking, etc. And the clear idea was that when I left the house for college, I would know how to do all the basics and I think that’s incredibly valuable.

    (A brief anecdote: a few years back, I spent a few days in London and stayed at the apartment of a college friend, who had spent a few years working in finance in New York and then had moved to London. After eating some food, I went to wash the dishes and filled up the sink with dishwater. My friend then came over and asked me how I had done that; he had probably washed individual pieces under running water, I’m assuming, but had never filled up a sink with warm, soapy water. We were 25.)

  65. CCPhysicist on 17 Jul 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I think there are a lot of parents (mothers perhaps especially) who want to continue to feel needed by their children.

    I have little doubt that this is the case for my sister-in-law, and there it has nothing to do with decreased family size.

    As for changes over time, I have seen the shift from “in loco parentis” (which ended just before I started college) to “no parents” to helicopters in my lifetime and I find it bizarre … except that I can understand why my brother would want a bit more structure in his kids’ college experience than he had. It might not be a coincidence that boomers had extreme freedom in college in the 70s and then watch their kids like mother hawks.

    That said, there were kids back in my day who had that need. Some ran up their phone bill and some couldn’t handle it and dropped out (but might have continued school at home). They might survive today. But the fine-grained supervision today (24/7 cell contact) is overkill even if I do wonder how I ever managed to go grocery shopping in pre-cell days!

    Of course, some of that detail directed toward the parents might also be a way of creating the illusion that the parents know everything that is going on…..

  66. CCPhysicist on 17 Jul 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    Oh, I have to add one detail for Katrina. I do know there are dorms (or subsets of dorms) that enforce curfews on visitors of the opposite sex, sort of in parallel to ones that are fully co-ed. Alcohol control is much stricter now than it was when I went to college (even with the drinking age at 21). But the days when students at a state university were required to have a wastebasket in the doorway if a girl was in the room (thus creating a market for crushed wastebaskets that allowed the door to close) and keep at least three feet on the floor at all times – those ended a couple years before I got to college.

  67. Koop on 18 Jul 2010 at 8:43 am #

    One would hope college would at least be a venue to “cut the cord”. Do kids these days not do household chores anymore either?

    For perspective, when my father was in university (late 50s/early 60s @ large midwestern institution), students routinely mailed their laundry home. The post office even had special boxes for this purpose. In loco parentis rules also forbade students from having kitchens. A lot of that changed after Vietnam.

  68. Z on 18 Jul 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    What I find creepy is my friend who scours the Internet to look at bus maps in the faraway city where her son, who is over 21 lives, so as to exhort him to commute in the way she considers best.

    In the IHE article, I thought it was a little weird that the mother was looking things up on the son’s university website and sending him the links. I think making the suggestions she did was fine, I just wouldn’t have done the actual footwork. Maybe just sending the links was faster than explaining that they would be there if he looked, though. My current department chair definitely assumes none of us are familiar with the university website, and always gives instructions; my bet is that it’s because it’s faster to head off all questions at the beginning; the mom is also an administrator and may have gotten into that mode.

    But as regards the other phoning and so on, I think a lot of it is just because space-time have been changed since long distance phone calls became free. I remember people in college whose mothers phoned them long distance and every morning, and it was apron strings. Others sometimes extravagantly phoned their mothers for advice on cooking, and it was just love. In my family, we all had interrelated majors and we’d phone each other to ask quick academic questions just because there was no Internet, the library and the professors’ offices were a trek away, and asking a friend could mean creating a social distraction.

  69. Helicoptering: what does it matter to faculty? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 19 Jul 2010 at 7:44 am #

    [...] week’s discussion of helicopter parents inspired a lot of comments.  But, I felt a little bad about having started the conversation [...]

  70. On No. 2 Pencils « Shitty First Drafts on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    [...] approach to higher education before they darken the doors of our unis.” As Squadratomagico said in response to last week’s post, “Now I better understand the student who inquired, when I asked if there were any questions [...]

  71. Comrade Svilova on 20 Jul 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    In response to Rustonite, whose situation is very similar to what I’ve experienced, I always wonder if the pressures to be “a perfect mother” are part of what compels my own mother to not acknowledge when her behavior is clearly out of line. What she sees as normal and just-doing-my-job-as-mom seems excessive to many other people. But a perfect mother won’t just do what’s good enough for other people, no? Perfect parents have to go above and beyond.

    I don’t know if the increasing emphasis on perfect parents is part of the helicopter parent phenomenon, but I could see it being connected.

  72. Cville on 27 Jul 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    I was first-gen student from a dirt-poor rural background; I went to college 400 miles way to Large Urban Univ. I researched school myself, applied myself, got 2 jobs, got loans (for federal loans and Pell grants no parental signatures necessary), housing, budgeted, registered, etc. I was completely on my own and I committed to sending money home to help out; not saying I did it all perfectly (I was homeless while attending classes for awhile). I simply feel no connection to ‘helicopter’ kids or parenting. Of course my own race, class, gender, sexuality always inform my understanding of topics such as these.

  73. STNJ SPTP: Weeks 8-13 (The Final Installment – long overdue!) « Emma Leigh Waldron on 10 Sep 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    [...] having never suffered the ill effects of helicopter parenting myself, I am far less sympathetic to those who do struggle to make a decision, having never had to make one for themselves.  The abilities to be proactive, critical, and self-reliant are all good, but I’ll even settle [...]

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