July
19th 2010
Helicoptering: what does it matter to faculty?

Posted under: American history, childhood, jobs, students

What does it matter?

Last week’s discussion of helicopter parents inspired a lot of comments.  But, I felt a little bad about having started the conversation without more of a setup or guidance from me.  (Aren’t any of you away from the summer, or unplugged from blogs at least?  Jeezy Creezy!)  After all, the author of the original article opened up her life and her parenting to close scrutiny by the general public, which I think was terribly brave of her.  (If I am a parent, I certainly am not courageous enough to write about my family life like she did.  After all, I won’t even tell you if I am a parent!)  I didn’t mean for our discussion to be a pile-on of one woman, and I was really pleased that the discussion you all generated remained focused on the issue of helicoptering generally rather than on one parent personally.

But, really:  why should college or university faculty care about the parenting styles of our students’ parents?  Is this discussion of parenting just an online form of rubbernecking and taking easy shots at what goes on in other families?  (After all, I’m the blogger who has urged us all to refrain from judging parents too harshly because of the bucketload of cultural assumptions and expectations we put on parenting, and on mothering in particular.) 

I think it’s a good thing to be aware of the larger forces that have shaped our students and their 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 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!”  I too have anecdotal evidence of increasing student apprehension–but I’m not sure if that’s due to parenting or the No Child Left Behind-style of test-driven education, which has put I think too much pressure on children to perform particular skills and not enough on creative problem-solving.

As someone who teaches at a large public uni, where students are downright touched if we remember their names on occasion, and where only a tiny number will come to office hours unbidden, I’ve had only a small handful of phone calls or e-mails from the parents of my students over the past nine years.  (I had about the same number in four years teaching at a private, Catholic uni before that.)  So, helicopter parents haven’t been a huge issue in my career, and because I’m responsive to student contact (and because my e-mail program saves a copy of all of my outgoing correspondence), I’m able to respond quickly and thoroughly to any questions about student performance. 

So, I’m interested in hearing from you all on the question of whether helicopter parents are an issue at all for college and university faculty, and if they are, to what extent are you changing or have you changed your pedagogy or your approach to your students?  If you are a parent, has dealing with helicopter parents influenced how you think about raising your own children and your interaction with their schools (K-12 or higher ed)?

50 Comments »

50 Responses to “Helicoptering: what does it matter to faculty?”

  1. Bardiac on 19 Jul 2010 at 8:14 am #

    I teach at a public, regional school, and can’t remember a time I’ve interacted with parents that wasn’t appropriate. (You know, at a graduation where you see a student and s/he introduces his/her parents and you congratulate them on raising a wonderful person, for example.)

    I do have first year students who get awfully homesick; is that related? I’m guessing plenty of people I went to school with were homesick, too, way back in the stone ages.

    My students’ uncertainty (about pens or whatever) seems more likely to come from their being first generation college students who really, really don’t know the “rules” of college life. They did well enough in high school, and are aware that there are rules, but have little idea how the rules are different. Part of teaching first year students is helping them learn the new rules as gently as possible.

    It’s interesting, though, because we do also have some pretty privileged students, and they never question what pen or whatever they should use. They figure they can use crayon and it’s my job to read and grade their work. I wonder how they fit the helicoptering thing?

  2. Dr. Crazy on 19 Jul 2010 at 8:18 am #

    As I’m also at a large public uni, I’ve had almost no contact with the parents of my students regarding their work in my courses. What I *have* experienced, however, is students who look to their parents to tell them what to do academically (whether on individual assignments or in terms of laying out their course schedule, etc.) instead of following my directions (on assignments) or instead of taking my advice (in terms of what would be most effective for them in terms of choosing classes, etc.). I find that incredibly frustrating, as really, I’m the one they need to be consulting and listening to about that stuff – not good ol’ mom or dad. And since I’m not actually in contact with the parents, I can’t tell the parents to butt out, so basically it takes having the student do poorly based on the parents’ advice in order for the student to realize that perhaps neither mother nor father “knows best” when it comes to college. (Which I do think is a valuable lesson for them to learn, just one they wouldn’t need to learn if the parents were a bit less “helpful.”)

  3. Historiann on 19 Jul 2010 at 8:33 am #

    “What I *have* experienced, however, is students who look to their parents to tell them what to do academically (whether on individual assignments or in terms of laying out their course schedule, etc.) instead of following my directions (on assignments) or instead of taking my advice (in terms of what would be most effective for them in terms of choosing classes, etc.)”

    My experiences track with yours, Bardiac and Dr. Crazy. I have noticed an uptick in recent years of students who tell me (as an aside) that their parents proofread or otherwise comment on their papers before they’re submitted to me, which I think is strange but probably honest. But I’m considering adding this to my speech about plagiarism before the first essays are due–what constitutes reasonable advice and where that might shade into academic dishonesty. On the one hand, it impresses me whenever a student cares enough about doing well in a class to write ahead of the deadline so they have time to proofread and edit it. On the other–really? Who’s got the time?

  4. Anna on 19 Jul 2010 at 8:43 am #

    I’ve never been an instructor, or faculty, but during my undergrad I was an RA, and I’m going to relay some of my experiences with that in a different sense, because I know some of our non-instructional faculty in Housing & Dining deal with the helicoptering in a huge way.
    I would frequently get calls from parents wanting to know if I had seen their child (some of them up to grad students), if I knew what they were doing, or whether they had gone out the night before. Most of the time these calls would come in after the parent had contacted my (faculty) supervisor and was unable to get the information. Assuming I wouldn’t be familiar with legal and university-specific student privacy regulations, I guess, they would expect me to provide information I was contractually and by policy unable to supply. The most I could do was say, “if I see them, I’ll have them get in touch,” but usually I’d get a brush-off on that one, as if the parent just wanted to find their kid and move on.

    I did, however, have a fiance once upon a time (and the story that follows is a major part of why we are no longer together) whose mother would call his instructors fully expecting a mid-term report. Every single semester, despite the fact that the Ex hadn’t waived FERPA at all. Of course she also scrutinized his bank records and had every single internet password he had.

    So like I said, I don’t know from an academic standpoint, but I do know that the parental involvement in the lives of independent students is sometimes invasive, and they are so unaccustomed to having to actually speak to their child to get information–and/or assume their child is withholding information to which they have an inherent parental right–that they’ll contact people whose responsibility is to the student and not the parent and then attempt to get those people reprimanded for not divulging private information.

  5. GayProf on 19 Jul 2010 at 9:30 am #

    I haven’t had any encounters with parents since arriving at Big Midwestern U. Like the others, I do have students self report that their parents are making almost all of their decisions for them.

    When I was in TexAss, I saw much more helicoptering, mostly because the material that I covered in my classes directly challenged some pretty basic beliefs of my students and their parents. On one occasion, I had a student’s mother call the dean’s office demanding that I be fired for pushing my radical queer agenda on her innocent child.

  6. squadratomagico on 19 Jul 2010 at 9:42 am #

    I have had one parent call me and wrangle on the phone about her daughter “failing” my class — when the girl had received a B+! That was irritating.

    Otherwise, my main observation has been a decline of independent decision-making, like blue-pen kid. I noticed this past year in particular, that my incoming freshling students seemed to need a lot more hand-holding, and expected the “adults” (faculty & staff) to reassure them continually, and solve their problems. Of course, this is not entirely new: there always have been immature students who can’t seem to negotiate the world well on their own. But I was struck by what seemed to be a sharp spike in this type just this past year.

    For instance, I’ve taught this same syllabus in my Great Books class for several years, but this is the first time I got panicked emails saying, in substance, “I don’t know what to read for, can you help me? Please tell me what I need to know — I’m scared because I don’t understand this completely.” In other words, the general experience of instability that is an intrinsic part of learning something deeply unfamiliar and challenging and new — like, say, Augustine — actually frightened a number of them. In previous years, I imagine students have had that same experience of opacity while reading, but they accepted it as part of the process of learning. My latest students were frightened when the readings weren’t transparent enough, and they therefore couldn’t achieve full mastery of the texts immediately. I think helicoptering is responsible for the lack of inner resources to deal with such fears; but as Historiann suggests, I also suspect NCLB and the testing culture fosters anxiety about memorizing everything on the surface of the reading (but without caring about critically engaging with it on the level of ideas, of course). Unfortunately, that’s exactly the wrong recipe for success in college (at least in my classes). I was struck not only by the level of actual fear about this, but also by the consistency with which I received emails that were, in essence, requests for therapeutic assurance / the “right answers” from me. This is relatively new.

  7. Historiann on 19 Jul 2010 at 9:43 am #

    Well, I was going to complain about your radical queer agenda too, GayProf, just on behalf of all of your students on principle. It’s hardly radical enough! You need to teach in your WW costume.

    Thanks, Anna, for your comments. What you say is so interesting–how technology (and supposed lackeys like ResLife staff) are deployed to surveil. You suggest that this is happening without the students’ knowledge or eagerness to communicate with parents. But, I wonder about this: how could your ex-future mother-in-law know all of your ex-fiance’s passwords without his cooperation? (I don’t mean to quarrel with you, I’m just thinking these issues through.)

  8. NTBW on 19 Jul 2010 at 9:59 am #

    I teach at a large public state university, and in my capacity as a regular prof, I have very little interaction with parents. However, I spent some time as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for my department. In that capacity, I had a significant number of unpleasant interactions with helicopter parents, because I was the person who had to deal with all cases of academic dishonesty. Parents would want to plead on students’ behalf–”really, little Johnny is a good kid and didn’t MEAN to take his entire research paper off the internet. It was just an accident.” That, or threaten me with lawsuits, getting me fired, and the like. That happened at least 5 times per year. I thanked the gods regularly for FERPA, which meant that I could simply tell them that unless the student formally waived his rights, I could discuss pretty much nothing. I also loved it when they would tell me, “I’m paying your salary, so you have to do what I tell you.” I was always tempted to say, “Oh, YOU’RE the person with whom I need to discuss the fact that I’m so radically underpaid in comparison with my colleagues at peer institutions, then. And the fact that I haven’t had a merit raise in four years, despite my outstanding merit reviews–that’s your fault, is it?”

    When I was an undergrad 20 years ago, I went to school about an hour away from home. I visited home about two times per semester, and I spoke to my parents every few weeks. I was and am quite close to my parents, but, dude, I was BUSY. And so were they. They knew my major, but that’s about it. I would have rather died than have had them contact one of my profs about anything. I don’t think they knew the names of most of my professors most of the time I was in college. My dad’s an academic, though, so maybe he had his own issues with parents and knew to keep his nose out.

    I hope I’ll do the same when my kids go to college. Thus far I think I’ve managed pretty well with the K-12 teachers. Other than letting them know when kids are sick, I’ve had relatively little communication with them except for the regular parent-teacher conferences and going to speak to classes about my research area when it features in their lesson plans.

  9. Bridgett on 19 Jul 2010 at 10:25 am #

    I teach in a small gradaute program at a state university. The program is a cohort program where the students are on campus several years, so we tend to know the students quite well. Students need to complete over 80 hours of prerequisites to apply, although about half of our students do have an undergrad degree. Therefore, our youngest students tend to be 21 or 22 and have been in college a minimum of 3 years.

    In day to day issues, parents of our students are rarely involved (at least not in ways that are evident to us). When issues of academic dishonesty arise and the situation is elevated to the dean’s office, we tend to see more active parental involvement in these situations. This strikes me odd given the relative age of our students, but given the gravity of the situation, I can see the rationale from the parent’s perspective.

    However, about a year ago, a parent of a student called another faculty member on several occassions throughout the semester to express concern over how hard the student was working but not achieving the grade she was working toward.

    Of course the faculty member, explained FERPA and that they should not be having the conversation. The parent countered with, “That’s ok… my daughter would be FURIOUS if she knew I contacted you in the first place. She always hated when I did that at her other school!” Wow!!!!

    The interesting thing is that the student was always appropriate and actively interacted with the faculty on her own. But knowing that her mother was calling against her expressed wishes always made me want to say to her…move very far away when you graduate!

  10. Notorious Ph.D. on 19 Jul 2010 at 11:02 am #

    I teach at a large public university, and don’t really have these issues right now. But at the equally large public university where I was a grad instructor, I once had a student with a conservative christian upbringing in my women’s history class reveal to me that she had to spend the first week of the four-week summer course trying to convince her father to write a tuition check to cover the one he had canceled when he saw the (deliberately provocative — gotta get them enrollment numbers!) title of the course and became convinced that the class was propagating a neo-pagan Wiccan something-or-other.

    And during that whole first week, she was coming to class and doing the work (and doing it well), all the while working to establish a new balance between love and respect on the one hand, and independence on the other. I have never admired a student more.

  11. madaha on 19 Jul 2010 at 11:11 am #

    squadratomagico:

    I’ve felt that too, that over the past couple of years I’m expected to be almost an occupational therapist, just to get people to do the assignments. I’ve given many “you can do it/you’re responsible for your own work” pep talks, etc.

    But I’m not sure of all this, partly because I’m being put on the spot and expected to have psychological expertise which I do not have.

    In these cases, how have you handled it? Do you have any advice about this, and have you noticed anything you have said that students seemed to respond to, while letting them know that their work is their job?

    I think much of it is a lack of problem-solving, as mentioned before, and a greater emotional neediness, (which I am not qualified to address – I’d rather keep it to the lesson at hand!), but also, many times, it seems manipulative, as if they’re trying to GET OUT of doing the required work. One wants to be sympathetic, but that can leave you open to con artists, n’est pas?

    If you or anyone else has any advice on this, let me know. This past semester was especially full of these types….

  12. Lisa Albert on 19 Jul 2010 at 11:45 am #

    In defense of the “can I use a blue pen” student — there are now a low of forms (such as US tax forms) that state that you can ONLY use a black pen. He/she may just have been checking if the teacher had a similar rule.

  13. Leslie on 19 Jul 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    I’ve experienced very little of it–small music program at a large public university. Maybe one or two parents in 15 years? The first used to call during her kid’s lessons…WTF? But the student got her to back off. And if the second got a little intrusive, she also had some entirely legitimate concerns about her child’s mental health, so it’s hard to call it helicoptering. Annoying, but not the day-to-day thing we associate with the word.

    What we have encountered are instances (multiple) where the student is indeed suffering from serious mental health issues or substance abuse. So there the delicate balance is to respond to the parental concern, without violating the student’s privacy. Because much of the teaching is tutorials, so long as the student isn’t so far gone that s/he has stopped showing up, we can raise the issue in private. Usually along the lines of “hey, your parent emailed me and is worried about you. are you aware of these campus resources?” The undergrad advisor regular sends guidelines to the faculty about where to direct students who are having problems, so that makes it easier.

    Some problem students are self-regulating. Meaning….I had a first-year student a few years ago who was a complete slacker. Didn’t enroll in required first year courses; skipped lessons. There was a point where I got an email from his mom and it became clear to me that he had been lying to both of us. Told me, for example, that he’d had to go home because he’d been ‘very sick,’ when in fact he hadn’t been home or in contact with home. He flunked out of school in the first year. We did not even consider reinstating him.

  14. Dr. Crazy on 19 Jul 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    @ Madaha – My basic operating procedure is to offer to meet with the student to talk about approaches (if they’re afraid of an assignment, which a good many of mine are) or to talk about how I evaluated an assignment (if the student did poorly and wants to do better next time) but deadlines are deadlines and the grade given is the grade given. In other words, while it takes an expenditure of energy on my part to meet with these students (and actually, I *regularly* have students in my office, which I know is not the case for some others, but this has definitely been true for me), there’s no opportunity for them to con me because I don’t care what your problem is – the policies are the policies. (Now, of course I’ve made exceptions in grave circumstances, I’m not totally heartless, but at least so far the students with those have not been the needy ones.) If the student seems to be suffering from something more than immaturity and insecurity, I refer the student to campus services because, as you say, I’m not trained to deal with mental health/emotional issues on a broader scale.

  15. thefrogprincess on 19 Jul 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    On this testing issue, I don’t think we can underestimate how much high school education matters in this conversation. I’m in my late 20s and so graduated from high school just before NCLB. During my four years of high school, my state began to gradually implement the new state testing program. Passing a certain number of tests wasn’t yet a graduation requirement; that final step rolled into place for the class three years behind me. But we had to take them and already a dramatic difference. These tests were taken in early May, leaving a full month of class time that, more often than not, went to waste, watching movies and the like. And teachers were actively teaching to the tests, focusing on content rather than problem solving or research. The one way out of this was AP classes but even then, it depended heavily on an individual teacher’s approach. (The other problem is APs is the wide range of offerings at various schools, where some schools offer 1 or 2 while others offer more than 10.)

    I can only imagine that this has gotten worse and we’re going to have to figure out how to handle the fact that students are likely going to come in panicked about being right and getting the right answers.

    (And yes, on the issue of the blue pen, I was in high school in the late 90s, early 2000s, and writing implements were strictly regulated: number 2 pencils, blue or black ink, generally ballpoint pens only, you actually couldn’t write with whatever you wanted. This was in large part because so much of our assignments, even those that weren’t part of state testing, happened on scantrons and so only pencil was allowed.)

  16. madaha on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    @Dr. Crazy:

    that’s basically my approach too. But what do you specifically tell a student who is “scared of the assignment”? I’ve had a lot of students who seem to be afraid of papers and exams, (many students are so used to multiple-choice exams, that any other format freaks them out!), and other than giving general studying tips, and saying “I know it seems like a lot if you’re not used to it, but you can do it, you’ll see, it’s not that bad”, I don’t know what else to say.

    Seems that some are so used to major hand-holding, even this kind of pep-talk isn’t enough.

  17. madaha on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    I had one student last semester, who, way after the fact, complained that he didn’t think my advice on how to make flash cards (!?!) was sufficient. I could only wonder if he didn’t want me to make the flash cards for him? Are students so used to having pre-made study guides that they are no longer able to study on their own? Maybe off-topic, but it seems related. To me that’s a ridiculous amount of hand-holding.

    I guess a broader answer to Historiann’s question is: it matters a lot to teachers, if students are so used to having their responsibilities handled by their parents, they will expect their teachers to “serve” them in the same way.

    I am their underpaid teacher. I am not their
    1. personal secretary
    2. therapist
    3. Mommy
    4. office supply store (many unprepared students ask ME for pens, pencils, paper, rather than their fellow students – this is something that may be related as well – asking teachers for things that I would have been embarrassed to admit when I was a student. In my day (ha, so old at 37!) we would ask our friends for these favors, and not bothered the prof for them!) Profs have become servants, rather than authority figures? This MUST be related to parents treating their children as friends rather than children.

    This all means that there are new expectations for our jobs, which personally affects us quite a bit.

  18. On No. 2 Pencils « Shitty First Drafts on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    [...] Jul Historiann has been hosting a lively discussion of helicopter parenting and its impact on student attitudes [...]

  19. MsMcD on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    In high school, the mother of a classmate of mine made her son go to a Franciscan School for college. She knew the monks would keep an eye on him, and make him get up for classes, so it was safe. I always felt sorry for him.

    Like other posters, I went to my parents (history teacher, and novelist) to look over my papers in college, until I realized that I did much better when they didn’t help me. I often tell my students this- by all means revise and have other people look over your papers, but make sure to keep your own voice. But paper revisions are an important part of my courses.

    Last point: as a teaching assistant/lecturer I have not come across helicopter parents, although I have come across several mental health issues. However, a good friend of mine was an adjunct at a private college for a couple years in the freshmen program. When one of the students got upset at his grade, he turned to his father, who turned out to be an ambassador, and the embassy got involved! My friend’s contract was not renewed. If professors get annoyed at helicopter parents, imagine how terrified adjuncts are, and how it changes their teaching and grading.

  20. Dr. Crazy on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    @madaha -
    I spend a lot of time with the student asking the student questions. I *don’t* just tell them what to do or offer practical advice (e.g., here are some study tips, or here are possible paper topics), even though they find that frustrating. And even though it takes a lot longer to meet with the student. So, the questions I ask.

    Ok, why is this assignment freaking you out? What have you done so far to prepare for or to begin the assignment? What resources are available to you (assignment sheet, course blackboard resources, campus resources) that can help you to do well? Have you used those resources? Are you confused about how to use these resources? What are your questions/challenges? What do you hope to get out of this meeting with me? Is that a realistic expectation? Why/why not? What do you need to do to get the result that you desire? What else is going on in your stupid life that is getting in the way of your work in this course? What strategies can you use to address that?

    By getting the student to do the work (as much as it’s like pulling teeth) I’m modeling for them how to deal with such things on their own. At the beginning of the appointment I tell them I’m going to do that so I tell them they should take notes throughout on the questions I ask and on their answers to them, and then I remind them at the end of the meeting that I just showed them how to handle assignment anxiety on their own if this ever comes up in another context.

    Anyway, some might say that what I do above is hand-holding. I’d argue, though, that it’s teaching. Really intense teaching, teaching for which one never gets rewarded, but teaching. And once I force a student to do that with me for 30-45 minutes (during which time it is not unusual for them to cry, which also sucks), they know how to do it for themselves the next time, so that student a) doesn’t come back again with the neediness and anxiety but b) DOES come back and use office hours for other real (and less pathetic) conversations throughout the semester or even after they’ve left my class.

  21. Matt L on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    This is a neat follow up post and discussion Historiann.

    I think Helicopter parenting does matter to faculty, but not as much as we would think. I am guessing that the Ivy’s or tony lib arts colleges have to deal with more of the parental phone calls about how Johnny is doing in his classes. I’ve taught at a state university for five years and I have yet to get a call from a parent.

    I think the helicoptering at this level is more ‘behind the scenes’ like some commenters have mentioned above: parents proofreading (ghostwriting) assignments, choosing classes, and choosing majors. I did advise a student from the Business School defect to the humanities for half a semester, but when ze’s parents found out, ze reverted back to the bachelors in business administration. I know of several of my advisees who have gotten grief from their parents about being history majors.

  22. Matt L on 19 Jul 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    oh and when I say ‘defect’ that meant the student came and talked to me, said they were unhappy with their business degree and were interested in becoming a history major. I basically told them to think about doing a minor, but they really wanted to change their major, so I gave them the form, showed them what classes they would have to take for the next four semesters. They filled out the form of their own accord and then had a change of heart after a confrontation with the parents. They came back to me to talk about changing back, I said, “no problem, why don’t you do a minor?” Last I heard of them before they returned behind the iron curtain of the B-School.

    Maybe our department should start offering free toasters to students who declare a history major? …like they used to do with checking accounts…

  23. Historiann on 19 Jul 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Heh. The B-school as the Iron Curtain. I likes it! Most are about as ideologically diverse as the former CCCP, just in reverse. It’s all Hayak/Friedmanomics, right, and the Free Marketeers!

    Dr. Crazy is performing quite a service for the other faculty at her uni. She’s right: that’s the kind of teaching that’s thankless and a huge time suck, but it’s the kind of intervention that can turn around a college career (or even a life) completely.

    I’m not quite as giving as Dr. Crazy. My rule is, effort in, effort back. If a student bothers to come see me with even a brief and very rough outline, we can talk about ways to go with a paper. If a student asks me to read a draft of a paper, I never say no (in large part because it happens so infrequently that it’s not a huge sacrifice.) The more they think through their issue/problem, the better I can help them formulate specific answers or solutions. I like Crazy’s emphasis on walking the students through the process of breaking a problem down and attacking it in bite-sized pieces. I think that’s a very productive way to address the problem of student paralysis that madaha asks.

    And, thefrogprincess: of course, AP classes were the originial classes taught to a test! And some say that’s still too much of the pedagogy.

  24. madaha on 19 Jul 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    thanks Dr Crazy, that is good advice. I think part of the problem is that this almost always happens outside of office hours – (at where I was teaching, no one ever came!) – so I was trying to briefly address things, as I could in the moment. That was a lot of the frustration – students expecting detailed attention in a venue where I was not able to give it. They expect everything now now now! Kind of thing.

    In future, I think I will simply tell them that that kind of detailed problem needs to be addressed in office hours only, which will give us both a chance to talk it out.

    But again, thanks for your response, and I will definitely apply that technique!!

  25. madaha on 19 Jul 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    I especially like how you turn it around on them – they come in to see what YOU can do for THEM, and using the Socratic method in a very detailed and yet friendly way, you ask them what they’ve done so far, and how THEY can help THEMSELVES.

    excellent.

  26. Ruth on 19 Jul 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    I teach at a large public university, and the only time I have had a parent contact me in ten years is when the student was in a serious accident and physically unable to phone or e-mail me hirself. I don’t think it’s because the students are more independent personally–a number of them live at home–but because their parents don’t feel knowledgeable about the university or the same sense of entitlement.

  27. randomunistudent on 19 Jul 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    Recently at my university in Ontario the campus bookstore began to be required to carry ALL textbooks for every class and that all professors then had to submit their requests months in advance. This came about after several parents complained at a deans meeting (I believe it was) that their kids shouldn’t have to go to more than one place in the city for their books (as professors often order from smaller bookstores due to cost and efficiency). I was in 3rd year when this happened and was astonished. I always made my way around town to find all my books, it wasn’t difficult, the city isn’t big. I was surprised that some parents were even that involved in their kids university experience, mine live 7 hours away! It seemed and seems ridiculous to me that the an 18 or 19 year old can’t run errands around a small city with good public transportation and everything within walking distance anyway. Added to this, the bookstore is at least 5 times more expensive than any of the other stores. The professors are still free to order from the smaller places as long as they submit their books to the bookstore as well. I can’t wrap my head around why the parents didn’t tell their kids (pending of course any disability etc.) to get the books cheaper and take responsibility!

  28. randomunistudent on 19 Jul 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    I know several professors who are NOT pleased about this as it causes extra stress for them and have to have their book choices in months in advance, often before they have the classes fully planned.

  29. Janice on 19 Jul 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    I’ve not had inappropriate contact with parents in my twenty years of university teaching but, last year, I conducted a session with high school seniors who’d applied to our department and their parents. One parent grilled me long and hard about what you could do with a history degree. Fortunately, I’d prepared for just that kind of question but you could see that the accompanying student appeared more than a bit harried.

    I haven’t seen that student in our majors so far so I expect that parental influence moved the child over to business or something “more marketable” in the parent’s eyes.

  30. Susan on 19 Jul 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    I suspect this does depend on institutions. I’ve had students who are supporting their parents (and I gather that last year some students gave financial aid checks to their families and lived in cars) but no parent interference. And since half our students don’t speak English at home, parents would not necessarily be proofreaders of papers.

    What this suggests to me is that the major pedagogical task of freshperson instructors is teaching intellectual risk-taking.
    Wheels churning. Maybe I’ll do some work on my syllabus!

  31. Ellis on 19 Jul 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    Until this spring, I worked 14+ years in the library at a mid-size private university. In the last 5 years the amount of helicoptering has much more visible in interactions between library personnel and students. On a number of occasions, when a student discovers that a book s/he wants is checked out, s/he calls a parent to find out what to do next. A 3-way conversation then ensues, with the parent talking to the library staff via the student about holds, recalls, alternative titles, etc.

    I don’t know if a student repeats this behavior, or if students can handle this type of interaction on their own, once they’ve been led through it once by a parent.

  32. DeeDee on 19 Jul 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    I have taught at an Ivy and at a large public university, and I’ve never had a parent contact me. If they’re hovering, they’re doing it where I don’t have to see them.

  33. Another Damned Medievalist on 19 Jul 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    At a SLAC, where personal attention is one of the draws. Heard from parents today, as a matter of fact. I’d say that I average one parent call a year, if we take out the serious problem families. I’m not going to go into it more than to say that if all the communication is between the parents and the professor, the student probably needs to not be at SLAC. And that it makes me really uncomfortable to deal with parents over what should be student decision-making. Part of my job as advisor is to help the students learn some of the skills that will serve them outside the university. Parents who call me put me in an awkward position because it undermines my relationship with the student and because the kind of parents who insist on FERPA waivers and call to work out the details of the student’s academic (and usually every other aspect of the student’s college experience) really have no sense of boundaries or appropriate behaviour. And they are less willing and able to accept, “this is not part of my job,” as an answer.

  34. Comrade PhysioProf on 20 Jul 2010 at 5:03 am #

    I am guessing that the Ivy’s or tony lib arts colleges have to deal with more of the parental phone calls about how Johnny is doing in his classes.

    No. It’s the opposite. The parents of the privileged students that predominate in those institutions know that plus or minus a grade here or there isn’t going to tangibly affect their child’s future, and that Janie/Johnny is going to get their job in the law firm/investment bank/museum/art auction house/etc regardless of whether they ace Western Civ.

  35. Historiann on 20 Jul 2010 at 8:24 am #

    Interesting. I would also imagine that the people who are admitted to Ivies are pretty competent w/most life skills. However, at Ben Franklin U. in the early 1990s, there was a major plagiarism scandal the year before I arrived that was uncovered by a group of 4-5 T.A.s. In spite of the fact that the students were caught dead-to-rights submitting the same paper under different names to different T.A.s, there was one kid whose parents were taking the case to court b/c his degree was at stake. His T.A. had to be deposed, as I recall. So, I’m betting that the parents of people at Ivies have the time and the resources to devote to defending their childrens’ and/or families’ honor, to a much greater extent than a lot of other parents of college students.

  36. Comrade PhysioProf on 20 Jul 2010 at 11:23 am #

    So, I’m betting that the parents of people at Ivies have the time and the resources to devote to defending their childrens’ and/or families’ honor, to a much greater extent than a lot of other parents of college students.

    Oh, they absolutely do. But that all occurs at a much higher level than the “helicoptering” we’re talking about here. They certainly don’t waste their time talking to some fucking prole professor.

  37. Western Dave on 20 Jul 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    We need to differentiate two separate problems here. Problem 1. The first is that current HS students have huge disincentives towards independence and huge incentives towards hoop jumping. Thus my 9th graders constantly ask me if they can write in pen or pencil on tests. (In Middle School, they can only use pencil to encourage erasing and correcting of ideas). I tell them they can use pen or pencil, but answers in pencil that are erased can’t be claimed as mismarked. A related issue here is that students get so much guidance about what to read for now in MS and HS that they expect Guiding Questions for every unit. Now guiding questions are very helpful, but sometimes you just need to immerse yourself in a text. Try mixing it up with your 1st year students with some guiding questions and some “open reading” assignments gradually shifting towards all open reading. If you have time to go the Dr. Crazy route, go there. Dr. Crazy, you rock! Legions of students will forever be better students and better people for your work.

    The helicopter parent phenomenon OTOH has to do with a group of parents who for a variety of reasons, have trouble letting their kids grow up. As some folks have pointed out, there have always been helicopter parents, they just have more tools at their disposal now. And there appear to be more of them, although I think, to a certain extent, they simply used more informal methods of observation in the past. They sent their kids to boarding schools, then colleges where relatives or professors kept an eye on them. Ever seen one of those letters that says something like “Reverend Whitman says he hasn’t seen you at Church in several weeks.” Or “Professor Perkins told cousin Albert you have not been to his class in a week.”

    My mother tells me the story of being at Goucher College around the year 1951. A young woman was chucked out because she was white and doing civil rights work which involved an African-American man picking her up in a car on campus. The school asked her to get to the meetings some other way and she refused. Her schoolmates signed a petition to have her reinstated. Students were asked to recant or (and my mother always shudders at this part), they would tell their parents. I used to chalk this up to McCarthyism, but maybe it was just the way helicopter parenting worked back in the day in conjunction with parietal rules.

  38. Rad Readr on 20 Jul 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    I oversee a small staff of academic counselors, and last week I had to institute a new rule that parents are not allowed to come to the meetings with counselors during orientation for transfer students. This after a couple of cases in which counselors spent a lot of time with highly intrusive parents. Yes, these are parents of transfer students in their 20s.

    On another note, faculy in our language departments are having to clarify on their syllabi the difference between getting help from a parent with a heritage language and having the parent do the work for the student.

    These are cases where helicoptering hits the campus directly.

  39. The Rebel Lettriste on 20 Jul 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    Um, all I’m saying is that I will soon be required to post my syllabi AND MY STUDENT EVALUATIONS on the motherfucking web. To keep me “accountable” and all, to the people who “pay” my salary. You know, the taxpayers? They are the boss of me, apparently.

    Last summer I did have a helicopter Dad, now that I think of it, who contacted deans and all kinds of higher ups to demand that I change the grade for his learning-disabled queer son who failed my course. The kid was a gem, and he failed it honestly. He didn’t have a problem with it. But Lord, his dad did. I think the dad had a hard time that the kid was gay too, from what the kid told me.

    Later, the kid came to my office when I was pregnant and asked me, “if one of your twins are gay, what’ll you do?”

    “Love him,” I said. He was terribly relieved.

  40. Historiann on 20 Jul 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    Rebel Lettriste and Rad–your stories make me want to cry, but for different reasons!

    Western Dave: I see the two problems as you describe them as very much interrelated. The parents of our college students now are the same parents who agitated in the late 80s and early 1990s about standards, about rigor, about accountability for schools and teachers, and they’re the ones who went big for standardized tests and homework every night from Kindergarten on. Now, apparently, there’s anxiety about how Americans are losing creativity and problem-solving abilities. (Ya think?) This generation of parents didn’t want a generation of independent children–so they’ve got the dependent children they want. (I’m generalizing here–quite unfairly, I’m sure. But, it pisses me off.)

    Perhaps the pendulum will swing back again, but I don’t know. I think the current crop of educrats and edupreneurs have gamed the system. It’s much more lucrative for them to sell and scan tests, than to pay dedicated, smart teachers and unleash them to encourage creativity and independent thought. Those things are much harder to monetize.

  41. nicoleormaggie on 20 Jul 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    I had the father of a MASTERS student try to get me removed after his daughter was caught cheating. When the TA brought it to my attention, I immediately turned it over to the honors counsel so really there was nothing I could do even if he had managed to brow-beat me.

    When that didn’t work, he tried to get me removed for violating FERPA a year later (which, apparently doesn’t work– the university gets in trouble, not the faculty member, according to the legal office). Everybody knew she was caught cheating, not because she talked about it in the hallway on the top of her lungs (with an embellished story of her victimhood that I could not deny because of the FERPA law she was violating) but because I must have told people. As if the only thing on my mind was to persecute his precious daughter. First he complained to the state legislature. Then he went through the proper university channels. So much paperwork.

    It has been 3 years since she cheated and a year since I had to deal with either her or her helicopter parent. Though last year I did have to do a security clearance for her, which I tried to get out of because of FERPA, but then she signed the darned form so I had to talk to them and be honest about it.

    I hope they both get hit by a bus. (Is that horrible?) And I am very glad that the recession has caused our improved applicant pool to mean we never have to accept a person like her again. (Though I still want raises back.)

  42. Indyanna on 20 Jul 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    I remember having a conversation with you about parental helicoptering, how long ago was it, Historiann, well, it would have been the first year of your previous job. That might not have been the specific term of art used, but that was definitely the phenomenon in question. So it’s an issue that goes back beyond the millenium itself, however we may define the Millenial generation. I’ve always associated the issue with the parenting styles of the boomers, and since lots of them didn’t become parents until late in the 1970s–or later–that might fit that particular template. In truth, I’ve had only a few direct contacts from parents over the years, mostly in genuine emergencies, and the others always accepted my Buckley Amendment-based demurrers about getting interactive about their questions.

    Whatever I know or presume to know about helicoptering is mostly based on relentless overheard cell phone conversations in campus walkways, hallways, student centers, gyms, everywhere. In once sense, coming from a generation where performative alienation was pretty much a de riguer at least phase, I guess intergerational commity is kind of nice. But I have major questions about the dependency issues in long-term developmental perspective. I’m not sure that our institutions don’t encourage it, even more than they merely tolerate it.

  43. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Jul 2010 at 5:15 am #

    The parents of our college students now are the same parents who agitated in the late 80s and early 1990s about standards, about rigor, about accountability for schools and teachers, and they’re the ones who went big for standardized tests and homework every night from Kindergarten on. Now, apparently, there’s anxiety about how Americans are losing creativity and problem-solving abilities. (Ya think?)

    And we Dirty Fucking Hippies tried to tell those rigid uptight authoritarian assholes that this was exactly what the fuck was gonna happen. But did they listen? NO FUCKING WAY, cause what the fuck do Dirty Fucking Hippies know? But as usual, and like with everyfuckingthing else, we were 100% motherfucking correct.

  44. Perpetua on 21 Jul 2010 at 7:04 am #

    I’ve taught at two large public unis and have never had a run-in with a parent – except for once. I have a very strict late policy for my assignments, and on the eve of an essay due date, I received an email from a student I didn’t know well, telling me he had a “stomach ache” and that he couldn’t finish the paper/ come to class. Naturally, I suspected he was lying and sent him my standard response – that he would be held to the late penalty unless he ponied up with a doctor’s note. The next morning, this middle aged man walked into the classroom before class began and introduced himself as X’s father (he even handed me a business card, I presume as evidence). It turns out X was undergoing an emergency appendectomy and he was super freaked out about missing the deadline and wanted to make sure I knew his excuse was real! While on the one hand this is a funny anecdote, on another it signals to me how naive and *young* our students can be (I’m choosing “young” rather than “immature” because it’s not their fault they’re still adolescents!). Why on earth would anybody think they could or would be penalized for having emergency surgery? There might be one professor in the history of academic who would say “I don’t care,” but I’m pretty skeptical about it. The point is, many students don’t know the difference between a safeguard for excuses and a genuine emergency, that we might react differently to a serious medical/ family problem versus a romantic break up affecting their work. How can they not know the difference? Partly I suppose this is the work of growing up and learning how to navigate the adult world, and partly it’s a failure of common sense. But how under the thumb of authority must some of these kids must be in order to be unable to say, “If Dr. Perpetua throws a fit about my emergency surgery, that’s absolutely unfair and I refuse to believe that this would be her policy. We’ll figure it out after I get out of the hospital.” That is, to make a call about what’s right/appropriate and have the confidence to stick to it. The same is true for students who ask for extensions because of overloaded work schedules or minor problems. I always want to say, “YOU need to make the call about your priorities. Maybe my class isn’t your priority right now. That’s not always a bad thing. But YOU have to decide, and live with the consequences.” I’m not sure what to think about why so many of them can’t make these calls on their own. And I suspect that the flip side of the kid panicking because of his emergency surgery is the kid who plagiarizes.

  45. Historiann on 21 Jul 2010 at 8:05 am #

    Perpetua, this is another version of the old adage, “80% of the people cause 20% of the problems, and 20% of the people cause 80% of the problems. If it were my kid having surgery, you can bet that I’d be in the hospital with hir and would let my kid deal with any proffies or missed deadlines hirself!

    I’ve noticed that the above-board kids go out of their way to be scrupulous and follow directions to the letter, while the others. . . not so much.

    CPP: agreed. We’re right! But no one listens to us becuase they think they can always find a magical shortcut that will cost them less money. Just once I’d like to be wrong but rich, like the people who are ignoring us.

  46. Wogglebug on 21 Jul 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    @ Madaha: When I was in college and grad school, I was most likely to feel overwhelmed by an essay or research paper if the instructions weren’t really clear to me: vague, apparently self-contradictory, whatever. The thing that helped most was getting to read one to three model papers of that type (not the exact same topic, just the same length / level of analysis / style / etc.). Then I had a much better idea of what to aim for and no longer felt like I had to cover a near-infinite number of possibilities.

    Copying a few of the best papers from previous years and handing them out as models could be quicker and more effective than counseling students about their emotions.

  47. Anonymoose on 21 Jul 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    I am posting this Anonymously, to avoid Google. Helicopter parenting is a college’s worst nightmare. I am on the academic side now, but started as a administrator in higher ed (at a bigbucks R1 private institution), and what we saw there, starting about 2000, was just cringeworthy. If I had a dollar for every student that cried in my office, because, given a choice of two courses of action, neither of which was perfect but both of which had some pros and cons to them, students would say, time and time again, “I’ve never made a decision before. You choose.” When we kept tallies of parent calls, we found more than 75% of calls to academic advisors came from parents. Parents were moving into dorms and living on the floors of their kids rooms, or buying small condos nearby and living near their kids, to work for them like 24 concierges.

    And some helicopters? We called them the Black Hawks, mowing down everything in their kids’ paths, regardless of who got hurt, to smooth the way for their children. I have had parents lie to me about a spouse dying, to get an advantage for their kids. They have offered me (and my confederates) buckets of cash to obtain some perceived advantage for their kid on campus, as well as free plastic surgery (um…that was a little hurtful, frankly!), exclusive use of a boat for the summer, and a summer house stay. We have had Black Hawks make up deliberate lies about their kids’ roommates, as a way of trying to get the other kid kicked out so their kid can have an extra large single, and on my campus we had parents key a profs car in the parking lot and blame another kid in the running for the same fellowship as their child.

    Everyone suffers – the kids whose parents helicopter miss the opportunity to grow up. They literally are paralyzed with fear about what to do, because they have never had the opportunity to fail. And kids whose parents don’t helicopter – 1st generation kids, kids whose parents don’t speak english well, etc – they suffer too, because those Black Hawks are mowing them down to get as much advantage for their precious snowflake kids as possible. The reason most admissions office don’t put much weight on admissions essays is because of the Helicopters, who write the essays, or hire professional writers.

    And, lest I sound bitter, I talked to hundreds of parents (over the span of years) who didn’t helicopter – who gave their kids some space to make their own choices, who let them make mistakes and learn from them. But I talked to way, way more helicopters and Black Hawks, the ones who make it known that when their kid is caught with cocaine its the roommates, and when their kid is arrested for rape its the girl’s fault, and when their kid hangs a noose over a dorm door its a practical joke, and that they will not let their innocent child suffer for it, and oh, if any of this goes on his permanent record we are suing you because he is going to be president one day and cannot have this kind of blemish on his record.

    We kept a whiteboard in my office – parent, student, helicopter, Blackhawk. By far, most calls were helicopters, least calls were students, and Blackhawks and regular parents were somewhere in the middle.

  48. Historiann on 21 Jul 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Wow. That’s a nightmare, Anonymooose. I can’t believe you had the stomach to stay in higher ed after that experience.

    I have to wonder what the romantic/sexual future is for the children of helicopters (esp. Black Hawks.) Who wants a boyfriend/girlfriend/lover like these snotty-nosed and/or potentially criminal or destructive losers? Seriously. I didn’t raise this issue in my post, but it’s been on my mind all week long. How can people like that function in any kind of adult relationship?

    I mean function in a way that’s healthy. Kids like that are ripe for the plucking by unscrupulous people, much like their parents.

  49. Anonymoose on 21 Jul 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Honestly, this is just how it is in the admin side of the academy. My experience is truly no different than that of any of the peers I ever met at conferences. Its a tremendous problem, and because of it, so much valuable time and money is spent dealing with parents of students, rather than focusing on students.

  50. Z on 25 Jul 2010 at 2:05 am #

    Our funniest encounters are actually with spouses. “How dare you assign a book with sex in it to my wife…,” things like that.