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)?