Helicopter Parenting – The impact of too much parental involvement on your UO student. Take the following quiz to see how closely you hover over your UO student?
- Do you call or email your student frequently (more than one time a day)?
- Have you ever spoken to a professor about your student’s grades?
- Do you frequently wake up your student in the morning to ensure they attend their classes?
- Have you played a heavy hand with selecting the courses in your student’s class schedule?
- Have you talked with university staff to resolve your student’s problems (e.g., roommate conflict)?
- Have you completed your student’s assignments or gone above and beyond assisting your UO student with their academic work?
- Do you remind your student of college-related deadlines (e.g., assignment or test, paying a fee)?
- Have you pressured your student to pursue a particular major or profession?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of the questions above (especially one in which you have contacted UO on behalf of your student), you can consider yourself one of many helicopter parents college staff and faculty have come into contact with recently. If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, it is still important to recognize the fine line between being engaged and Involved with your student’s life and over-parenting.
Helicopter Parenting 101
Helicopter parenting has recently become a well-recognized phenomenon in higher education. These are the parents who swoop in to protect and rescue their students from experiencing the natural consequences of life. Originally coined by Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay in their 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching
Children Responsibility, helicopter parents hover closely over their student ensuring their safety, success, and well-being whether or not the student needs this level of involvement.
While helicopter parents usually come from a caring and loving place, their impact can be overprotective and overbearing. So how does one end up being a helicopter parent? There could be many influences and factors that lead parents to make their student’s decisions or fight their battles for them. For some parents, it could be the fear of seeing their UO student fail academically. After all, they have worked hard to raise their student to be successful in college. Furthermore, many helicopter parents desire to feel closely connected with their student. Some may have a strong desire to protect their student from making mistakes they themselves made during college. For others, it may be difficult to acknowledge that their student is not living under their roof and under “close watch” —especially those students who have moved far away from home.
Dangers of Overparenting
What about the student’s perspective? While students of helicopter parents might appreciate the support and care they receive, these students might also learn to be overly dependent. They might come to doubt their own judgment and be less likely to take risks. As a result, they may also be less likely to grow outside of their comfort zone. Along with having difficulty making their own decisions, these students could also run the risk of never learning from their own mistakes. If they are rescued from situations which most students tackle on their own, they may fail to develop a sense of confidence in their own effectiveness and strength.
A recent study of 300 freshmen conducted by Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College in New Hampshire, demonstrated the potential impact of helicopter parenting on the personalities of students. These helicoptered students were found to be more anxious, vulnerable, self-conscious, impulsive, and less likely to be open to new ideas and actions –qualities that might hinder a student’s social, academic, and emotional growth. Thus, despite being well-meaning, helicopter parents might send a discouraging message to their UO student.
A Balanced Approach to Parenting
As your student returns home for winter break, it might be an opportunity to assess and discuss your role as a parent with your growing and maturing college student. What are your hopes and fears for your student? What are your student’s perceived wants and needs from you as they navigate college life? The bottom line is about TRUST. It is important that you have faith in your student-to trust them in making good decisions and handling their college struggles on their own. It is also important to trust yourself with the lessons and values you have already passed onto your student. Furthermore, let’s not forget the university’s role in the care of your student. The UO community would hope parents trust their faculty, staff, and resident advisors to recognize when their student is in need. After all, it is the university’s responsibility to provide the education, environment, resources, and services for your student to succeed and move onto the next step in their lives.
If you cringe at the thought of your college-aged student stumbling while taking new risks with greater independence, be gentle with yourself. Recognize that college is the period in your student’s life to explore and cultivate their own identity—both separate and in relation to their family. While your student will likely face hurdles at UO, they also will learn the power of resiliency and the ability to be resourceful (if they haven’t already). Also, have faith your student will strengthen their own web of support through friends and mentors amongst the university community.
Most importantly, as you allow your UO student to experience the consequences of their own choices, your abiding love and investment in them provides a safety net, whether or not they actively seek your help. As more helicopter parents learn to balance support with respecting students’ autonomy, the result will be a generation of secure, emerging adults ready to tackle the challenges of college and the world beyond.
Mariko M. Lin, M.S.