Helicopter Parent or Just Parent?

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Working in academic advising provides a lot of opportunities to talk to parents. It’s probably one of the toughest aspects of my job and every once in a while, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. In higher education one of the most common terms referring to parents is “helicopter parents”. Admittedly, I use this term quite often after hanging up the phone with another parent. When most parents call to check up on their students grades, request paperwork, or register their students for classes (yea that happens), it’s no wonder helicopter parent is common in my vocabulary.

However, the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time talking to parents who really took a backseat because they didn’t want to be “those parents”. Some of them called because they believed their son/daughter was suffering from depression or alcohol and/or drug abuse. I listened to a father sob over worry for his child. I listened as a mother blamed herself for where her child is now.

We tell our students college is the time to learn independence, “cut the cord”, “leave the nest”, etc. But there has to be a happy medium of independence and support, right? Should we really expect 18-21 year olds to be able to handle the pressures and stressors of higher education alone?

How do we as higher ed professionals help parents understand the happy medium of giving their student autonomy as well as support? How do parents figure out when it’s time to just be a parent and forget feeling like a helicopter and being that parent?

How do we as higher ed professionals encourage our students to seek support whether it be from parents, advisers, friends, or counselors when they feel they can’t do it alone? How do we encourage them to have a healthy balance of independence and support?

I do realize there are a lot of other factors to consider when it comes to student success. The past few weeks I’ve really been thinking a lot about the parents role in higher education. So, what are your thoughts? How do you handle parent interaction?

One thought on “Helicopter Parent or Just Parent?

  1. If a parent contacts me, I let them know about FERPA first off. But then I always try to explain “I understand that you want to be an advocate for your child, and I commend you for that. Here’s how you can…”. And then I offer up some suggestions, such as “Encourage your daughter to e-mail her professor and request an appointment to discuss her concerns.” Or “Listen to your son”s concerns and then show him how to find the support services that might help.” It’s sort of the “teach a man to fish” thing; teach your child how to advocate for himself by encouraging and supporting him on his way to autonomy.

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