Sunday, February 10, 2008
Go to an education conference and there will undoubtedly be at least one session about the new millennial generation with their helicopter parents - those over-protective parents that hover over their children to remove life's obstacles and fight their children's battles. One can often find college administrators at these conferences exchanging horror stories about their experiences with parents, like fishermen who talk about the big one that got away.
There's the one about the mother who called to ask the college president to make sure her son was wearing his sweater. Then there's the mother who called the college administration to have a light bulb changed in her daughter's dorm room. I've had my share as well. One example of a helicopter parent that I thought was a bit extreme was a couple who submitted a hand-written letter as a job application for their son for a faculty position - albeit their son was not part of the millennial generation. He was 54 years old.
Administrators will tell you it didn't use to be this way. When a student graduated from high school, he or she was considered an adult and responsible for his or her own welfare at college. In fact, being responsible and assertive were attributes that were part of the learning experience in transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. But there's an irony here.
Statistically, most helicopter parents are those who have a college degree and understand the channels in the college hierarchy. This is knowledge parents can share to help their college-age children learn how to take responsibility in an appropriate way. There is less parental involvement from parents of first generation college students; yet first generation college students are at the greatest risk of noncompletion of their college degree and could probably use both guidance and support from their parents.
Colleges and universities can address the problem of parents on both sides of the involvement issue by doing a better job of communication. Positive and useful proactive communication to parents that explains and encourages a positive parental role will potentially alleviate the need for concern from the helicopter parents. And, at the same time, those parents who are unfamiliar with college systems would be empowered to be supportive for their children in this uncharted and unfamiliar territory of higher education.
Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs.