November 25, 2007
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great article discussing parental over-involvement, (or so called “helicopter parents”). A paid subscription may be required to read the entire article. I’m including an excerpt below.
I witnessed these parents first hand while at school, and watched their children stay dependent and needy while everyone else grew up and matured. I pray that I don’t ever become one of these parents.
It’s Your Child’s Education, Not Yours
With each passing year, it seems as if parents of college students make more and more phone calls on behalf of their children. Almost daily I am notified of parents who have called this or that campus office wanting someone to respond to their concerns or solve their children’s problems. The fact is, student affairs today is about working not just with students but with their parents as well — and managing their service complaints, inquiries for basic information, and demands for grade changes and guarantees that their children will be safe. There are actually days when I never even speak with students, a phenomenon unheard of several years ago. A more appropriate label for my field has become “family affairs.”
College has traditionally been a transition to adulthood, with campus life and academic experiences providing students with knowledge, tools, and challenges that create a sturdy foundation on which students build their personal and professional lives. But that foundation is eroding because parents are the ones now wielding the tools — such as problem solving, resourcefulness, critical thinking, and exploration — and responding to those challenges. Parents are diminishing the learning opportunities that higher education purposefully presents to students.
Imagine a world in which young professionals are unable to make even the simplest decisions, in which intelligent adults need consultation for even the most trivial matters. Such a world is becoming a reality, as more and more parents call campus housing about air-conditioning problems in residence halls, provide their supposedly grown children with daily wake-up calls, edit their papers, attend career fairs to promote their kids to potential employers, and even sit in on their job interviews. How is that helping students to develop into responsible, decision-making adults?
In that spirit, our mantra should be that we help students to help themselves. We need to direct students to resources that enable them to resolve their own issues and respond to their own concerns. At the same time, we have a responsibility to understand why parents feel the need to be so involved with their children’s college experience.
In 2006 I conducted a nationwide survey of mid- and senior-level student-affairs professionals, at doctoral research universities, who were in a position related to parent service or otherwise had frequent contact with parents. Ninety-three percent of the respondents had experienced a rise in parent interactions in the past five years. The ease of communication via e-mail and cellphones was cited as one likely reason; a new, consumerist view of college as a product, and faculty and staff members as service providers, was another. Survey respondents also noted that parents are increasingly concerned for their children’s safety, and that they have simply always taken care of things for their children and see no reason to change that behavior.