Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Helicopter parents and the disconnect of "higher" education

The Associated Press and Washington Times report on a study that challenges the stereotype concocted by some university officials about parents who take an active interest in their children's college education. Called "helicopter parents" by college administrators, because they are perceived as hovering over their college-age children, such moms and dads have been dismissed as bothersome and unhelpful to the education of their children.

A recent study by the National Survey of Student Engagement, however, indicates that students whose parents are very involved in their lives actually are more engaged in their studies and "deep learning activities" than their classmates.

The article contains this nugget of condescending arrogance: "Educators insist there's nothing wrong with parents taking an interest in college life." I am sure that my colleagues in SOHP (Society of Helicopter Parents) will be relieved that the high priests of academia have decreed that our involvement in our children's lives is not immoral.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThat's right, I must confess that I am a "helicopter parent." In fact, I am an Apache Longbow helicopter parent! With 4 kids in college I have more than a passing interest in what is being taught and how professors are teaching it in the classrooms that my children occupy. Twice I have had to swoop down to get the attention of administrators to rectify problems that could have and should have been resolved by simple integrity and common sense. Had my daughter not been dismissed by bureaucratic reflex I would have happily stayed hovering at a safe distance, hardly noticeable to anyone but my children.

The most egregious case had to do with a profane and foul-mouthed professor who refused to temper his crude language for the "prudes" in his class. Though I never had to fire a shot, it was impressive to see how quickly action can be taken when a parent sits across from a Dean and reads to him from his own school's sexual harassment policy.

So here's to all my fellow helicopter parents. May your tribe increase.


Ray Van Neste said...

Good word, Tom.
As a college professor, let me indicate my full agreement. May more parents remember that their children have been entrusted to them as parents and not to any government, bureaucracy or school. We don't need permission to involve purselves in their lives. These other entities are accountable to us.

bluewoad said...

Pastor Ascol,

As a registrar at a major west-coast university, I can see both sides of this issue.

On the one hand, I applaud those parents who take an active role in the education of their children. James White's recent role in the experience his daughter received at a community college by an atheist prof is to be commended and applauded.

On the other hand, what we see a lot here in the registrar's office are parents who do not have a clue what the rules are that govern their child's educational record but feel a need to become actively involved at the point when the student fails to meet some university standard. It seems that on a weekly basis, we have an angry parent in our offices wondering why their child cannot graduate or does not qualify for resident tuition.

These are the Helicopter Parents that the college administrators so much dislike. They don't become involved until a problem arises, and then they swoop down and attack.

This is a lot like the parents that don't take an active role in raising their own children and then wonder why Jill is pregnant and Johnny is in jail.

I applaud parents who take an active role in their child's education, but you must be careful to distinguish between good involvement and merely trying to protect your investment when it's all going sour after 4 years.

Tom said...


Exactly. As a pastor, I would add "church" to your list, too, though Christian parents have a great responsibility to nurture their children in the fellowship of the body of Christ.

I have often wished my kids could have profs like you and your colleagues at Union U. For various reasons they are attending state schools locally. They have had some excellent profs and a few who were not-so-much. It has been a challenge and a privilege to help shepherd them through the experience.

Tom said...


Point well-taken. There are problematic parents just as there are bureaucratic administrators. I am sure that trying to deal with students and their parents is a daunting task for even the most thoughtful university administrator under the best of circumstances.

What I find to be intolerable is the condescending, dsimissive attitude that some university employees tend to lead with.

Thanks for your comment.


bluewoad said...

What I find to be intolerable is the condescending, dismissive attitude that some university employees tend to lead with.

Oh, I agree entirely. I know of far too many around here with that attitude.

PJ and Melanie said...

At what point is your son or daughter not a "child"?

A parent should maintain a mentoring role as a child hits young adulthood. If that's a helicopter, fine, but my experience has seen too many choppers so close you can't hear for the noise.

As a student at a state university I engaged anti-christian profs,
led in campus ministry, and even voiced occasional concerns to the administration. I didn't need my parents to hold my hand. I was an adult.

After watching parents tied to their univerity kids by cell phones, nagging them about COLLEGE homework as if they were in middle school, I have to say some folks have missed the boat.

Daniel was probably younger than most of our college freshman when he was enrolled into the "State University" of his time.

The goal should be to raise ADULTS who can go into the most Godless environments and not buckle as they stand for Jesus. Anything less is lowered expectations.

Tom said...

PJ or Melanie:

Each of my children (so far) have started college at age 16. I was/am still pretty much involved in shepherding them. Maybe by your standards they are simply late bloomers. ;-)

Joshua said...

Thank you so much for your comments. I am a proud member of the "Helicopter Parent Club." Right now I'm busy hovering between my 16 yr old college freshman, and my 14 yr old High School freshman.

Kent McCune said...

I struggle with the "helicopter" mentality a little bit. If a parent is still hovering when their child is in college, when is the time to quit hovering? When do these kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves? After they're married? I guess I lean a little more toward PJ or Melanie's viewpoint.

In my mind, if I have to hover over my college age children to be sure they're doing their homework, allocating time properly for large projects, getting enough sleep, etc., I feel I've failed to raise a responsible adult. I have unnecessarily prolonged my child's immaturity and adolescence and have not prepared them to "leave and cleave" when the time comes (usually not long after college).

However, I see nothing wrong with getting involved when there are significant issues at stake -- e.g. bullying professors, legitimate academic or financial issues, clarification of rules or policies (but only after my child has made a full-faith effort to do so on their own), etc. And I certainly believe I should be involved in shepherding them (thanks for that excellent term, brother Ascol) in their spiritual development and major life decisions where necessary. That is a role parents never really quit performing. However, at some point the involvement has to morph from being daily/tactical in nature to being occasional/strategic in nature. In my mind, that point comes sometime late in their high school years or early in college, and aspects of it start from the time they are very young.

Fiat Lux said...

As a former college executive, I'd also like to add a few thoughts. Of course, if a student tries to resolve a problem and is ignored or dismissed by administrators, it may be necessary for parents with more experience and self-confidence to interject and assist. But, college is a time for students to begin trying their own wings and developing their own self-concept. I don't know of many college administrators who want to see parents uninvolved in their kids' lives, but they also don't want the overbearing parents who micromanage their kids' lives.

I have personally seen parents command their kids to take certain classes, to enroll in a certain major, to join certain clubs, etc. I have heard of parents calling the school to demand their child receive a new dorm roommate because the parents didn't like the roommate, yet the student, when asked by the housing officials, said he/she does not want to have a new roommate. In one case, a student was horrified when her father called to demand her black roommate be replaced with a white roommate.

As the registrar, bluewoad, posted, it is not uncommon for parents to become irate when they are told they cannot have access to their child's educational records. Hello, you no longer have the automatic right to see your 20-year-old's report card. If you have a problem with that, talk to your kid. The reason these parents are in the office screaming is because their kids won't listen to them and don't want their parents to know their grades. Well, that's a family problem.

And as others have posted, when does it end? I recently read an article by an employer who offered someone a job just to be asked, "Can I have a few days to talk about it with my parents?" The employer would have much rather been asked for a couple days to think it over, but when a 21-year-old says they need to discuss it with their parents, it does not come across well.

morning_show said...

Proud to be a helicopter parent? Want to defend your actions and explain that you 'hover' out of love?
I work for a national morning tv show and we are doing a segment on overprotective parents. We'd love to hear your story! Please contact me at morning_show@hotmail.com asap if you are interested!

Tom said...


I am not an overprotective parent, so I guess I can't help you.