Profiling the helicopter parent


Graphic courtesy of MCT Campus.

Alyssa Morlacci

They hover above campus, in constant contact with their ally, ready to engage ground targets at all times. Their weapons, however, do not include missiles and machine guns — rather, they use Twitter, Facebook and texting.

The commotion is what students and faculty refer to as “helicopter parents.”

Jason Miller, director of the Counseling and Human Development Center, said he defines them as “someone who, with the best intentions, makes a lot of decisions for their student.”

A freshman fashion merchandising major, who wished to remain anonymous, said her roommate’s mother is the perfect example of a helicopter parent.

“Next year, her and a friend are getting an apartment together,” she said. “They had no say in it. Her mom picked it and drove up by herself to look at it. They didn’t do anything themselves.”

The first-year student also said her roommate still relies on her mother for smaller chores as well.

“She goes home every weekend, so her mom can do her laundry,” she said. “We’re freshmen in college, and we’re supposed to start being more independent instead of having our parents take care of things for us.”

Miller said parents’ over-involvement starts long before students go off to college.

“Helicopter parents tend to make decisions for their children as they grow through elementary and high school,” he said. “Because of this, their children do not get as many chances to practice making decisions.”

Stefanie Pop, sophomore early childhood education major, is a campus tour guide and said that prospective college students rely too much on their parents.

“I’ve given a tour with just students before, and they don’t really ask questions,” Pop said. “I mean, I wouldn’t go on a tour without my parents either because they’re usually the ones that ask questions. But, when I ask the students like, ‘Hey, what are you interested in?’ It’s usually the parents responding.”

Pop said the university has recognized parents’ influence on students and has begun focusing on its parental appeal.

“They tell us a lot of times during our tours, you are trying to get the student interested too, but you have to win the parents first,” Pop said. “It really is about what the parents think more so than the child.”

Miller said that parental involvement doesn’t subside after students pick a school to attend.

“When these children enter college and are expected to make many different decisions on their own, such as choosing a major or field of study, they may struggle simply because they have never had to make such important decisions before,” Miller said.

University-implemented programs, however, invite participation.

Andrew Crawford, assistant director of Student Success Programs, updates a First-Year Family Network Facebook page and writes the First-Year Family Newsletter. Both are used to keep parents involved and updated.

Crawford said having a “university-family relationship is important.”

Honors coordinator Deborah Craig said she thinks the current level of involvement is working, and she commends the university’s efforts to build a bond between the university and students’ parents.

“My belief is that if you say that parental involvement is one of the top reasons for success K through 12, why wouldn’t parental involvement be important in college?” she said. “What changes between June and August that makes it all of a sudden not a requirement that parents are involved?”

Craig said she believes during the 35 years she has worked as an adviser, technology has had the most impact on parental involvement.

“It’s a lot easier for parents to connect with their students and to know what’s happening more on a day-to-day basis than maybe the weekly Sunday phone call,” Craig said. “So, I think there’s more information today, and because there’s more information, parents are more involved. And I think that’s a good thing.”

If parental involvement does become overbearing, Miller said students should talk to their parent.

“If students are feeling smothered or simply want more independence, I encourage them to talk openly with their parents about that,” Miller said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of telling mom or dad ‘hey, let me do this myself.’”

Contact Alyssa Morlacci at [email protected].