Hovering parents: good or bad?

Jackie Valley

Technology, college costs cause ‘helicopter parents’ to continue their habits even after their children enter college and adulthood


Credit: John Proppe

Cell phones. E-mail. Instant messaging. Nowadays, parents are just one click away from communication with their college-age children.

According to a survey released by the College Parents of America last March, 74 percent of the parents surveyed said they communicate with their college-age children two or three times per week. A third of the parents communicate with them at least once a day.

These “helicopter parents” – the term coined for parents who seemingly hover over their children well beyond the grade school years – are becoming a more common occurrence at the college level, said Kelley Stillwagon, a career specialist at the career services center.

Stillwagon said “helicopter parents” tend to get a bad name when the line between interference and support gets blurred.

“Parents are way more involved,” she said. “They want their student to be prepared for a career, but the student needs to be in the driver seat, not the parent.”

Stillwagon said three main factors contribute to heavily involved parents:

• It is part of parents’ nature to want to help.

• Technology has made it easy to keep in constant communication with their children.

• College is a big investment for parents who are paying the bills.

In the past year, Stillwagon said, three parents came to career counseling with their children. One was a senior nearing graduation.

Stillwagon explained that if the parent is running the conversation in the meeting, he or she has too much control.

As a parent herself, Stillwagon said she understands parents’ desire to want what is best for their child, but she said it becomes increasingly important for students to make their own career decisions in college.

Stillwagon advised against allowing parents to control the job hunt.

“Parents can support, but they can’t be the ones handing out resumes,” she said.

Parent Susan O’Karma, whose daughter is currently trying to choose her career path, agrees the hands-off approach is more beneficial to the child.

“I don’t want her to be unhappy with her career choice,” said O’Karma, associate director of the Kent Student Center. “That’s something you have to do the rest of your life.”

O’Karma said she believes letting children make their own career choices creates a learning experience.

“In many ways, they (helicopter parents) do their kids a disservice by pushing them into something,” she said.

Don Swekoski, a junior English literature major, said he thinks parents often try to live vicariously through their children.

“I think a lot of parents have to realize their kids are individuals,” he said.

However, Stillwagon said the popularity of the phrase “helicopter parents” can unfairly stereotype good parents.

“They are there, and they care,” she said.

Sophomore zoology major Jessica Artl agrees. Adopted and raised as an only child by her mother, Artl said her mom sheltered her but never smothered her.

“She let me do what I wanted, but she was always there for me,” she said. “She still worries, but she’s not smothering me.”

Stillwagon said children need to take responsibility for their own lives.

“Students need to be independent and stand up to parents, but don’t push them away,” she said. “It’s good to use your parents’ advice, but they can’t be making the decisions.”

Contact student politics reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].