When I first started getting into Student Services I was warned about them: Helicopter Parents.
And they are out there; calling Deans to make sure Johnny is wearing a sweater on cold days, insisting on sitting in on meetings with the Registrar, Financial Aid, and Residence Coordinators even into their child’s fourth year. Before I arrived, my staff recalled having to practically pull a parent out of a dorm room hours after the move in process was over. They just couldn’t leave.
Professors receive a good portion of the hovering as well: angry calls to professors about why Sarah got a dismal “B” on her assignment are frequent. Or parents are trying to fight why tests or exams can’t be made easier, moved, or changed to suit their child.
Hugh Kretschmer, TIME journalist, certainly creates a vivid picture of this phenomenon in his article “The Growing Backlash to Overparenting.”
But there are other studies that have shown that students are crying out for parental advice, who need more supervision than they are given, and there are links to parent interaction and deep, positive learning outcomes of students. The National Survey or Student Engagement in 2007 noted that involved parents are often linked to student success.
So how should Student Services professionals respond? Should we push some of our fussiest parents (and I can admit to encountering more than my fair share) or do we bring them in and create partnerships with parents who potentially share our own concerns?
I believe Student Services is striking the balance between potentially two exhausting extremes.
Orientation programs designed just for parents help ease them in an often scary, and frightening transition of send their children away from home. We provide information and services that allow them to realize that their children are in good hands.
On the other hand, our confidentiality protocols restrict ability to give academic or personal information about students to parents. This actually encourages the parents and children to connect. If parents want to know what is going on with their children, they have to speak to their child, rather than going over the student’s head and contacting the school president, Dean, or professor.
And thanks to social media, students have reported to contacting their parents up to 11 to 14 times a day when they are in first year university. To some this is a troubling statistic that shows just another way that students are being taught to never develop true independence. The hope is that it strengthens the child/parent relationship, without putting strain on the Student Services’ phone lines and email inboxes.