The Truth About Helicopter Parenting
We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parent” and as college admissions consultants, we are all too familiar with the term and the type. The tell-tale signs start right from our first meeting; parents who won’t let their child get a word in edgewise and who dominate each conversation or workshop by attempting to “sell” their student’s accolades as if we were hosting a contest.
Most of our staff members are parents too and we understand the desire to “brag” about our children’s achievements, awards and academic successes. But the bigger question has become, “are overzealous parents doing our children a favor?” and more importantly “could we actually be acting in a manner detrimental to our children’s success?”
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Lazebnik coined this phenomenon “Concierge Parenting.” Never in history have parents taken on a bigger role in controlling their children’s future. Parents answer emails for their students, write their college essays, schedule their visits, the list goes on and on. We tell clients at our Parent Workshops: “Your job is to make yourself irrelevant.” Sound harsh? It isn’t – it’s actually “truly” parenting to teach your children to fend for themselves. You will not be there, nor should you be, when they head off as college freshman. If you don’t allow them to spread their wings in high school, they certainly won’t know how to do it when they really are on their own. We see very few parents who allow their children to “OWN” their college search process and in the end, this affects not only the student’s overall self esteem, but makes it very difficult for teenagers to find their own identity.
A recent interview with Erin Chastain, the head women’s soccer coach at DePaul University, a Division I program, shed light on how helicopter parents are perceived from the perspective of a college coach. Parents – listen up. Ms. Chastain notes that students are being recruited at younger and younger ages which allows parents to excuse overstepping their parental boundaries. However, Coach Chastain said that during the recruitment process, it’s not just the athletic prowess of students that coaches are watching – it’s the parents’ behavior. “We are absolutely evaluating the parents on their visit. Do they let their child self-advocate? Are they supportive and respectful?” Coach Chastain goes so far as to say that they look to the parent’s character to see what they might be getting in a student. If most parents knew their behavior on the sidelines would affect their child’s destiny, would they change their ways? It’s something all parents should ask themselves and not just those with athletes because the old saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” is often quite accurate.
So what is an over-anxious parent to do? Take a breath first of all. I was always taught that the best way for any of us to learn how to succeed was to fall down and figure out how to get back up. Many of us don’t allow our children that lesson anymore; WE pick them up. And then we make their beds, cook their food, pay for their iPhones and dominate their college search or athletic endeavors. Unfortunately, we aren’t doing them any favors; we are paralyzing them. There is a famous poem by Kahlil Gibran titled “On Children” that I’ve had on my refrigerator since the day my oldest daughter was born. Every parent should read it. . . “Your children are not your children . . . You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. . . you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” Sound advice that, when followed, will yield independent, young adults who are able to think and do for themselves. After all, do you really want your children coming back home after college? Probably not.