The rise of helicopter parents—and 4 ways colleges can work with them

Families are more involved in their students' campus experience

Helicopter parents, defined by their well-intentioned—but excessive—involvement in their children's lives, aren't trying to be a nuisance, writes Theresa Tayler for University Affairs

But there is an art to calming their nerves. Tayler asked several higher education leaders how they work with actively involved parents.

Helicopter parenting isn't going away, Tayler writes. She shares a few reasons why they have increased across the last decade:

Cultural norms have shifted. In the first part of the 20th century, parents were laser-focused on keeping their children healthy. The standard was making sure they could work and live on their own by their late teens. Now that scientist know more about how a child's brain functions, parent emphasis has shifted to nurturing their children's cognitive development, which in turn puts pressure on them to make sure they succeed throughout their education—even at the postsecondary level.

Also see: What parents fear most during admissions season

The cost of college is greater. Because tuition has risen to unprecedented highs, parents want to hold institutions accountable. They want to know exactly what they are paying for and what their child is getting out of the experience.

Legacy expectations. Unlike previous generations, many parents of Millennials are college graduates. As a result, they can empathize with their children and guide them through to graduation. Furthermore, Millennials are not as hostile to their parents' guidance as, for example, baby boomers and Gen-X were.

Technological change. College students today have smart phones and other technologies that allow their parents to be in constant contact with them. Gone are the days when a parent had to wait for their child to use a landline to return a phone call.

A better way to engage first-generation parents

As Tayler admits, universities can be large, complicated, and intimidating for both the parent and student. The experts she spoke with shared four ways universities are working with helicopter parents to help them feel more at ease:

  1. Ryerson University sends out a regular parent newsletter to highlight campus events;
  2. Ryerson and Queen's University host parent information sessions to address what they can expect from the first year of college;
  3. Queen's and Université Laval devote a section of the website to cover parents' questions and concerns; and
  4. Ryerson explains to parents how a child's right to privacy changes after they turn 18.

While the students of helicopter parents have an overabundance of support, Tayler notes that there are other students who have no support in college at all.

"We are used to students having more support than they did in the '90s and a decade ago," says John Hannah, director of special projects in student affairs at Ryerson. But, he points out, "we need to make sure we even the playing field for students who don't have the parental support" (Tayler, University Affairs, 4/5). 

Ease the transition to campus for first-generation students


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