Rise of the Helicopter parent

Soon our Facebook feeds will be filled with back to school pictures, and images of proud parents dropping their sons and daughters off at college.  When we let our kids go off to their various educational classrooms or dormitories, we must let them go.  We do them no favor hovering around the school, trying to get a peak in the classroom window to see how they are doing.  Our little kidlets need to learn how to be independent, how to problem solve without us swooping in to help them out.  Without us letting them problem solve, and in some cases fail, we aren’t really helping them at all.

I teach at a local community college.  I have been teaching higher education for over 18 years. I have seen a dramatic change in how prepared students are for the college experience and how well they problem solve.  The first 15 years of teaching I never met, talked to or saw a parent.  Now it is not uncommon for mommy or daddy to accompany their children to class to make sure they won’t get lost, to take them by the hand to the college bookstore to make sure they get the right textbook, to call or email me about clarification of an assignment for their child.  In one case this semester the mother wanted to talk to me before class to make sure I would help her child if she needed it.  I would expect this type of behavior in kindergarten not in college.  Another case a mom registered for the same class as her son so she could sit in the lectures and help him with is assignments.  Lest you think this is just a community college issue, it’s not.  Colleagues who teach at 4 year institutions are reporting the rise of the helicopter parent at their institutions as well.

I am guilty of some of this myself, not to these extremes of course.  I noticed my teenage son forgot to take the trash out.  It would have been easier for me to drag it to the curb rather than go back in the house and wake him up.  A friend said that I was being mean; it was the summer after all. I should let them sleep in.  He totally could have slept in, had he taken the trash out.  And now I was inconvenienced.  But a point needed to be made. We have responsibilities that have to be kept.  If we don’t learn them at a young age, then it spills over into adulthood.

At a recent faculty assembly, many faculty were reporting a troubling trend; lack of problem solving skills.  Simple activities where students have to solve a simple problem are taking much longer than in the past. One faculty was sharing that his students didn’t know how to use a paper cutter.  The way he was talking made it sound like it was a complicated piece of machinery, it wasn’t. The same old paper cutter we had when we were in grade school stumped many new college students.

If we constantly do things for our children, things that they should be doing on their own; by the time they get to higher education they will be lost in the classroom. If they don’t learn what it feels like to fail at a young age, by the time they get to college and do fail at something, their world crashes in.  There is a dramatic rise in college age student suicides (topic for a later post). Many students who are facing having to deal with the brutal realities of life for the first time cannot cope.

If we want to truly help our children, we must let them learn, let them fail; for through failure we learn most.

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