Rethinking Parents in Higher Education

It’s not their fault.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s not a parent’s fault they hover over their new college student.

Popular culture and the media has a term for this: Helicopter Parent. They’re wrong, and we’re wrong for perpetrating it. Let me backtrack and explain.

Every fall, higher education faculty and staff bemoan parental involvement. Facebook statuses and tweets overflow, each complaining about the latest, most over-the-top parent interaction. People complain and fear that parental over-involvement will rob a new college student of the opportunity to become a fully realized person. I’m just as guilty of this. Overseeing New Parent Orientation and Family Weekend give me plenty of interaction with families… and plenty of moments, both good and bad, with said parents.

This year, it’s finally dawned on me. It’s not their fault.

Parents can’t help but be helicopter parents because this is what we’ve told parents to do.

In 1992, the US Department of Education made a booklet about how parents had to take an active role in their child’s education. It was a 48 page document about how to teach their children to study, how their children should take tests, how parents should interact with teachers and how parents should interact with administrators.

This document has been updated several times, most recently in 2005 to incorporate information on No Child Left Behind. For a good laugh, check out the use of Comic Sans on page 4 (used for a quote by President George W. Bush).

For parents to be successful, they’ve always been told to be helicopter parents.

Why are we, as administrators, so shocked they might want to be overly involved with an 18 year old’s college education? After all, 3 months prior, the government told them they had to be a helicopter parent if they wanted their student to be successful.

I’m not saying there has to be a partnership with the parents to ensure success for their student (after all, if you are in college, you should be treated as an adult), but administrators should be respectful of where the families are coming from. They’ve been trained to be overly involved. We can’t break their training in the 3 months between high school graduation and the first day of classes.

I may never be a parent (oh god, kids are literally shitty) – but I can respect the relationship between a parent and the institution their student chooses to attend.

Rethinking Parents in Higher Education

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