Helicopter Parents on the College Campus: Strategies to Help Ease Transition Pains

I was speaking with a College Admissions Director last week. He was telling me story after story about the flood of calls from parents about everything from roommate disputes to asking for vacation time off to wanting the telephone numbers of the professors of their adult children who are getting ready to head off to college for the first time.

Our young adults are smart. They’re worldly. They are persistent. Yet for some reason, we are sending them the message that we don’t trust them to make smart decisions on their own, and this is a shame. As I heard this story, I had to look back at my own helicopter parenting…the number of times I pick up the phone each day to hear that one of my college-age kids (and I have 3 of them) needs something (something they can certainly figure out on their own.) I am here to say that while I consider myself stronger than most, I have frequently fallen into the trap of reacting rather than supporting my kids to be independent.
So, while this list below may make you chuckle many of these things are actually occurring on college campuses throughout the United States. My request is that if you are a parent and if any of these apply to you that you stop it. And…I will join you in taking this list on!

You May Be a Helicopter Parent If…

-You are writing your child’s resume and passing it off as your child’s

-You are completing your child’s homework assignments

-You are staying up until 2:00 in the morning to write or tweak your child’s college essays

-You are calling college admissions’ departments to chew out the poor admissions folks when your child does not get into the college of his or her choice

-You invent your own “Bring Your Dad to College” day so that you can pop into onto the campus scene at any time

-You are attending job and college fairs on behalf of your child

-Your adult child gets a bad grade, and you schedule a meeting with the professor to have a word or two

-Your child is in college, and you are still shopping for their groceries, toiletries and household items

-Your child calls from college ten times a day, and you answer the phone each and every time so that you can respond to their S.O.S....it feels great to be needed!

-Your child only calls one time a day from college, and you are getting your feelings hurt

-You are spending at least one hour daily searching college websites so that you can choose a better college for your child (because in your opinion, their first choice just isn’t working out!)

-You have become a broker for roommate disputes with your child

-Your dream job is to become the Dean of Parents for your child’s school

-You walk in the room, and everyone hears the sound of a roaring, whirring bird

If any of these sound like you, you may be hovering a bit too close over your child and it’s time to back off and let them fly. While you can certainly be a sounding board or provide solicited advice (the key word here is solicited), when it comes to making a big life decision, in the end, it’s truly up to your adult child. They will grow and learn from each good and bad decision they make.


7 Tips for Helicopter Parents to help Ease the Transition

1)   Become an outside advisor to your child to help him or her get questions answered about how to navigate college life.   Sit down before your child leaves for college and get all questions answered.

2) Support your adult child by helping them pull together their belongings for college (the operative word here is support…your child should play an active role in packing for college and making decisions about what to take and what to leave at home

3) Resist the urge to contact your child’s school, university or professor (this can actually hurt his or her chances of getting an internship or in passing a class.) 

4) Let your adult child be the one to speak with the professor about disputes over grades, class attendance or disputes with other students..  This will help him or her develop the independence and confidence needed to navigate the business world.

5) Establish ground rules for telephone calls.  A good rule of thumb is a “One phone call per week” unless there is a dire emergency (illness, an accident or being in serious danger are certainly times when your child needs you…a dispute with a roommate is not an opportunity for you to practice your helicopter parenting!)

6) Discuss finances with your child.  Establishing a budget upfront is a critical step in helping your adult child learn financial independence.  Once the money for the month runs out, be very careful about continuing to put more and more money in the bank account.  This action sends the message to your college-age child that you will always be there to bail them out, even when it’s their full responsibility.

7) Encourage your child to make use of the college or university services BEFORE calling you.  There is usually an answer out there, and if they continue to call you with an S.O.S., they will never learn how to live as an adult in an adult world.

Watch a video of Bea Fields speaking on the topic of
Helicopter Parents on the College Campus 


This article was authored by Bea Fields. Fields is an executive coach, consultant and public speaker. She is the co-author of EDGE:_A_Leadership_Story and Millennial_Leaders:_Success_Stories_From Today's Most Brilliant Generation Y Leaders Fields is the President of Bea Fields Companies, Inc. and the Founder of Five Star Leader Coaching and Training..