Juleyka Lantigua-Williams: 'Helicopter' parents only keep their children from succeeding
Here's a little advice for parents of students who are graduating from high school in the next couple of weeks and heading on to college: Don't become a "helicopter parent."
The term refers to parents who hover over their kid's every move and are overbearingly involved in their child's education.
They fill out applications and write essays. They choose courses and instructors. They outline, draft and revise papers. They call professors about lackluster grades. They send emails with excuses for missed work. Some even impersonate their children to gain access to their records.
Most helicopter parents have good intentions and legitimate concerns given that, in large part, they are financing their children's education.
However, the line between justifiable concern and detrimental meddling gets blurrier each semester.
John (name has been changed) was a typical first-year student in my introduction to composition course last semester. After he received low grades on early assignments, I received very well-crafted emails about my comments on his work. That's when I started to get suspicious. When I asked him if he had understood what I'd said in my email responses, he had no idea what I was talking about. Turns out, his father had written the emails from John's account.
Midway through the semester, John became withdrawn in class, almost paranoid about every little thing he did. When I asked what was going on, he confessed, "Because I was not doing so well at the beginning, my dad said not to do anything to make you mad so you won't fail me."
I was speechless. That is exactly the wrong advice to give someone who may be in danger of failing a class. That student needs to take charge of his work, and above all things, communicate often with his teacher.
By trying to control how his son behaved in our class, John's father undercut my ability to fully engage with my student socially and intellectually.
Ultimately, helicopter parents create an artificial reality for students. They prevent students from experiencing college life in all its layered complexities. By doing so, they curtail their children's ability to problem-solve, to negotiate effectively, to seek help from peers and to take advantage of tailored resources at the college. In short, they suffocate students' intellectual and social development.
Students with helicopter parents tended to be less open to new ideas and actions, more vulnerable, anxious and self-conscious, according to a study of college freshmen conducted by Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College in New Hampshire.
Being concerned about your child succeeding in college — and in life — is important. But allowing your child to manage and achieve that success on his or her own terms is invaluable. Parents need to remind themselves that young adults are exactly that: developing adults. Treat them with respect while raising your expectations, not micromanaging every aspect of their education.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams teaches writing at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Conn.