‘Helicopter parents’ unable to let go

Rested, refreshed and ready to embark on a new realm of independence, Temple’s new class of undergraduates piled onto campus last week. Trailing behind these freshmen at many colleges and universities across the nation are

Rested, refreshed and ready to embark on a new realm of independence, Temple’s new class of undergraduates piled onto campus last week. Trailing behind these freshmen at many colleges and universities across the nation are their parents.

And some parents are trailing a little too close for comfort.

While it is almost always expected for parents to aid their young college students with sometimes daunting tasks like registering for classes or deciding on a field of study, some institutions of higher learning are experiencing the increase of a new breed of parent, the “helicopter parent.”

These parents, described as “hovering” over their student’s academic careers, remain in constant contact with their children and the administration, make academic decisions for their kids and often feel responsible for their offspring’s failure, according to an article from CollegeBoard.com.

Some colleges and universities create additional orientation programs for parents, hire specially trained staff and even create new departments to handle parents. Temple is one of them.
Assistant Director of Orientation and New Student Programs Moira Ryder has worked at parent orientations and said she has had mostly positive experiences with increasingly involved parents.

“Temple is able to establish a really good relationship with these parents because there is an eagerness that’s incredibly positive,” Ryder said.

Since students seem to be welcoming this new parental attention, Ryder said, schools must adapt to the evolution of the parent-institution relationship.

“That’s making institutions change their philosophies toward parents and [the] status quo, and any organization is difficult to change,” she said.

Dr. John DiMino, director of Tuttleman Counseling Services, led “Letting Go: Separation and the Empty Nest,” a parental orientation class held last Thursday and Friday during Welcome Week. The program looked at separation and developmental issues for incoming students and their parents.

DiMino said parents should know that many of the struggles college students go through are normal and a part of the process of becoming an adult. Good communication between parent and child can aid in the separation process, he said.

Though DiMino acknowledges helicopter parents as a well-reported trend, he said he has not noticed it much at Temple.
“Temple has more the reputation of being the working man’s school,” DiMino said.

One reason why helicopter parents are becoming more prevalent is that many students today are the first ones in their family to go to college, DiMino said.

Dr. Frank Farley, a psychologist in the College of Education, said universities are where young adults become independent, rational and self-reliant, and an overinvolved parent can stifle this important maturation process.

“A time has to come when children have to make decisions in their own life,” said Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association. “I think it is an important strength for young people to show independence and judgment.”

The overwhelming factor causing these “enmeshed” parents is technology, Farley said. Cell phones, text messaging, e-mail and the array of community sites on the Internet have created a societal backdrop for communication or a “global village” that we may not have fully adapted to yet, he said.

Parents, many of whom grew up without so many ways of communicating, may look to these technologies as a great way to stay connected with their child, Farley said. Ultimately, he added, technology is giving moms and dads a tool to be overinvolved.

However, Farley said he is optimistic and “hope[s] parents can strike the right balance with these technologies.”

DiMino said he also thinks technology may “offer a lot of opportunity for keeping tabs.” On the other hand, technology can offer a method of communication that is easier for both parent and child, he added.

Farley, Dimino and Ryder agreed that taking a coaching role is the best way to support a student’s development. That is the role Stephanie and Eric Haley plan to take with their daughter Tiffany, a freshman majoring in finance.

“We’ll be involved enough to the point where we’re not going to hinder her from making her own decisions,” Eric Haley said. “When we see that she’s maybe faltering and not doing what she’s supposed to do, then we’ll step in.”

Chesney Davis can be reached at chesney.davis@temple.edu.

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