I made contact with Chip on Twitter last week when he retweeted a “helicopter parent” tip that I had given during a recent #CampusChat. Chip Timmons is the Associate Director of Admissions at Wabash College and I asked him if he had some “helicopter parent” stories he would like to share with my readers. He graciously agreed.
Let me begin with the following. In all honesty, I really don’t mind “helicopter parents”. I understand they’re heavily invested in their children’s college decision, but here’s where I think they need to draw the line. I’ll share what I believe is the best analogy I’ve used when talking with parents.
If you wish to hover over your student while he or she is in the water, that’s fine. Let them learn how to sink or swim. Allow them to float or drift. You only need to lower the lifeline if your son or daughter is drowning.
Here are my Top 5 (plus 1 honorable mention) examples of “helicopter parenting” that I’ve encountered during my admissions career.
Honorable mention: One move-in day a few years ago, a father asked me who was responsible for making sure his son got to his church every Sunday. Before I could answer (my reply would have been “that’s your son’s responsibility”), the dad felt the need to clarify that he meant his church, in his hometown, some 90 minutes away from campus.
5. Over our two-day Honor Scholarship competition, a mother drove 3+ hours to campus on the morning of day two to have a calculus/physics cram session with her son. They met off campus at a local coffee house and I happened to find them while grabbing my morning coffee on the way to the office. I will never forget the looks on their faces. You would have thought I was a police officer who walked in on a bank robbery.
4. A mother was concerned about the quality of the laundry facilities on campus. She wondered if we were equipped to wash the specific type of workout/athletic apparel her son preferred to wear. Her son is a distance runner.
3. Speaking of sports…I coach my son’s 5-6 year old baseball team. Parents will sometimes ask why “Junior” isn’t playing a certain position or why he bats #9 in lineup. At that age, that stuff happens. It’s pathetic, but it happens. In high school, parents should not expect to “have the coach’s ear” or feel like they have a right to lobby for increased playing time for their son or daughter. Some parents will be heard and get their wish, but I still feel it’s pathetic. In college, there’s absolutely no place for that. A parent once wrote to me saying “I’ve called and written to Coach Soandso to find out why “Junior” isn’t on the varsity, but Coach Soandso won’t get back to me.” My response was “Don’t expect a reply from Coach and do “Junior” favor. Stop it. If “Junior” is good enough to play on the varsity, he’ll prove it with his play. Are you going to call his boss in 5 years and ask why “Junior” didn’t get a promotion?”
2. How about when it’s the girlfriend’s helicopter parents getting in the way? A student informed our office that after a conversation with his girlfriend’s parents, he decided to live at home and attend the State University. His girlfriend’s parents didn’t like the idea of her driving at night or that far to visit him on the weekends. I’ve said this before “boyfriend isn’t a paying gig and it doesn’t go on your resume.”
1. My #1 isn’t a parent I worked with, but someone I know personally. The daughter attended college in a neighboring state. Said college had live video feeds from different parts of campus. My friend knew his daughter’s class schedule and the route she took to classes each day. He would check the video feeds to watch his daughter go to class and leave class EVERY day for EVERY class that brought her in range of the cameras. If she missed class or he didn’t see her on the feed, he made a call or sent an email. He proudly shared this tale with me and you could have knocked me over with a feather.
I’ve listed what I consider extreme examples and one-time incidents of “helicopter parenting”, but in my opinion, even seemingly minor “fly-overs” can hinder the college search process for your son or daughter. When you attend a college fair or visit a campus, allow the student to do most of the talking. By far, the most frustrating experience for me is looking a student in the eye, asking him (Wabash is a men’s college) a question, and hearing a parent answer.
My parting advice: If that little voice in your head is asking the question “am I being a helicopter parent?”, you don’t need to wait for an answer. If you’re asking that question, you have your answer.
Follow Chip on Twitter @ChipTimmons