Helicopter Parents: Time To Trade In The License To Fly

We’ve all seen the headlines: “Warning, Helicopter Parents at 1000 Feet!”; “Helicopter Parents Land on College Campuses”; “Helicopter Parents, Bring Them Down to Earth.” Applying to college is one of the most challenging times for both parents and students. It is the crystallization of what has been, for many, a years long process. But beyond the lengthy applications, stressful standardized tests, and huge financial investment of the final push, students and parents must also confront the fact that starting college means a host of new responsibilities. Whether your student is going away or staying local, college means more independence and adjusting to a greater degree of self-sufficiency.

How much, then, is too much parental intervention during the college application process? What is the boundary between wanting what’s best for your child and being a helicopter parent, perched too low?  

Many experts, from psychologists to admissions counselors, argue that helicopter parenting, hovering, can actually cause their children a disservice. Students who are not used to solving problems independently or who are not even superficially acquainted with  failure, tend to take fewer risks in their lives, and don’t develop the critical foundation they will need to be resilient further down the road. Helicopter parenting assures that college applicants have the resources that they will need, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the students will know what to do with the resources when there is no one alighted overhead.

Though there are no rules or guidelines that quantify how much is too much, it is important to remember that it is the student applying for admission, not the parents. As such, students should be encouraged to find their voice in applications and convey to admissions committees what they, not their parents, are passionate about. If they have questions, students, not parents, should contact the admissions offices.

Admissions officers know when parents have overplayed their role in their son or daughter’s application. The first and perhaps simplest step a parent can take in the process: stop referring to applications as “our applications.” As scary and difficult as it is, college is the time for parents to step back and send their young adults forth into the world. Certainly being what some refer to as a satellite parent—so far in space that they are unreachable—is no alternative to helicopter parenting. Perhaps during this difficult time parents should be ground support for their children, the air traffic controllers making sure that their children—their young adults—are able to takeoff. Have confidence in them. After all, you did give them to tools to land in the pilot’s seat.

This page is also available in: Spanish