Abigail Sullivan Moore



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Helicopter Parents: College and Beyond

I just finished reading The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up co-authored by Barbara K. Hofer, a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and journalist Abigail Sullivan Moore. This thought-provoking 2010 book was based on a 2005 study at Middlebury and a 2006 study at the University of Michigan. The authors expand on the helicopter concept by demonstrating the role technology plays to enable parental micromanaging of students’ lives when they no longer live at home. Many parents are in constant contact with their kids at college via cell, text, email, Facebook, and Skype.

The Middlebury and University of Michigan studies indicate that many parents edit their children’s papers via email, a behavior that was not generally feasible during our snail mail past. Some parents intervene in academic decisions such as choosing majors or contacting professors to dispute grades. Middle school parent-teacher conference redux?

Technology-enabled hypermanaging even continues into young people’s career search activities. The studies revealed that some Moms and Dads actually log in with their kids’ passwords and fill out job applications, write resumes and cover letters, and even contact employers on behalf of their grown children. Oy! Where does it end?

The authors concede that overparenting is passionate parenting taken a little too far. Many Baby Boomers, having fewer children later in life, view our progeny as so “precious” that we try to protect them from risks in this decade’s competitive college process and the depressed job market. Few actually become Blackhawks, a coinage for parents who cross the line from excess zeal to unethical behavior, such as writing their kids’ admissions essays or college term papers.

And we do want to remain connected to our kids, don’t we? It’s a tough world out there, and intergenerational connection is a desirable, natural, time-honored source of support through life. It’s that overcontrolling attitude that we must all guard against!

Hofer & Moore suggest that overparenting through constant contact hinders college students’ personal growth, and robs young adults of the opportunity to make decisions and learn from mistakes. They point out that excessive, controlling communication is not only detrimental to students, but it actually exacerbates parents’ anxiety as well. The authors recommenda moderate, balanced approach that retains connection but empowers our kids to find their own way. I couldn’t agree more. Follow your instincts, use common sense, resist the temptation to fill every vaccuum and answer every question, and most importantly, LISTEN to feedback from your son or daughter. After all, it’s their turn now.

--Kris Hintz, PositionU4College, August 23, 2010

Abigail Sullivan Moore