Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Helicopter Parents

"Helicopter parents". I imagine you've heard of them. Wikipedia defines them thus:

"A helicopter parent is a term for a person who pays extremely close attention to his or her child or children, particularly at educational institutions. They rush to prevent any harm or failure from befalling them or letting them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children's wishes. They are so named because, like a helicopter, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach whether their children need them or not.[The term] gained wide currency when American college administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the millennial generation began reaching college age. Their late-wave baby-boomer parents in turn earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received."

I guess that's so. As a university professor, I've noticed some radical changes in parental behaviour from when I was in undergrad, in the dark ages, some 30 years ago. At that time, it was considered a 'rite of passage' to move out of your parent's home at the ripe old age of 18 (as I did) and, above all, to be completely independent of them.

We've had parents call about grades (which we're not allowed to discuss with parents, by the way, under the terms of the FIPPA Act (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.)) We've had others show up in the office, intercepting students' interaction with the University. One day, I actually had a parent show up in my lecture, unannounced, telling me that her daughter wouldn't be able to make it to the class today because of an accident (perfectly legitimate, but still, making the trip to Downtown University, coming right up on the stage, in front of 160 students and telling me this...?) Another left me a voicemail about her son who'd broken his arm and couldn't make it to the lecture. She left me her cellphone number...and his! Why the student couldn't simply call me himself, I'm not sure.

Anyway, it's something new that we're wrapping our heads around. Understand, when I went away to the Polytechnical Institute (as it was then called), independence was very important. I, and my fellow colleagues in first year, would have been mortified if our parents had intervened in this way:

"Oh gawd, MOTHER! Will you please stay the hell out of my life, I can handle this myself!"

Times, apparently, have changed. There have been studies done (simply google "helicopter parents" to see them). Many students appreciate the interventions, and would like, at times, even more attention and intervention. This is likely another side effect of an upbringing that was so different from what I knew (and, to the next generation reading this, what your parents knew.) According to one study, 74% of students thought their parents' intervention was about right, 11% thought they'd gone too far, and 15% thought they hadn't intervened enough.

Like I say, times have changed.


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