"Helicopter parents" stereotype challenged
College administrators grumble about the rise of "helicopter parents," moms and dads who keep hovering over the lives of their children...
College administrators grumble about the rise of "helicopter parents," moms and dads who keep hovering over the lives of their children even after they leave for college.
But helicopter parents aren't just hovering. They're swooping down in attack mode.
Nearly 40 percent of first-year college students have had a parent or guardian intervene to solve a problem at college, according to new research being released today. About 13 percent of first-year students said such interventions were frequent.
"Forty years ago, going to college was a 'breaking away' experience," said George Kuh, who directs the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual study of college students that contains the new data.
That's not the case anymore, Kuh said.
Data from 24 colleges and universities show that students whose parents were very often in contact with them and frequently intervened on their behalf "reported higher levels of engagement and more frequent use of deep learning activities," such as after-class discussions with professors, intensive writing exercises and independent research, than students with less-involved parents.
"Compared with their counterparts, children of helicopter parents were more satisfied with every aspect of their college experience, gained more in such areas as writing and critical thinking, and were more likely to talk with faculty and peers about substantive topics," Kuh said.
The study found no evidence that helicopter parenting produces better grades. In fact, students with very-involved parents had lower grades than those whose parents were not so involved, but the authors suggest that "perhaps the reason some parents intervened was to support a student who was having academic difficulties."
Several college officials said the lower grades of children of very-involved parents suggested that the parents were accustomed to helping them get through school. They added that the study showed such intervention could be healthy.
Barbara Williams, dean for special student services at Howard University, said she found that parents of students with disabilities were more apt to get involved in their college lives.
Educators insist there's nothing wrong with parents taking an interest in college life. At Ohio State this year, a record 85 percent of the 6,100 freshmen brought a parent to orientation. Ten thousand parents subscribed to an e-mail list for updates from the school.
But the term "helicopter parents" has emerged to describe those who go overboard, getting too involved in solving their children's problems, preventing them from learning self-reliance.
Largely, the trend has been tracked anecdotally — in news stories about parents doing students' laundry, editing their papers, and even calling the school to complain about roommates or grades. But there's been little hard research.
This year's NSSE, however, asked a new experimental set of questions on the topic. The questions went out only to about 9,000 students from a variety of schools, including Western Illinois University, Kansas State University, Seton Hall University, New England College and the University of Rhode Island. The results offer the most comprehensive snapshot yet.
Among the findings:
• About seven in 10 students said they communicated "very often" with a parent or guardian, with electronic means being the most common. The proportion was about the same for seniors and freshmen. "Very often" was not defined as a specific number of contacts.
• Well-educated parents aren't more likely to be helicopter parents. And poorly educated ones intervene at about the same rate as others.
Parents, college officials and college-family relationship experts agree that the study is a blow to the widely accepted notion that little good can come from meddling in college children's lives. Some college officials who work with parents said they were glad that a reputable source is challenging a stereotype.
"I don't tend to look at intervention by parents as a negative thing," said Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student-affairs officer at the University of Virginia. "I look at it as we have a generation of parents who absolutely care about their sons and daughters."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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