Letting Your College-Bound Kids Fly Solo
Are you a helicopter parent? Being a helicopter parent is not as cool as being the helicopter on Magnum, P.I. Now that was cool. But as any new college student will tell you, a helicopter of the parent variety is totally uncool, and should be grounded.
A helicopter parent is so called because they hover above their child. All. The. Time. There’s no downtime in the hangar for the typical helicopter parent. They’re always on a mission to help. Yet, if you’ve got a college age child about to start an academic journey on a campus somewhere, that desire to help can be seen as restricting and non-productive. For their sake, it’s better if they fly solo for most of this adventure.
You wave farewell to your child as they head off to enjoy campus life. You should also be saying goodbye to many of your parental responsibilities. They’re going to have to look after themselves now. For probably the first time in their lives, your child has what they’ve always craved. Independence, baby! Being independent means making your own decisions. Really important decisions. Like Chinese food or Pizza? Pepsi or Coke? Converse or Nike?
Independence also means making your own mistakes, and learning from them. Resolving your own issues. Overcoming your own challenges. Dealing with your own problems. Paying for your own things. When you look at it this way, you’ll see there is more to your child’s college education than just a degree. They are also learning lessons in life. Some of those lessons will be straight out of the school of hard knocks. Like good Chinese food, it’s a little bit sweet and a little bit sour.
When life throws these challenges at your child, your first instinct may be to step in and take over. That was your role when they lived at home. Why not do it now? It may take a little while to readjust to the fact that your child is now at college, gaining an education in things academic, and everything else to do with life. It’s at this point you have to avoid the temptation to fly to your child’s rescue, just like a helicopter parent. It’s time to accept that facing difficult situations is part of the learning experience at college. Overcoming them is a great lesson to be learnt. Sure, you should always be available to help out. But it’s better if your child asks for it. Let them know you are there, and leave the rest to them.
Over Enthusiastic Over-Engagement
A key symptom of the helicopter parent is over-engagement in a child’s academic life. When college administrators get together and reminisce fondly about the helicopter parents they have known, they will chuckle about the one who used to call their child every morning to wake them up in time for classes. Or the one who would call their child in their dorm room every night to make sure they were studying, not partying. Or the one who would call college professors to complain about the poor grades they had given their child.
It’s only natural that any parent, even the laid-back, non-flying variety, wants their child to do well at college and get that degree. But while the helicopter parent acts with good intentions, this can backfire. College students who complain about parents hovering above them, be it by cell phone or Skype, say their sense of self-esteem is lessened by this interference. It’s as if their parents don’t trust them, or are worried they’re not smart enough to succeed at college, let alone stand on their own two feet.
A new college student has more on their plate than Mr. Creosote in The Meaning of Life. Embarking on their study program. Trying to make sense of what their professors are telling them. Settling into campus life. Deciding between Chinese food and pizza. Trying to achieve all this while they’re grappling with doubts about their self-worth is not easy. In fact, it’s detrimental to their chances of obtaining their degree. By easing back a little, and showing a little faith in your child’s ability to navigate this period in their life, you’re doing them a BIG favor.
Helicopter parents can also have a touch of Dr Frankenstein about them. They’re capable of producing a monster, otherwise known as……da, de, da, da….THE SELF-ENTITLED CHILD!!! Run! Hide! There’s a self-entitled child on the loose, and they’re running red lights, and jumping queues at the box office, and letting Mom and Dad pay the bills and take care of everything. What a MONSTER!
A self-entitled child may graduate with a degree, but they are barely qualified to live in the real world. If Mom and Dad take care of everything, the child learns nothing. They live a life where they expect everyone to do everything for them. Just like the movie Frankenstein, it won’t end well, for the self-entitled child becomes the non-coping adult when real life hits.
Just. Let. Go.
Letting go is hard to do. Elizabeth Taylor could never quite do it with Richard Burton. Willie Nelson had the same problem with his pony tail. And the Big Mac has never been able to let go of that mysterious green pickle thing. No, it isn’t easy to let go. But as your child goes off to college, you just have to.
You might be anxious about your child’s academic progress, and how they’re coping on campus, particularly in the early stages of their college degree. But texting or calling them every single time you feel a pang of anxiety is overdoing it. Before your child departs for college, lay down some ground rules about communication between you. Make a pledge that you won’t get in their face every waking moment, but suggest they check in with you once a week, or so. Give them the responsibility to initiate the contact. This is a show of good faith in their ability to take on that task, and gives them the space they need while they adjust to campus life.
Anxiety is not the only reason why some parents turn into helicopters. Many Moms and Dads see their child’s college education as a chance to relive their experiences on campus, many moons ago. An opportunity to recall those glorious days, when they made Animal House look like Little House on the Prairie. Some helicopter parents even befriend their kids’ new college friends on Facebook, in an effort to be part of the group. (And also, in some cases, to keep an eye on everything that is happening on that campus far, far away.) While it may seem like fun to Mom and Dad, it can be seen as just plain meddling to their children.
By letting go, and sending that helicopter parent to the Smithsonian, your child goes off to college feeling liberated and exhilarated, excited at more than just the education program that awaits. This is their chance to live an independent life, even if that means dealing with tricky situations on their own for the very first time. Like Clearasil, this is all part of growing up.
Your role in this phase of their life? To be there. But not to be there. In other words, staying in the background, ready to take their call, or to help them out…if they ask for your help, that is. Stepping in and taking over at every stumble or misstep is not as helpful as you might think it is. It deprives your child of another lesson in life. It also cultivates that dreaded sense of self-entitlement. So, for the sake of your college-bound child, shut down the rotors on that helicopter, and let them fly solo.