Monday, August 27, 2012

Grounding the Helicopter Parent. WashPost.

by Barry Glassner & Morton Schapiro

When the presidents of colleges and universities talk privately at this time of year, a popular topic is how to handle “helicopter parents.” We muse over what to say during new-student orientation sessions to dissuade parents from hovering over their children for the next four years — interfering with the maturation their children need, while driving us a bit crazy in the process.

The usual plan of attack is to lecture parents on the importance of letting go. “Help your children unpack,” parents are told. “Kiss them goodbye, and ask them to text you a couple of times per week.”

Having found that approach both unrealistic and ineffective, the two of us have come to take quite a different tack. We encourage the parents of freshmen to stay closely connected with their children.

The Rest.


Barry Glassner is president of Lewis & 
Clark College in Oregon, where he also teaches 
sociology. Morton Schapiro is president of 
Northwestern University in Illinois, 
where he also teaches economics.

11 comments:

  1. The antidote to inappropriate parental engagement is to refuse any contact with them.

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  2. For defense against attack helicopters, FERPA can be a trusty shield and weapon. If anyone calls or e-mails me and claims to be the parent of a student, I tell them that how students in my classes are doing is confidential. This confidentiality is required by federal law, and that I am permitted to break this confidentiality only if they give me a filled-out FERPA release form. This will require the student's signature, as well as their physical presence during my office hours. They will also need to present to me a government-issued photo ID, since I otherwise really can't know whether they really are the parent. So far, this has proved enough hurdles to discourage even the worst of them.

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    1. If it ever does fail, I'm sure Strelnikov can get us a good deal on some Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles.

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  3. To Froderick: HA!

    Seriously, if the helicopter parents want to smother their children (or pay somebody to smother them) why don't they send the little fools to the Krazee Kristian Kolleges like Hyles-Anderson, Pensacola Christian, or Bob Jones "University"? Oh yeah, none of them have true accreditation, so that degree is as useful as the one "Dr." Kent Hovind received from Patriot Bible University* - good for hiding a crack in the wall, but nothing else.

    ______________________

    *PBU is located in a former veterinary office in the more post-apocalyptic wasteland part of tiny Del Norte, Colorado. It was founded by Texas preacher Lonnie Skinner. Notice that it's never a good sign when the founder goes by "Lonnie" instead of Lawrence.

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  4. I've never had to deal with parents. Perhaps they call the chair instead. It sounds as if I don't realise how lucky I am.

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    1. Me neither. I think my institution is pretty good at running interference. I don't remember the last time I talked to a parent outside of the awkward welcome week get-together and meeting them at graduation. I'd probably just hide beyond FERPA if it ever happened, though.

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    2. In my case, I chalk up the absence of meddling parents to the language barrier -- only the kids themselves can communicate effectively enough in Hamster to deal with me, as my Capybara skills are well below what I'd need to deal with worrying/irate/demanding parents professionally. No idea if the chair gets any complaints about me.

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  5. I'm very rarely contacted by parents (one of the benefits of a school with a good many first-generation students, I suspect). The few times I have been, it has been by email, using the student's account, which of course raises some questions about who is really writing. I always reply with something along the lines of "I'm sorry to hear about Johnny's illness/accident/breakdown. Thank you for letting me know. As soon as he is able to resume work in the class, please have him contact me." So far, that has always done the trick, and Johnny either gets in touch in a day (or a week, or a month -- in which case sometimes all I can offer is the suggestion to drop the class) or disappears entirely.

    In a previous job, I had the experience of being called very early in the morning by a father irate that I had filed a plagiarism charge against his daughter (I think a guilty conscience over insisting that the daughter finish the year before transferring played a role as well). He stopped just, but only just, short of threatening me. That's about the time I decided to stop putting my home phone number on syllabi (the advent of email helped facilitate that decision.

    I like some of Glassner & Shapiro's points, especially the one that a good education should involve at least a bit of anxiety and discomfort or at least discombobulation (and persistence therethrough). Some parents, I'm pretty sure, will realize the wisdom of that approach, and support it. However, for true helicopter parents -- those who are not just very involved in their children's lives, but who hover with the purpose of shielding their children from anything that might threaten discomfort, pain, and/or even temporary failure -- an admonition from a college president is hardly going to change decades-long habits. I suspect the authors will, indeed, be ticketing and towing some metaphorical helicopters.

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    1. That's a good one. It's here:

      http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/someone-at-capri-sun-is-thinking-free-range-thoughts/

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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