Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I have seen a few helicopter parents in my day

As a college admissions professional I have a front-row seat to the differences between a helicopter parent and a helpful parent. This is a fine line. And it is a bit unfair of me to talk about it in these terms because adolescents certainly need their parents in this process. Man, do they ever. Students whose parents don't help them at all are severely impairing their children in the college search process. Trust me, they need their parents to be more grounded than they are, they need them to be more responsible than they are, and they definitely need them to know more about the financial investment of college than they do. And, they need  help processing all of the things that go into choosing a college, is it daunting; and it is arguable that someone at the age of 18 is not capable of fully understanding things like student loans. I digress. I shall get back to the point of this post: helpful distinctions between impairing and aiding an adolescent: between hovering and helping. 

After five years of walking students and parents through the college decision process, I am usually able to tell when a parent is hovering and when a parent is helping. Up until today this has always been more of an abstract intuition than anything else. This morning I read a post from the Fuller Youth Institute on that very distinction. They (as always) put into measurable terms what I knew by intuition. They pose three questions that cut to the heart of the difference- motivation. As I already mentioned, students need their parents.  So it is not that a parent shouldn't help their child, instead the issue is why they are doing so. In the college search process parents who step in because their child is out of their depth are helping their children.  

In my observation parents are helping their children by taking an active role in the process when their child is unused to sifting through all the jargon, genuinely doesn't understand what questions to ask, or when the student is dealing directly with the financial investment of college. I could come up with any number of examples of parents hurting their children by hovering when they should be helping, but I am not going to list them. What is a hindering action for one student could be helpful for another. The issue is not that a parent is stepping in, but why a parent is stepping in. I occasionally rant and rave about this in my workplace (and by occasionally I may mean on a regular basis and loudly at that) so now it will be nice to have words for what bothers me. And that, in turn, just might mean that I am able to complain less. And complaining less is always a good thing. Thank you, Fuller Youth Institute, for not only articulating something in a helpful manner, but also for giving my office mates a break. 

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