Hovering parents hinder collegiate progress

Maura Higgs

There are no set rules about how to communicate with your family. I, for instance, FaceTime my dog. I text my sister, and I’m always talking to my mom on the phone while I walk home from campus. Anyone else in my family — my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins — puts me on edge every time we talk. The questions are always: “How is school going?” “Are you looking for another job or a research position?” “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” Growing up is difficult enough without certain relatives watching me over my shoulder.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the support my entire family provides me. Nice texts and Facebook messages are encouraging and provide that little bit of comfort I need sometimes. And after all, I have friends who have the whole overprotective thing a lot worse.

I know college kids who still get yelled at for not getting A’s or for not having two internships to juggle with schoolwork. College is where we’re supposed to learn to be on our own. We don’t need overprotective helicopter parents to hover around and correct us.

I’m from Phoenix and chose to go to school in Tucson. I’m far enough from family that I’m on my own, but close enough to come home if I need to. Those with helicopter parents probably don’t feel like they are escaping anything when they go to college, no matter the distance.

Andrea Trillo, a pre-nursing sophomore who said she has a helicopter mom, returned home after a year in the dorms and felt the consequences.

“Now that I’m at home, [my mother] expects that I’ll be giving her every single little detail of what I’m doing and where I’m at and with who,” Trillo said.

Even if you don’t live at home and you don’t have parents waiting up for you, they can still text you, email you, even Facebook you. Social media allows parents to be with you basically everywhere you go. Suddenly, parents are an instant away and making mistakes is no longer viable.

This constant contact can take a psychological toll. A study by members of the Psychology Department at the University of Mary Washington found that college students are less satisfied with their lives if they have “helicopter parents.”

The same Mary Washington study noted that “there is a growing concern among college administrators that parents do not make this adjustment and attempt to control their college-aged children.” This trend can often lead to parents contacting college officials, such as professors or the administration, to find out what’s going on with their child’s academics. Is it possible to give their kid a higher grade? Are they going to office hours?

College is a transition period, but not all parents seem to recognize this. Now is the time when we are supposed to learn from our mistakes by screwing up and figuring out, alone, what made our actions wrong. It’s a time to learn to be autonomous and self-reliant.

Parents are supposed to be supportive. They’re supposed to be who we go to when we need a bit of guidance, but if we feel we’re just going to get controlling and volatile reactions, we’ll stop turning to them for support. We might go to our friends instead, but they have their own lives to deal with. With no one to encourage us and provide guidance, we’ll get stuck.

The best, most supportive relationships involve helping others achieve their own personal goals with advice and feedback.

To create this type of dialogue with your potentially helicopter parents, you need to ask yourself if they have a say in matters like what your major is or which classes you take. Do you parents try to solve your interpersonal problems? Do they push you to approach your professor about your academics? Do they monitor your schedule and your diet?

The first step in fixing a relationship problem is recognizing these harmful behaviors and then taking the necessary steps to change them. If you find you don’t have much say in your everyday life, discuss this with them. Find ways to have a little bit more freedom. Join a club you wouldn’t normally. Stay out late eating donuts and drinking coffee with that classmate you like.

Above all, don’t make your college experience something you’ll regret later in life — just because someone else made those important decisions for you.

Maura Higgs is a neuroscience and cognitive science sophomore. Follow her @maurahiggs.