Helicopter parents are hovering beyond college

It’s a bird, it’s a plane — no, it’s a middle-aged woman. “Helicopter parents,” those who “hover” over their children’s lives, take parental guidance to the extreme. It’s a phenomenon specific to our generation, fueled by cell phones, Facebook accounts, and Baby Boomer parents who don’t know when to stop.

In lower education, helicopter parents (HPs) are the ones storming into classrooms, haggling over workloads and grades. But it doesn’t end there. Even in college, HPs are problematic, text-messaging their kids, looking them up on Facebook, or even making direct calls to the administration.

“There have been times when parents have called asking about grades,” said William Alba, director of the Science and Humanities Scholars Program. Though parents often call Alba with questions about QPAs and classes, their children could answer just as well as he can, he said.

Although Alba might not mind the phone calls, someone else might, like an employer. HPs often continue hovering even after their children have graduated college, according to an April 23 article in USA Today. HPs sometimes show up at career fairs, talking to company recruiters alongside — or instead of — their children. Additionally, HPs call employers for information on jobs and internships, often calling back after their children are hired to discuss salaries and benefits.

Such intense parental involvement might sound like a nuisance, but USA Today reports that children of HPs often appreciate their parents’ help when finding a job. Employers, however, feel differently; they tend to count applicants’ hyperactive parents against them.

Helicopter parenting, however annoying, can also seriously hinder a child’s (or college student’s) abilities to make decisions or solve problems, according to an article published March 21, 2006 in The Washington Post. Even a successful academic education cannot fully prepare students for life after college; certain skills can only be learned by doing.

HPs are associated with the generation of people born after 1982, often called the “millennial generation,” the Post reports. Parents of the millennial generation have access to the Internet and cell phones, making it easier than ever to keep track of their kids.

Junior math major Jason Tribbett has had both good and bad experiences with such technology. Though some parents are still struggling with the concept of voicemail, Tribbett’s parents are mobile-savvy enough to send him text messages.

For Tribbett, the cell phone actually lessens his contact with his parents, reducing phone conversations to text messages.

“I actually like it better,” he said, “because if they didn’t text me they’d leave a message on my phone or something.”

Still, whether by phone call, text message, or e-mail, college students today communicate with their parents more frequently than those in earlier generations, Alba said.

“When I was in college, [making frequent phone calls] was completely inconceivable,” he said. “I called my parents once or twice a week — after 11 p.m. when the rates went down.”

But technology isn’t always so helpful. While exploring Facebook on his brother’s account, Tribbett’s mother found pictures of him at parties that he hadn’t intended her to see.

Tribbett knew that his photos on Facebook were essentially public, so he wasn’t surprised when his mother found them, just embarrassed. “I kind of expected that to happen anyway,” he said.

Technology helps parents monitor their children, but the Post cites another reason for modern HPs: pride in parenting. For example, the “Baby on Board” signs for car windows started cropping up in the ‘80s, at the start of the millennial generation. According to the Post, there’s a theory that parents primarily use “Baby on Board” signs to brag about their children, not to encourage safer driving.

Now, some of those same “Baby on Board” parents are probably wearing “Carnegie Mellon Mom” sweatshirts and feeling just as proud.

Overall, most argue that HPs must strike a balance with their children between hyper-involvement and no involvement at all.

The key, Alba said, is for parents to change along with their kids. “You don’t parent a 1-year-old the way you parent a 20-year-old,” he said. Alba’s daughter Beatrice is only 1 year old, but he’s already noticing differences in the things she can do, some of which require him to adjust his parenting.

“I think we as human beings tend to make silly judgments sometimes, and the older we get, the better we get at making decisions for ourselves,” he said.