Helicopter Parenting your College Aged Child

by Manda Boothby, LMHC | Posted on February 4th, 2017

The difficulty of letting go

Going off to college may be one of the most significant events in a person’s life as they transition from a child to an adult. They have the opportunity for their first taste of freedom and the power to make their own decisions. At least, that is the intended purpose of college, but many parents have a hard time letting their child make their own decisions and mistakes.

What is a “helicopter parent?”

A popular catchphrase for a parenting type is ‘helicopter parent’. A helicopter parent is defined as a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child. Basically, they are hovering overhead, always ready to swoop in and take control of a situation.

Examples of a “helicopter parent”

I have experience with this phenomenon. I spent over 11 years of my professional career working with college students and witnessed helicopter parenting to the extreme. I had one mom talk to us about her child’s schedule and the times we were to wake him since she would not be there to do it. In another instance, I knew of a parent that put tracking software on their child’s cell phone without their child’s knowledge so they would know where their child was every second of the day. I also know of a parent that contacted the president of the university when their child was having a roommate conflict instead of recommending their child first talk with the housing department or their resident assistant.

It may stunt their growth…

These parents believe they are helping their children, but studies have shown this type of interference is damaging. Many times in life, we only grow and develop when the situation around us requires we do. It might be scary for your child to go to a professor’s office to talk about a bad grade, but doing that will help them build confidence to ask questions and it also creates a relationship with that professor. If the parent calls the professor or goes with the child to meet with the professor, the opportunity for growth is lost. Think of all the times in adulthood where you raised an uncomfortable subject with someone…it could be a colleague or your electrician, but you did it, and you learned to do that from past experiences. Your child needs to begin having their own experiences so they are prepared to handle life’s conflicts without you.

What can you do if you are a helicopter parent:

  • Take a step back from your college student’s life and give all your concern and worry to God. Talk to him about how difficult it is to let your child go and ask him for his protection. Talk to your pastor or a therapist about the anxiety you feel and the desire to fix things for them.
  • Find out about the different resources your child’s college offers. When your child calls you with a problem, you can help them brainstorm where they can go to receive assistance. That will help your child seek out resources for themselves in the future.
  • Don’t text or call your child multiple times a day. This can make homesickness much worse.
  • If you have a serious concern for your child, such as a physical or mental health issue, make the proper people aware of it. Then, they will have the necessary information if your child ever does need help.
  • Trust your child. You raised them, so trust you did a good job. It may be anxiety-provoking but you will see what kind of amazing things they can do on their own.

If you find yourself unable or unwilling to stop ‘hovering’ contact an LFS Therapist today for assistance.

Manda Boothby, LMHC

Individual, Family and Couples Therapist serving the Sioux City area