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Don't be a Helicopter, Bulldozer or Snowplow Parent for Your College Student

By Edited Mar 26, 2014 1 2
College Students
Credit: widipedia commons - Tulane Public Relations - uploaded by Albert Herring - edited to crop photo

Going to College

My parents delivered me to college and left the same day.  I know my Mom was heartbroken and esctatic at the same time.  I recall calling my parents a couple of days later and calling them generally once a week thereafter.  They were always very supportive, yet they didn't involve themselves in my day to day trials and tribulations.  I believe my college experience was enhanced by the freedom to figure out solutions to my college problems on my own.

Land line telephone communication was the only way for my parensts to reach me during my college years.  Emails, texts, facebook and twitter didn't exist.  Further, folks from my parents' generation did not get over involved in their kids comings and goings, even at a very young age.  During the summer starting from about age five, I would leave the house in the morning to play with friends and return only for lunch and dinner.  My Mom always wanted to know where I was going, but didn't drive me down the block to get there.  I remember getting into a fight with an older kid and coming out on the losing end in full view of my Dad.  He didn't intercede to stop the fight.  At the time, I was upset with him.  I appreciated his hands off approach much later when I realized he was teaching me to fight my own battles.

Baby Boomer Parenting

In general, parenting in the baby boomer generation has evolved far from our parents' model.  We have been more wary of letting our children run loose through the neighborhood.  When we were kids, there were few news reports of young children being kidnapped or molested.  Our generation responded to these types of occurrences by keeping our children at home or by closely supervising their activities.  Although understandable, our children have enjoyed less freedom than us.  

An additional casualty to our enhanced concern over our children's wellbeing has been less time for unscripted free play.  Many of our kids engaged in play groups organized by the Moms instead of the kids.  Our kids played more football, baseball and basketball in organized leagues than we did.  Although our kids probably gained better sport skills from the organized teams, they lost something from having the parents organize everything.  When I was a kid, each pick up game required negotiations among the paricipants to decide the teams and the rules.  Our kids have missed out on developing those skills.

To a large degree, technology limited our parents reach.  Making a phone call to find out how I was doing at a neighbor's house required calling the other parent.  Our parents couldn't contact us directly like we can in cell phone nation.  We reach out to our kids more frequently because we can.  Our kids know we are interested in their wellbeing and know they have that backstop for support.  Danger arises when the parental reaching out includes everyone with whom our kids interact.

The College Experience

I view college as a way station before we truly go off to seek our fortunes.  The students have quite a bit of freedom to come and go, yet the environment is structured around a class schedule and the need to make grades.  Hopefully, college becomes something of a petri dish for students to grow academically and socially.

Unfortunately, parents can now obstruct their college student's development more than in years past.  In general terms, the three types of parents who impede their child's college development are known as the following:

     The Helicopter Parent:  These types of parents are involved with every aspect of their child's existence.  They know when their kid gets up in the morning, when they go to class, what they ate at lunch, who they talked to between classes and what professors gave them a less than perfect grade on a paper.  These parents stay in touch on a constant basis through cell calls, texts and emails, and also try to smooth things over with roommates or professors on issues big and small.

     The Bulldozer Parent:  This juiced up relation to the helicoper parent works to obliderate all obstacles in their child's path to success.  While the helicopter parent is very involved and tries to resolve all issues, the bulldozer parent tries to smash anything in their child's way.  This type of parent is a particular favorite of college administrators.

     The Snowplow Parent:  This type of parent attempts to make life as easy as possible for the college student by taking care of all needs whatsoever.  If the child gets stuck trying to write a paper and study for an exam at the same time, the snowplow parent will d0 the research or write the paper.  These types of parents try to make life as easy as possible for the student.

At various times, I'm sure all of us have exhibited at least some of these behaviors.  I know I have been guilty.  We need to balance whatever the daily problems our kids may face with the bigger picture of what they are learning.  Are they learning to lean on someone else to solve their problems or learning self reliance?  At some point they will confront problems and issues which are beyond our ability to solve.  Our children need to have the coping skills to find the solutions themselves.

When in Doubt, Stand Back

The best way to avoid becoming one of these types of parents is to keep your eye on the big picture of what college should do for your child.  They are not merely taking course work.  They are learning to become fully functioning adults.  If your immediate intervention is needed to avoid a total disaster, then you should intervene.  Otherwise, let your student find their own way.  If your definition of "total disaster" is a bad grade or anger at a roommate, your definition should change.  Your child's ultimate growth and development will be the beneficiary of that change of outlook even if they don't appreciate the initial challenge.



Mar 25, 2014 4:01pm
It's hard to let go, but perhaps the book you featured will help those having trouble with this rite of passage.
Mar 26, 2014 7:29am
Thanks for reading!
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