They swoop. They hover. They intrude. They won’t — or can’t — let go.
And helicopter parents may be setting up their children to fail in college.
Helicopter parents take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their children.
“Helicopter parenting is … parents being involved at a level that is inappropriate,” said Holly Schiffrin, professor of psychological science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Schiffrin said she sees students struggling to deal with issues ranging from anxiety to maturity to handling simple tasks that come with independence, such as doing laundry or cooking a meal.
Makenzie Tobin, a freshman at Pennsylvania State University, in State College, said the first two weeks in college she needed to call her mom “like five times a day.” She also said she was scared when she filled a prescription at the local pharmacy the first time. Her mom had always done that for her.
Makenzie’s mom, Andrea Tobin, told VOA Student U she also was scared for her daughter to leave the nest.
Andrea said she parented Makenzie the same way society does, protecting her from the dangers of today’s world.
“When I was in high school and college, it was just different back then,” she said, “It just makes me nervous how kids are.”
Andrea admits that she was somewhat of a helicopter parent.
“Today, in a sense, you kind of have to be a helicopter parent,” she said.
Parents connect online
Online groups that connect parents whose children attend the same university reveal questions about arranging transportation, buying books and supplies, taking tests, eating, housing and how to negotiate a roommate conflict — all tasks that most students face when they attend college or university.
One mother lamented the difficulty of getting her child’s behavior-modifying medication to her. The parent named the child, named the medical issue, and berated the university for not delivering the medication in a timely fashion.
When another parent suggested the student go to the local chain pharmacy and get the medication filled on her own, the helicopter parent fired back aggressively.
Schiffrin said helicopter parents keep their children from developing practical skills, like doing laundry or arranging travel, and are detrimental in other ways.
Anxiety in kids
Such parenting can increase the risk of depression and anxiety in college students, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. It also found that helicopter parenting had negative effects on life satisfaction and physical health through self-sufficiency.
A correlation exists between limiting emotional growth in children and high levels of anxiety, said Lenore Skenazy, the president of Let Grow and the founder of Free Range Kids, organizations that try to end helicopter parenting and help parents give their kids more freedom.
“If your parents think that you need help, they don’t perceive you as being competent,” Schiffrin said.
Many college students lack skills such as conflict resolution, which creates issues with roommates and professors. Schiffrin said parents have shown up at her office to discuss their student’s performance.
Amy Sevic, a high school English and social studies teacher, sent her son, Andrew, off to Michigan State University in East Lansing for his freshman year. The Mooresville, N.C., native tried to give her son more freedom and responsibility growing up after witnessing helicopter parents smother their children.
“They tend to do so much for their child that their children cannot even go through the thought process of problem-solving the issue,” Sevic said.
She and her husband guide Andrew by offering advice, but ask him to execute when faced with a decision, such as picking a second major.
“We can’t do it for him,” she said, “All the helicopter parenting my husband and I could do isn’t going to solve those world problems, isn’t going to keep him safe, isn’t going to keep him from making mistakes.”
Amy said Andrew has adjusted surprisingly well to life away from home. She thinks it is partly because he was forced to be a self-advocate during his childhood.
“Our end goal is to want them to be successful, independent adults.”