Helicopter Parent

5 Jan

Recently I had occasion to wonder, “Am I turning into a helicopter parent?”  Defined as an overprotective, overbearing parent who “hovers” over her child, taking care of (or control over) her child’s life whether the child wants or needs it, helicopter parents have gotten a bad rap in the press lately and are being blamed for raising a generation of children unprepared for life’s setbacks.

When I first heard this term, I was so aghast at the concept, I vowed never to become one.  But being part of a generation used to scheduling play dates and making sure that our little ones are exposed to every sporting, musical or artistically life-enhancing activity imaginable, I’m figuring out the boundaries when it comes to college admissions.

This issue confronted me when it came to registering for the SAT and ACT tests.  My daughter recently decided that she was going to take the standardized tests in spring.  In the back of my mind, I kept meaning to remind her to register for the tests.  Alas, my addled middle-aged brain kept forgetting.  Finally, when a friend urged me to sign up early to avoid being shut out at the test site, I went online to register without waiting for her.

I thought, I’ll just go into the website, select a test venue and pay for it – it’ll be simple.  Instead, the website took me through a litany of questions about my daughter’s college preferences, the majors she is interested in, her current subjects in high school, her GPA, her extracurricular activities and so on.  Many of the questions I could answer but as I continued clicking through – the questions seemed endless – I grew steadily uneasy.  Hmm, perhaps she should answer these questions?  Judging from the wording, the website evidently assumes that the student is filling out the questionnaire.  But then in a mixed message twist, the website expects payment by credit card; few teens I know own credit cards.

Little did I know that registering for the SAT and ACT would become a metaphor for setting boundaries between parent and child in applying for colleges.  Since we’ve embarked on my daughter’s college search, I have needed to remind myself that she is the one going to college, especially when I’ve spent too many bleary-eyed hours reading college guidebooks or trolling college websites.  I’m not the only neurotic parent.  Kelly Dunham wrote a helpful checklist of do’s and don’ts for parents and students during the application process (New York Times, December 15, 2010).

Much as I’m invested in helping my daughter find the right college and getting in, I don’t want to drive her college search.  So I hesitate, uncertain about what to do next.  The webpage stares back at me, its blinking cursor oblivious to the tug-of-war in my head.  I look for a way to skip ahead and go directly to payment; luckily the website lets me do that.  After successfully registering her, I make a mental note to talk to my daughter about going back and filling out the questionnaire herself.

She’s going to college, not me.



One Response to “Helicopter Parent”

  1. Susannah January 7, 2011 at 11:02 AM #

    I’m a helicopter parent. I don’t take it as an insult. It’s a label created by people who do not know me. That’s what people do – they label, they categorize, they judge. When I was growing up I wore the label “latch key child”. There was judgment there too, despite the fact that I was a child who had absolutely no choice or control over who was home when I finished school. I learned early that people are very silly and self-indulgent and that they tend to project their insecurities on others and the world at large. Then they feel guilty and use these “labels” as excuses for their bad behavior once it has become old hat. Sort “I’m as bad as this… but I’m not as bad as that…” We all do it.
    I recently read a great post memorializing Barbara Billingsly, the person who played June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver . She took a lot of flack from women who resented the perfect mom icon she portrayed. Meanwhile in real life she was a just a single mom doing her job during a time when women did not have many career options, and she did it well. Her job was to portray a little boy’s mom as he saw her…. idealized, and we were insulted. I think its time to throw off labels and throw on personal responsibility and accountability. Don’t worry about what other people will call you, yes there are concerns, but they are never the whole story. We all adapt and are molded in part by the conditions that surround us. There is no one way to raise a child, start with love and proceed accordingly. 🙂

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