How Helicopter Parents Are Taking Over & Harming Education

How Helicopter Parents Are Taking Over & Harming Education cover image

We all know that parents who are uninvolved in their children’s lives have a detrimental effect, but being overly involved can be quite harmful as well.

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A helicopter parent is defined as a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their children. The problem is, helicopter parenting, or excessive parent intervention, is becoming the new normal in our society and it extends way beyond school. We might have no choice but to embrace these overbearing annoyances.

In my book Teacher Misery, I outlined the many encounters I had with helicopter parents during my first five years of teaching high school. There were Rolf’s parents, who gave their son’s essay to a Global Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Some Fancy University who did not agree with the grade I gave it. They insisted that I change his grade “as soon as possible to give him the grade that he unquestionably deserves.” The parents were so persistent that I did end up changing the kid’s grade. Then there was Seymour’s dad who threatened to complain to the school board if the school suspended his son for bringing a nail gun to school (and shooting nails at random objects and threatening to shoot them at students.) Seymour only got detention. When Ruprecht earned a B in my class his father started email bombing my administrators about my incompetence as a teacher. I had to sit in a meeting and show every single assignment and explain the expectations and the resulting grade while my supervisor confirmed that everything was status quo. The father continued to try to find reasons why the B was unfair. The meeting was promptly ended with a dramatic, “This isn’t over.” Next, the father went to the principal. The principal set up a panel of other English teachers to look at the work I had graded (for no extra pay, I might add). They all agreed that it was fair and accurate. His next move was to show up in the school parking lot near my car, waiting for me to discuss my grading policies. He is currently suing the school district claiming that the grade caused his son “severe physical and emotional suffering, along with decreased college admission chances, lost scholarships, and loss of future employment opportunities.

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I could go on and on. The student whose mother insisted that her son have two copies of a book, one for in-class use and one to leave at home, for it was too much of a strain on her son’s perfectly normal back and arms to carry that 13-ounce book to and fro all the time. There was the student who would just make up an assignment instead of doing the one I assigned. His parents were very upset that he was failing the class and I was told to grade whatever he gave me. One student emailed me to ask why he ended up with a D on the final exam, and I informed him that he did not complete one of the essays. “That’s not fair,” he wrote. “I didn’t even see it! You took off thirty points but it wasn’t my fault.” After a parent got involved, I had to let the student write the essay weeks later and adjust his grade.

Just when I think I’ve seen the worst of the worst, a parent shocks me with even more outrageous, entitled behavior. And they usually get their way. But this unbelievable parental intervention extends far beyond the high school classroom.

A former director of the Parents’ Program at Cornell University has studied helicopter parenting. Her research shows that this type of behavior started to appear on college campuses in the 1990s.

College admissions offices began to complain that parents insisted on sitting in on their child’s admission interview. Some admissions officials started to suspect that parents of prospective students wrote their essays.

She states that overbearing parents have become a huge problem for colleges and universities. Wealthier parents may even pay to have someone write their kid’s college application essay for them. We are talking about an essay that is typically one to two pages in length, and is meant to show evidence of the student’s writing ability, personality and values. It is ironic (and outrageous) that some students have someone else write this for them.

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I always assumed that helicopter parents had no choice but to stop hovering when their kid enrolled in college. But inappropriate parent intervention is becoming commonplace on college campuses. According to a Washington Post article entitled, “How Helicopter Parents are Ruining College Students,” it is not uncommon for a parent to call the president of the college to complain about their kid’s roommate. Other parents have been known to do their son or daughter’s homework and write their papers (yes, in college), ask to sit in on disciplinary hearings, or call the RA several times a week asking if their kid is going to every class, getting enough sleep, making friends etc. Emailing and calling a professor to question their kid’s grade is almost commonplace. FERPA laws make it illegal to give information out about a student’s grades, but the Dean will often have the student sign a release that authorizes professors to discuss these matters with the parents.

One would assume that this behavior has to end when Junior enters the workforce, right? Nope! According to the New York Times articleWhen Helicopter Parents Hover Even at Work,” it is not unheard of for a parent to send in their kid’s résumé, schedule interviews and even show up in person to discuss their kid’s abilities. When employers’ were asked to share helicopter parenting stories in a 2016 survey, there were many stories of outrageous parent intervention.

“One told of a job candidate who piped his mother into an interview via Skype, while another recalled a mother asking if she could sit for an interview in place of her child, who had a scheduling conflict. A third mother interrupted in the middle of an interview to ask if she could observe.”

For some organizations “parental meddling” is an ongoing problem. Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean, reports that officials at Teach for America have been mystified in recent years by the volume of parents who intervene on behalf of their adult children, whom the group employs as teachers.

“A Teach for America administrator told her that parents had called him with complaints about such issues as their child’s being disciplined by a principal or having a run-in with a fellow teacher, as though the adult child were still a student.”

As a teacher myself, I have never considered having my mom call someone to complain about the abuse I took in my first year, but maybe I should have! Instead of just turning these people away, employers will often engage with them, since it is no longer an anomaly.

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In 2007, the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University published a survey of 725 employers…

and more than 30 percent reported parents submitting a résumé for their children; 15 percent reported fielding complaints from a parent when the company didn’t hire their child; and nearly 10 percent said parents had insinuated themselves into salary and benefit negotiations.

I am willing to bet that those numbers have increased dramatically in the last ten years.

Rather than roll their eyes at helicopter parents, some employers are actually trying to embrace them. LinkedIn will soon hold its fifth annual “Bring in Your Parents Day,” an event which has spread to scores of companies globally. Cornerstone OnDemand, a company that develops software employers use for recruiting workers, started “Bring in Your Parents Day” largely because employees were already bringing their parents to the office. Car rental company Enterprise Holdings is happy to send parents the same recruitment packages it sends their children. And when Enterprise interns present their final projects and are considering full-time positions, parents are invited in.

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Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that parents want to advocate for their child for the rest of their lives. Parental support and encouragement is important for one’s confidence at any age. But there has to be a limit. Not only are helicopter parents annoying AF to teachers, professors and employers, they are actually ruining their kids’ ability to handle life. Studies show that kids raised by these kind of parents often suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and a crippling fear of failure. They lack the ability to handle even the smallest disappointments, and have a hard time managing adult responsibilities.

They may think that what they are doing is out of love and in the best interest of their children, but the truth of the matter is, helicopter parents need to land somewhere away from their kid, and believe in them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

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Jane Morris_author photoThis article was written by Jane Morris — author of the bestselling book: Teacher Misery. Connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

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