Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Helicopter Parents

A perjorative terms has crept into colloquial English: helicopter parents

'Helicopter parents' is a term recently used by college administrators to refer to parents of teen or college-age adults or young adults being overly involved in the minute details of their children's everyday lives.  It's like they're consistently hovering around, rather than letting or requiring their child to deal with the college or other experiences  on her own.

The 'helicopter parents' are, most of the time, more accurately 'helicopter moms.'  As a T.A., I've had to deal with them now and then.  More in the role of entertain-the-mom-while-her-daughter-sees-the-prof-or-advisor, but sometimes to explain why I cannot provide her her kid's grade or even raise it.  (They might try the "just between us girls" approach, or pleading, or even trying to summarily order me to.)  My impression is that they are very enmeshed in their daughters' lives (less often their son's), and see themselves as omniscent.  They live their children's lives vicariously.  They might even attend classes together for the first few weeks!  

To be sure, these parents see the world as considerably more complex and competitive than it was supposed to be at one time; and they feel that they need to give their children an edge over the competition (other children) for grades, scholarships, athletic letters, and even jobs. 

This this term really achieved currency because the existence of these helicopter parents tended to impact on the working lives of college administrators.  In general, unlike the days of yore when in loco parentis was the rule and panty raids were the typical annoyance they had to deal with, the college administrators cultivated an ostrich-like ability to overlook problems unless it bites them on the behind!

College life changed somewhat too.  In the case of some selective admissions universities, they base admissions on things like grades, extracurricular activities, diversity, and even having other family members as alums.  Therefore, it is not surprising that a certain amount of manipulation of these goes on.

There's grade inflation.  Particularly with extra credit given for Advanced Placement courses.

And extracurricular activity inflation.  It's no secret that several schools have faux extracurricular activities that serve to get those who are "members" something appear in the yearbook picture for, or to list as an extracurricular activity for college admissions.

I suppose it's possible to play the ethnic card in a few cases; but listing oneself as a WASP gains no diversity points, even though they are a minority.

And middle-class parents see themselves as more active in other areas.  Remember, these were the soccer moms and dads.  These were the ones that were encouraged, even pressured into involvement with P.T.A.s, coaching, church Bible study classes, and other things.  For some, they don't have clear guideposts as to when to let go.

Actually, there's an historical antecedent for helicopter parents.  When Douglas McArthur entered West Point in 1899, his mother moved into a suite at Craney's Hotel, overlooking the Academy.  Presumably, Douglas could not party like it was 1899!  

The most extreme case of helicopter mothering I ever heard about* was a divorced one who took an off-campus apartment with her daughter as a roommate when she went off to college.  And they were known to double date on one occasion!  I did not have the nerve to inquire into more details about their inhibitions or lack thereof!

*And, thank God,did not observe!


Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

Very interesting about these parents. They really believe that mother knows best.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Those kind of parents make going to a university harder than it need be. Their kids must be very low in self-esteem, I reckon.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Between soccer moms and this, I think I'd probably be what these mom's would consider a bad mother.

Anemone said...

I'm glad my mom was not like that!

McArthur? Was the park named after him?

Grand Crapaud said...

Typically, some parents are more "hands on" than others. And sometimes they are all too there, much to the child's dismay. They need to let go gradually.

Big Sky Heidi said...

Thank God my parents were not like that!

Mike said...

These parents have probably been around a long time and just never had an official name.

Grenouille Fille said...

Is this related to American puritanism?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Kristen -- They're not reticent, but bold to a t!

Elvis -- I got the feeling that the kids are cowed by them.

Mistress -- Not by me.

Anemone -- ME too! I guess that was the one that the part was named for. And he didn't get the cake!

Crapaud -- Too hands on by far.

Heidi -- I'm glad my parents were

Hell Hound said...

Helicopter parent translates into doesn't have a life for herself -- lives vicariously through her children.