Friday, April 18, 2008

Helicopter Parent Crash

The concept of helicopter parents is mostly an abstract concept to professors at big public universities, though colleagues at small liberal arts colleges and other private institutions of higher learning (large and small) report that these people do exist in ever increasing numbers, and they are as annoying as we might imagine. They are not shy about calling their offspring's professors to chat about things that should only be discussed by the professor with the student.

A colleague who directs an internship program at a big public university recently had his first experience with a helicopter parent (HP). Perhaps not surprisingly, the child of this HP attends a small liberal arts college. The parent wanted to know whether his daughter could apply for the internship program even though the deadline had passed. If she could still apply, he would tell his daughter (and maybe write her application for her?).

My colleague wondered whether the daughter knew about her father's activities on her behalf. If she doesn't know and doesn't approve, she needs to have a talk with her father. If she knows and approves, she needs to have a talk with herself and stop relying on dad for things that are her responsibility.

My colleague did not reply to the HP's email because he was annoyed by it and because the answer was no, it was too late to apply for the program. (If you're going to be an HP, you should at least keep track of deadlines). He said that even if the answer had been yes, he wouldn't accept this student. He thought the incident showed that she didn't have the independence or maturity to do well in the program. Of course, that conclusion assumes that the daughter knew of her father's efforts on her behalf.

I would have replied, but it would be difficult to find an effective way to explain to the HP that his efforts were harming his daughter's opportunities, not increasing them. It would be tempting to pretend that the email was from my father, although that would not be the most mature response.


Anonymous said...

"It would be tempting to pretend that the email was from my father, although that would not be the most mature response."

I would find that very funny.

Anonymous said...

It would be tempting to pretend that the email was from my father, although that would not be the most mature response.

I've wracked my brain, trying to figure out what you are are implying about the nature of your hypothetical, but I'm getting nowhere. Help.

Female Science Professor said...

If students can have helicopter parents, why can't I?

stepwise girl, I inadvertently deleted your comment. Resend?

Anonymous said...

By coincidence, this morning I listened to a recent (April 11th) Science magazine podcast that discussed the work ethic of "Generation Y," which I would imagine the kids of helicopter parents can be said to belong to. A Gen-Y type was going on about the need for constant constructive feedback and job-hopping to meet goals of 10-year plans and so forth; no mention of helicopter parents was mentioned. But I suppose that's really a fault of the parents' generation, not the kids.

cookingwithsolvents said...

It blows my MIND that there are people out there that could EVER think that being a HP would be in any way beneficial to their child's success.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a large state university and recently had to deal with a HP over an issue of alleged cheating. The parent was not pleased when I told them that federal privacy laws prevented me from talking about it with them, and that the student should talk to me directly.

Anonymous said...

We have lots of those over here in Europe, too.
* Had one complain to the dean about an exercise I was forcing her son to do that she thought would be detrimental to her small business (this involved the students having to ask real-life offices real-life questions in order to understand how the process works. Much more effective than me writing it on the board.
* Another one (a rather well-known journalist) was in my office multiple times getting advice on what her lazy, untalented son needed to do to graduate. I refused to advise his thesis, I am kind of sure that HP was deeply involved.
* One even wanted to apply to our program to study together with his daughter! Now we've had sisters and brothers and cousins, but this took the cake. Unfortunately, her grades were much better than his (despite his long waiting time) and she made it in, he didn't. Wouldn't that have been a fright?

Anonymous said...

If students can have helicopter parents, why can't I?

Sorry for being so dense, but I still don't get it. If it were from your own father, how would you have responded?

Harvestar said...

In one of the large lecture classes at a big research university, we had an HP call the prof teaching it. (I was the teaching assistant) She was very angry at the lack of support for her daughter who had a learning disability. She thought we needed to *force* someone to take notes for her daughter, instead of just asking for a volunteer. (even though the lecture slides were all provided before class)

What really stopped the mother was when the prof said, "your daughter hasn't done any of the homework. Perhaps you should talk to her about that."

She ended up dropping the class anyway.

revintraining said...

My dad is a bit of an HP. He's gotten better over the years, but he can still be kind of annoying.

Anonymous said...

@PhysioProf - I believe that "the email" in that statement is FSP's reply to the HP, not the original email.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, in fact it referred to my hypothetical reply.

Anonymous said...

It's a really damaging phenomenon sociologically, it continues to narrow the opportunities for kids whose parents are busy/uninvolved/etc... It's not enough that kids of HP's have had all the advantages from birth to age 18 - now it has to go into college and beyond.

There are a lot of people saying that HP's are damaging their children's prospects, but in the short term at least I disagree. So much is left up to professors when it comes to grades - I've personally seen examples of profs passing students just so their HP's will stop harassing them.

The student who (or whose parents) ask the prof about grades will at least have a chance of getting a better grade while the one who says nothing will have no such chance.