A (Very Mild) Defense of Helicopter Parents

All across the country, parents are reluctantly cutting the umbilical cord and launching their youngin’s into the cold, cruel world.

Of kindergarten and college, that is. I’ve seen the evidence on Facebook: “Oh, ever since (insert beloved child’s name here) was born, I’ve been dreading the day we would send him/her off to kindergarten/college. I can’t believe how time flies!”

The New York Times has weighed in as well, documenting the rise of “parting ceremonies” on college campuses designed to give parents the not-so-subtle hint that it’s time to “hit the road” rather than hang around for a week at a local hotel and show up on campus each morning to escort Little Junior to class to check out the suitability of his professors, not to mention the laundry room to make sure he knows how to insert his “Action Card” into the slot and separate whites from darks.

And if you don’t believe me, listen to this Tweet from a college professor friend of mine at my own alma mater (Hail!): “HU freshmen parents: I know it’s great to be at Harding but please go home. We’ve got it from here.”

For the record, Eyegal and I are not known for being “helicopter parents.” Number One Son has nominated us for the “The Least Involved Parents in the World” award which I’m guessing he meant as a compliment although it looks a little funny at first glance. That translates roughly to “Find your own way, boys, but whatever you do, don’t wake us up at 2:00AM to bail you out of jail.”

So far, we’ve only had one relatively mild violation of that rule.

Two of ours are out of the house and off to college and only boomerang back occasionally to pet the dog and ask for money. Number Three Son is starting to pick up on the hint–probably best conveyed by his parents’ passionate embraces in the kitchen while he begs for dinner–that “ya know we love ya to pieces and all, but this whole ’empty nest’ thing is sounding better and better so could you step it up please, because your mother and I got plans.” Completely on his own, he decided to enroll in a program that will enable him to take classes at a local community college while finishing up his senior year of high school. If all goes well, he’ll have around 20 hours of credit and a diploma come next May.

Seriously, though, sometimes our kids do need a little help navigating The Road of Life and Eyegal and I are glad to help out and play the parental GPS–from a distance, by cell, text or Skype, and before 10:00PM.

But every now and then, you gotta go all Special Forces and break bad on some heads.

Case in point, when we took now college sophomore Number Two Son to his orientation at the University of West Florida last summer we tried ever so hard to “stay out of his bidness.” He was thinking that he might want to major in psychology (just like his parents!) and that he wanted to consider a health career such as physician assistant. He was a little skiddish about taking a pre-health science course his first semester, so we told him that we thought he should take Psychology 101 right away to see if he liked the field and save biology until the spring semester. You know, basic, common sense advice, the kind his parents are known far and wide for.

When the time came to register, parents were kept at a safe distance from the entering freshman so as to avoid too much meddling, and off the greenhorns went, lining up in a chute like cattle at the slaughter house. As far as I can tell, the conversation between Number Two Son and his so-called “advisor” went something like this:

No. 2: “I think I’d like to major in psychology and maybe be a physician assistant, so I’d like to take Psychology 101 but no science my first semester since that kinda freaks me out a little.”

Advisor: “That sounds like an excellent plan. Let’s see what we have here…hmmm…I know, let’s put you in Botany 101! I took Botany 101 my first semester and absolutely loved it!”

No. 2: “Uh, isn’t that ‘plant stuff?’ Do you think I need that to be a PA?”

Advisor: “Yes, it’s all about plants and yes, most definitely, you’ll need it to be a PA. Which, by the way, what exactly is a PA?

No. 2: “Beats me. Okay, if you say so, I’ll take botany. But what about Psychology 101?”

Advisor: “All those sections are full. Sorry.”

No. 2: “But, my parents are going to kill me. Are you sure I can’t get into Psychol…”

Advisor: “Have a good semester and welcome to West Florida!  NEXT?”

You get the picture. And you can imagine our reaction when we picked him up later that afternoon and laid eyes on his printed schedule.

With Number Two rolling his eyes and cringing in the back seat, Eyegal and I donned our Black Hawk helicopter helmets and night vision goggles and swooped down on the registrar’s office (thump, thump, thump!). As we flew into the kill zone, uh, I mean, the room, the rotor wash sent papers and hair flying in all directions.

Well, actually Eyegal entered the room and I stood in the hall and guarded the door. She’s much better at that sort of thing than I am. Woe be unto anyone who messes with one of her babies. “Mama Grizzly?” Ha! Eyegal makes Sarah Palin look like a cuddly koala.

Needless to say, the schedule was “fixed” (well, waddya know, there is an opening in Psychology 101!).

All this to say that sometimes you gotta hover a little–but not for too long.

As for you long-suffering professors and college administrators, suck it up. The fact is, that just because you’ve got more letters behind your names than alphabet soup has noodles doesn’t mean that you always know what you’re talking about.

Besides, last time I checked, you need our money, which I guess, makes us your customers.

And the customer is always right.

  1. Terri on Facebook

    Very nice. It’s been almost a week now since we took our youngest to college (HU!!). She’s surviving and we’re enjoying the peace and quiet. Only downside so far is I have to do her chores now.

  2. reJoyce

    Good one. We just left our youngest at ACU. We did not stay for orientation week – not even for the parent part – having done that with the older kids. I only got one call where we got accused of abandoning her when everyone else had a parent there. Not too bad, I thought. (Her two older brothers are still there though, so she may sometimes feel like she has helicopter brothers instead of parents! And it makes it easier for me not to fret as much.)

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Sounds like you two are going to survive just fine.

    Did anyone else notice that the lady dangling from the Black Hawk in the cartoon actually looks like Sarah Palin?

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    Wait, that may be a Huey not a Black Hawk. Where’s JRB when I need him?

  5. JRB

    Sorry for the delay.  That certainly is a Blackhawk in cartoon form.  The engine nacelles give it away.

    We are in our second full week of kindergarten, and I think we’ve done pretty well.  The only hovering I’ve done so far is to inquire two or three times when the soap dispenser in the girls’ restroom would be operational.  B had reported that she couldn’t wash her hands with soap in the potty.  I consider my intervention there, and the head’s eventual response, to be more a matter of public health than helicopter parenting. 

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks for the helicopter ID, JRB. I can attest firsthand that your Dad still sees well enough to fly one of those birds.

    No soap in the potty? It’s time for face black and rappelling ropes, dude!

    BTW, is there a law school version of “helicopter parents?”

  7. JRB

    Blessedly, I have not encountered any.  I teach upper-level students, though, so I hope we would have toughened them up enough, or instilled sufficient fear of mortification, to avoid such. I have heard tell of parents calling about grades in the first-year, but they get no satisfaction.  This is one great benefit (among many) of teaching bona fide adults.  We can brook much less foolishness. 

  8. Mike the Eyeguy

    Number Two Son had a pretty serious disagreement with a professor over a grade during second semester. We told him that he would have to handle it himself, but we were on standby, in uniform, serving as tactical consultants.

    My question: Does this count as “combat” or not? The answer may have far reaching implications since I have been told that, despite the presence of thousands of “advisors” in Iraq, all “combat operations” have ceased. I am trying to determine if that is actually the case.

  9. Greg England

    This brought back some memories, from yesteryear. Fortunately. I remember when our son came home one night during the last semester of his Junior year and said, “I was called in to my advisor’s office today. He said I have to declare a major. What should I declare as my major?” His mom and I both were psychology majors, though she went into elementary education and I went into counseling and ministry, so we suggested psychology. His response: “Okay, I’m a psych major.” That was the amount of thought given to a college major! Today? We’re all three funeral directors. Go figure.

  10. Mike the Eyeguy

    Psychology majors–we’re versatile!

    That story remind me a little of the time–after college–when I was “rebooting” after deciding graduate school in clinical psychology just wasn’t my cup o’ tea.

    I was in the career library at Harding (in Searcy working construction so I could be near the future Eyegal), and I spent about 10-15 minutes or so reading a pamphlet by the American Optometric Association on “Careers in Optometry.”

    “Well, that sounds good to me,” I declared when I finished. And that was that. The rest is history–The Eyeguy was born.

  11. Kristi

    I always knew exactly what I wanted to do. So I grew up, picked a school that was strong in science, went to graduate school in chemistry and then finished and now live with my parents because I can’t find a job. I think those of you who took things less seriously than I did are probably better off. Incidentally, I do not have helicopter parents. This is an extremely awesome thing, particularly now that I’m 26 and live with them.

  12. Bryan

    Eyeguy,We are kindred spirits.  I have told my 2 boys that we are changing the locks when they go off to school.  The oldest is a senior and has been homeschooled his whole life, so we thought it would be a good idea to take a couple of classes at the local college to get the feel of a classroom before heading off to HU next fall.  His mom asked me whether I wanted to go register with him or should she.  I said neither.  Our son is not going to be the only student at registration with a parent.  I helped answer a couple of questions by text, but he did it all himself.  And after the first week of school, it could be an awakening semester for the boy.

  13. Mike the Eyeguy

    Nice, Kristi. No need for them to hover when you can just hop right in the cockpit with them! 😉

    Bryan–Yeah, we homeschooled ours too at various times along with a mix of public school. If anything, we went overboard to make sure they got a dose of the “real world” along the way. I did have to speak with Eyegal, though, about those floor-dragging jeans skirts and the way she used to wear her hair in that tight bun.

    Speaking of Eyegal, where is she? Ignoring me again, I think.

  14. Kyle

    I think the words “good riddance” came out of my mouth as we dropped my
    freshman son off at college and my wife was hugging him goodbye.
    Seriously…and my only fear is that he thought I was kidding.

  15. Mike the Eyeguy

    I can see you saying that. Did Lisa smack you?

  16. Kyle

    Just got a stern look…

  17. Lynn

    Okay, loved this one. So does the fact that John and I went to UAB 3
    times in one week (to bring much needed but left behind items and one
    pass through enroute to T-town) mean that we are bordering on
    “helicopter” status? Naaah!

  18. Mike the Eyeguy

    Oh heavens no, Lynn, you’re not one of those. A small helium balloon, maybe, but not a helicopter.

  19. Terri

    So, if I sent my daughter a text this morning reminding her to wear
    sunscreen on her trip to Heber today, have I crossed over to helicopter
    status?? In my defense she is very fair and has a strong history of
    “forgetting” the sunscreen.

  20. Mike the Eyeguy

    Are you talking about the freshman? If so, it’s sort of like chapel
    skips. If you’re the parent of a freshman you get 10 “free” helicopter
    texts before you cross the line because as everyone knows freshmen are
    pretty clueless and need a little parental hovering.

  21. Terri

    Yes, the freshman. Sounds like a good rule to me. Besides, its partly
    her fault. She should know by now she’s not supposed to tell me she’s
    doing stuff like that until it’s just a happy memory.

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