Everyone has heard the term "helicopter parent", and everyone probably knows one, but maybe it's a little harder to recognize when you're being one. A helicopter parent is a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child.
You see helicopter parents at every age; there's the mother of the third grader who is demanding to know why the lunch monitor didn't make her son finish his lunch, the father of the high school volleyball player who wants to know who he needs to argue with about why his daughter didn't make varsity, and unfortunately- there are helicopter parents in college, too.
Being a helicopter parent may seem like you have your child's best intentions in mind, but the longer you try to control everything in your child's life, the more damage you can do in your kids life. Without letting your child handle their own battles and overcome their own shortcomings, they will never learn how to be on their own, or how to accept the things they cannot change.
"Both supportive parenting and helicopter parenting affected children’s likelihood of anxiety, depression, life satisfaction and physical heath, but in different ways. Having parents who supported children’s autonomy led to adults who were more satisfied with life, less likely to be depressed and healthier after accounting for the children’s ability to care for themselves as adults." -Tara Haelle, Forbes
So with your kid growing up and heading to college, how do you support your student without being that dreaded helicopter parent?
Focus On The Big Picture
So they told you that they got a C on an exam, your first knee-jerk reaction is to call that professor and demand to know why. Why did your brilliant, dedicated, hard-working student didn't get the A they deserved? Well, hold on.
First, did they actually study and work hard? College is an adjustment in so many ways, and the tests that they may have been passing with flying colors in high school are a totally different beast in college. So maybe they didn't know how to study, or they weren't planning for the exam properly.
One test is not your child's entire college career down the drain, it's a small piece in the bigger picture. Plus, it leads to the next point...
Let Them Fail
It's hard to see your student fail, but as parents you want to see your child succeeding and doing amazing things. No one is always the best, or the smartest at everything. Letting your student fail at something gives them the opportunity to learn and grow from it.
If your reaction when your student fails an exam is to call the professor, all you teach your child is to blame someone else for their failure. By reacting to failures with grace, you teach your child to see shortcomings as opportunities to grow. This gives them the experiences they need as they continue to grow and become independent.
Build An Open Relationship With Your Child
There's a difference between being close with your student and being overbearing. Talk to your student about what they need from you, and how they may want you to step back from them. Having open communication with your student is key to having a relationship where they will feel safe and willing to share information with you.
If you have a positive relationship with your student, they will be more willing to talk to you about what is going on in their lives, which you're probably dying to know now that they're out of the nest at college. If you're too overbearing, your student may not feel confident sharing things with you, for fear of your reaction.
Be Involved, But Adjust Your Involvement
A common misconception is that you need to completely disengage from your child’s life when he or she goes to college in order to avoid being a helicopter parent. That doesn't need to be the case, life is all about balance.
So as your student gets older, shift how and when you’re involving yourself. Before you go with your instinct to just do something for them, ask yourself: "Does this situation really need my help or am I just getting involved so that I feel less anxious?" If your college student is experiencing normal stress or roadblocks, let them handle it.
Teach Instead of Doing
This is probably the most important way to support your student while avoiding being a helicopter parent. Think about it, if you've always been hovering over your child's life; stepping in when they have a disagreement, calling their coaches when they have a question, and even paying their bills or handling their finances in college, when did your child ever have a chance to learn how to do these things on their own?
It's a scary thought, but what if something happens to you and you can no longer be there for your child? How will they know how to take care of themselves?
By all means, let your child ask questions and vent to you about things, offering solutions and showing them how to do things is how they are going to learn. Just stop doing it for them.
Seeing your child head off to college is scary, and your instinct is going to be to hold them closer and never let go. If you want your student to have a healthy and balanced life, and in return. a positive relationship with you, you have to learn to support them instead of smothering them.