Hints for Helping the Helicopter Parent: Advice from the Dean of Students

So. You’ve moved off to college in search of education, new friends and—perhaps most importantly—independence. The first two seem to be going prettywell, but maybe you are still feeling a lack of freedom. Perhaps mom or dad calls too often? Maybe the family lives nearby and wants you to come home more? I suspect someone wants to know where your free time and money are going as well. Fear not: you are not alone. Almost every student struggles with her parent about these issues. Here are some helpful hints to making the transition from someone’s child to someone’s adult child.

First, accept that the hovering person cares about you. She or he only wants the best for you, and has focused the last 18 years or so on supporting you. Give the person positive feedback—say “I love you” or “I miss you.” Send a nice note via snail mail (it is wonderful to get real mail!). Even an email works. Pick up some holiday cards and send them off now and then. Halloween, Dia de los Muertos and Thanksgiving are all on the horizon. Let them know you care, too.

Second, control calls by setting a pre-established time to check in. Let the other person know how busy and complicated your life is. Decide how many times per week are good and how many is too many. Select a time or times when you can chat. In the old days, before long distance calls were cheap or free, we called Sunday after 11 p.m., when the rates went down.

How do you keep your privacy? You keep your privacy by setting the agenda for the call. I don’t mean that you should literally write out an agenda, but figure out in advance what you want to share. Make a list if it helps. Anticipate your parent’s questions, and try to address the ones you want to answer. Identify topics that are comfortable for you—how your job is going, how graduate school or work applications are looking, what you are doing in your clubs or sports or anything else that you want to discuss. If you know there is something your parent wants to know about and you would prefer not to talk about it, figure out what you are comfortable saying and say it.

Give your parents “road signs” in the conversation so they know what you want from them. “Mom, I just want to vent, please don’t give me any advice,” or “I really screwed up, and I know it. I need for you to just listen, not to yell, and to give me your advice.” Telling them what you need helps them meet your needs and avoids potential conflict.

Finally, remember that this transition is as hard on your family as it is on you. And we at the Dean of Students’ office are here to help you navigate the tough conversations with the family.