Out there on our own

I keep hearing about “helicopter parents” – you know, the ones who hover over their kids all the time. Helicopter parents don’t let their kids make independent decisions. They shelter their kids from any responsibility; they go from orchestrating preschool playdates to directing college applications without allowing the kid any increase in independence. My friends who teach in local colleges complain about the phone calls from parents asking for extensions or arguing about grades or protesting the patently unfair treatment that must have led to little Alistair’s recent C-. There’s a general chorus of disapproval at the way today’s kids are coddled.

The common wisdom says that helicopter parents are afraid to grow up, or they’re afraid to set limits on their kids. They want to be pals with their children and won’t accept adult responsibility. That’s not what I hear in these stories. So many of these anecdotes carry with them a sense of deep anxiety. I don’t see parents worried that their kids won’t like them; I see parents who are terrified that their kids won’t be successful – and I don’t mean successful like wealthy and famous, I mean successful like having a home and enough food and decent medical care. Maybe even the pipe dream of a secure retirement.

Many of us who are now parents have watched the American economy change radically over our lifetimes. We’ve seen interest rates go up and down like unleashed balloons. We don’t remember a time when a high-school diploma was enough to earn a living. We know lots of people who’ve been laid off, or downsized into consultant work without benefits, but not many who’ve worked for the same employer for more than five years. We’ve been told that Social Security won’t survive our retirements, and we’ve seen our real wages and purchasing power fall while the economy expands and CEO salaries rival those of baseball players.

At the same time, the political climate has shifted so far to the right that we can’t even talk about government funding for health care and child care – topics that were part of the national conversation when I first voted for president in 1980. It’s become an article of faith that taxes are always bad, that we can’t trust the government with our money, that we should be taking care of ourselves. We think of the 1950s as the era of the nuclear family, but in the 1950s the family had help from a much better-funded school system, and their kids played on fields and in community centers built by taxes that have since been abolished. Government money paid for jobs in universities and hospitals and defense plants and the industries that supported them.

I’m not much on nostalgia for the good ol’ days. Seems to me that in the good ol’ days I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to medical school, and my white friend MPJ wouldn’t have been allowed to marry her African-American husband, and their kids would have been legally forbidden to attend school with mine. My daughter’s Dominican classmates would have been stuck in a classroom for the “uneducable” because they didn’t speak English. As Billy Joel says, the good old days weren’t all that good. But today could be a whole lot better if we could go it together instead of alone. We need to rewrite the myth of rugged individualism. It’s enough already with the cowboys riding alone on the prairie; let’s choose another image out of American iconography. How about a barn-raising, or a quilting bee, or a gang of field workers bringing in the crops? I’ll take almost anything that helps us face the future together instead of feeling like we’re sending our kids out on their own into a world that offers them no support.


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77 comments for “Out there on our own

  1. Henry
    December 6, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    How about a barn-raising, or a quilting bee, or a gang of field workers bringing in the crops?

    All excellent examples of citizens voluntarily getting together to help each other, with no assistance from the federal government. I agree, good icons.

  2. December 6, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    I keep thinking about things like that; remember that phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child”? God, after seeing Knocked Up and hating it, and with my own personal views on this reproduction thing, it just doesn’t make sense that we should have to do everything on our own. There was a study out a month ago maybe that new mothers should sleep more to get back into good health – but how are they supposed to sleep more when there’s really, usually, no one else to take care of their new baby?

    I think we should be doing more things on a small, community scale to help each other. I’m sick of our insular society and the effects is has on us as individuals.

  3. exholt
    December 6, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    I keep hearing about “helicopter parents” – you know, the ones who hover over their kids all the time. Helicopter parents don’t let their kids make independent decisions. They shelter their kids from any responsibility; they go from orchestrating preschool playdates to directing college applications without allowing the kid any increase in independence. My friends who teach in local colleges complain about the phone calls from parents asking for extensions or arguing about grades or protesting the patently unfair treatment that must have led to little Alistair’s recent C-. There’s a general chorus of disapproval at the way today’s kids are coddled.

    Jay,

    Heard the same complaints about helicopter parents from college and grad school classmates who currently TA undergrad courses. Most have seen or had to deal with angry parents themselves when the undergrad concerned had “subpar” grades less than a B….or sometimes an -A. From talking with those TAs, however, the general impression is that this is almost exclusively an upper/upper-middle class phenomenon as they don’t see this type of obnoxious overbearing behavior from parents of working-class or middle-class undergrads on scholarships and financial aid.

    Moreover, as an undergraduate from a working-class background who was a scholarship student, most of us would never dream of getting our parents involved in grade disputes, choosing our courses, or other routine administrative problems with the college/university. It was something we felt was our responsibility to handle as young adults. If anything, to involve parents in such matters was seen among us as a sign the classmate concerned lacked the maturity necessary to cope with undergraduate life.

    My impression from observing similar “cannot afford to fail” attitude among parents of Asian-American parents is that the parents are trying to remedy some perceived “failure” in their own lives, even if their lives would be considered successful by most. To remedy this “failure”, they pressure and micromanage their children so they never make the mistakes they view as fatal for chances of future “success”. In a sense, they are trying to live vicariously through their children to fullfill the dreams which they felt they failed to achieve for themselves.

  4. EG
    December 6, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    How about a barn-raising, or a quilting bee, or a gang of field workers bringing in the crops?

    The problem is, pooling resources only helps if there’re enough resources to pool. If you look at sociological work on social networks, you find that poor and working-class people have fine social networks, that they can rely on each other for support taking care of kids, etc.–Carol Stack’s All Our Kin is a classic example of this. What they don’t have is a lot of wealth to share. Ultimately, you do need those government programs in order to find a way up.

  5. exholt
    December 6, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Oops…I should have said as a former undergraduate.

    Also, wanted to add two sentences to the final paragraph:

    By pressuring and micromanaging their child(ren) to the point that no failures are tolerated, the chid(ren) concerned are unable to learn to experience and deal constructively with their setbacks. In so doing, they are actually setting their children up for failure and misery as it is often much harder to recover from a mistake out in the working world than it is as an undergrad or K-12 student.

  6. December 6, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    My Stephanie Coontz fangirl status is coming out, but once again I have to plug “The Way We Never Were”, she talks about these issues in mind-bending and wondrous detail.

  7. Hector B.
    December 7, 2007 at 12:56 am

    but not many who’ve worked for the same employer for more than five years

    And the consequence of leaving an employer is loss of healthcare, and retirement savings for companies that still have a plan. In contrast, my father’s benefits came through his union: while employers could go bust or lay him off, as long as he practiced his trade his benefits continued.

  8. December 7, 2007 at 1:04 am

    All excellent examples of citizens voluntarily getting together to help each other, with no assistance from the federal government.

    Or the state government. But I guess that one’s OK.

  9. December 7, 2007 at 2:01 am

    I know that anxiety. The way I talk about raising my future children, people accuse me of being one of those anal, micromanaging parents… but that’s not true. I have expressed, repeatedly, for the sake of others and especially for my own, that my kids will have time and space to define themselves. I don’t want to tell them what they can and can’t do, I just want to present them with all the options available to them.

    My mother didn’t send me to karate or dance classes, though I would have liked her to, but she talked to me a lot and encouraged me to think about things. She may not be the best parent in the world, by I owe her everything. She was always there, sheltering me, but she wasn’t there to tell me what to do, just to see what I did.

  10. Joe
    December 7, 2007 at 2:11 am

    Thought provoking topic. I am glad I found this blog. Helicopter Parents…I am afraid I know some of those, in-laws…ahem.

  11. Asher
    December 7, 2007 at 2:31 am

    The problem is that racism/tribalism and socialism (understood expansively) are two sides of the same coin. People will pull together when they have a shared identity and identity is the opposite of diversity.

    Jim Crow laws were an attempt to advance the idea of the community of the South, this is from a strictly analytical standpoint. This movement was ended by the notion that individual human beings should not be judged by the color of their skin. The American Civil Rights movement was an inherently individualistic moment in history and drew upon the expanding notions of the liberated (liberal) self.

    To share community with one person is to, potentially, exclude community of another. Under communalism any decision for one person is, by definition, a decision against others.

    There’s another thing to consider, which is that when it takes a village to raise you can be damn sure the village will decide which children it deems important for its communal identity. If your actions affect the village you can be sure the village will have an interest in constraining your actions. If your sexuality impinges on the group’s overall well-being you can be sure the group will take an interest in providing a beneficial direction for the group.

    Before I begin my next point I’d like to preface this by stating my staunch pro-choice stance. But the long-term implications of Roe are just being explored, and in China we have just an inkling of what that might entail. What Roe opens the door for is what we are now seeing in China where the government decides when an infant is viable. When on commentator visited China he asked about Downs Syndrome babies and the doctor stated matter-of-factly that they don’t leave the building, without even pausing. And I can’t see why they’d stop at Down’s Syndrome. I simply don’t see why, if we have a polity that begins taking a much larger role in the family, that entity will not demand the right to choose viable families, in return.

    Nothing in life is free, and “community” will come with a price, and that price will probably be quite steep.

  12. December 7, 2007 at 6:48 am

    We’re talking a lot about helicopter parents but what about the kids.

    In my last restaurant job I was the boss of a staff made up predominantly of college students and recent grads. A fraction of my employees were spawned from exactly this kind of parent. As a result, these kids were virtually incapable of autonomous action or spontaneous innovation. They equated pleasing authority (me) with excellence and could be counted on to be incompetent or apathetic when not directly supervised. Moreover, they tended to have an unreasonable sense of entitlement and virtually no sense of loyalty. While only a tenth of my workforce, such people were universally despised by their coworkers and generally hated me. They tended to poison the professional environment for everyone around them. Luckily, most such people would quit before they gave me a reason to fire them.

    All that having been said. It’s only barely their fault. Their parents have not prepared them for autonomous living. Perhaps, underneath it all, that’s what helicopter parents want, to keep their kids as kids. Perhaps it’s the parents that are afraid of failure, of their own failure as parents.

    I don’t know. I just know that I stopped hiring anyone who listed a parent as a reference on a job application.

  13. Jay
    December 7, 2007 at 8:35 am

    So the middle-class being phased out coincides with brownish and womanish and gayish people making the climb up to equality — coincidence? I think not.

    Very good point, making a connection that I’ve kind of sensed by haven’t been able to articulate.

    And Kelsey, I’m totally a Coontz fanatic myself. She’s brilliant.

    My experience of parents trying to micromanage kid’s lives is that yes, they are privileged but not the most privileged people I know, and that correlates to what I saw when I was in college. It’s more the families who are one generation into the upper-middle-class and who I suspect are more fearful about their kids not maintaining that status. But it’s not spread evenly across demographics.

    It’s also not new. I had high school and college classmates who lived this way. I grew up in a wealthy – but not old-money – suburban area, and my brother and I were about the only people I knew who were allowed to make our own decisions about college and career without being steered, commanded, bribed, cajoled or threatened. My parents had no idea where my brother was applying to college until they had to write out the checks for the application fees, and no clue where he was going until he told them.

    Asher, I am a member of a community that decides what families to accept based on explicit articulation of our values. Our values include welcoming people with different abilities and welcoming gay people. Ours is a religious community, but there’s no reason why a secular community couldn’t articulate and act on a similar set of values. Yes, living in community has a price, but the price isn’t the same for all communities.

  14. December 7, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Ten years of experience in academia has convinced me that the helicopter parenting is highly correlated with affluence/privilege. How else does a person develop the attitude that they are entitled to solve someone else’s problems immediately, with a phone call? The good ones are just anxious, but the bad ones try to bully you into submission.

  15. AG
    December 7, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Nice post, Jay. And I think Exhort has a really good point about where these micro-mgmt comes from the most. As much as I hate to generalize a large sized issue or stereo-type, I think he’s right on about Asian-American parents. I do like the idea of pushing kids when they’re young to try more n more new things so they have a good idea of what they want to choose later but their standards aer more often than not near-impossible. The kids do ok academically (for example) at the end of the day but some of the other aspects of life turn out to be difficult.-AG

  16. December 7, 2007 at 9:29 am

    I was going to chime in with: sometimes it’s not just upper/middle class parents determined they don’t get shown up by their kids somehow, it’s working class parents who missed out for whatever reason and want to catch up through their kids. My (rural/working class born) mum had to drop most of her studies on a regular basis through her teens, when her sister had a kid but couldn’t handle it, when she had to look after her younger siblings because her parents were either working or not capable of parenting suitably, various other shit. So having missed out on that she started trying to make sure her kids would get into whatever the highest level of education/social-status/class-status they could be pushed into.

  17. Veeness
    December 7, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Unfortunately, I am one of those kids whose parent was overcontrolling, not a micromanager per se, but very controlling and I can see myself having some of the same difficulties as these other kids have. The main thing I see is that I do well in a job situation if there’s someone on my ass, but not so much in school anymore (college). I was perfect in high school, though, when my dad was there to give me hell if I didn’t get straight As and score well on standardized tests. Anyway, I wish I could get out of it. I’m 22 and will be graduating in the next year!

  18. ElleBeMe
    December 7, 2007 at 9:58 am

    The common wisdom says that helicopter parents are afraid to grow up, or they’re afraid to set limits on their kids. They want to be pals with their children and won’t accept adult responsibility. That’s not what I hear in these stories. So many of these anecdotes carry with them a sense of deep anxiety. I don’t see parents worried that their kids won’t like them; I see parents who are terrified that their kids won’t be successful – and I don’t mean successful like wealthy and famous, I mean successful like having a home and enough food and decent medical care. Maybe even the pipe dream of a secure retirement.

    I am sure you are right, but being so overprotective of their children is hardly the solution. One of the hardest things to do as a parent is let yoru child make his/her own choices and let the chips fall where they may.

    Ironically, by interfering in a child’s employment interviews, college grades, and other importnat tasks/rituals a parent can do more harm than good.

    Where I work we actually had a seminar on how to deal with employees from the “millennial” generation (born between 1980 and 1995). They expect to be adored, they go by their own schedules, they have no loyalty, do not take criticism and expect to know WHY they have to do something when asked – instead of just doing it (on the positive side they are extremely tech savvy and creative). And then there was a whole portion dedicated on how to deal with their parents if they call because Jr. didn’t get a raise…why Jr. didn’t get a better review…why wasn’t Jr. promoted…why wasn’t Jr. hired…etc.

    Amazingly enough my workplace HR has claimed it has had potential employees accompanied by ma & pa to interviews. It ahs taken calls from parents who demanded to know why their child wasn’t hired…

    For parents who are ueber concerned with their child being successful in life they seem to be doing everything to hinder the success. Not once have I heard of a HR director reconsidering the hire because of what an applican’s mother/father said to change their mind. These parents should know better themselves if they are or have been in a professional setting.

    Yeah, our economy has been up and down since we can remember. A college degree is now somewhat akin to what a HS diploma was decades ago.

    However, this millennial generation has never had to deal with a draft (yet). They have not had to deal with an oil crisis (yet). So yeah – the economy has been up and down in their lifetimes, but as you claim the “good old days” necessarily weren’t that. So I reject the ideal that the uncertain economy is driving these parents into hovering over their childrens’ lives because they just want them to be successful.

    Honestly it’s my opinion that these parents do not want to let go lest they face their own inevitable aging and mortality – and smaller role in their childrens’ lives. If they can just hold on to their role as mom & dad in charge they can in some way avoid the very real reality that their time as authority figure is past. For if they aren’t supervising every little life detail on Jr. what will they do? Maybe that is too simplistic, but I don’t think it’s completely off base.

    I know someone who fits this description and frankly, if she didn’t have the daily input into her 21 year old daughter’s life, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself.

  19. alsojill
    December 7, 2007 at 10:17 am

    All excellent examples of citizens voluntarily getting together to help each other, with no assistance from the federal government.

    If our government is by, for, and of the people, then government assistance is merely community on a larger scale.

  20. nell
    December 7, 2007 at 10:44 am

    I’ve been teaching in higher ed since 1995 – and I can still count the number of ‘helicopter parent’s’ I’ve encountered on half the fingers of one hand.

    I tend to think these stories are highly overblown – rather like all those highly educated moms “voluntarily” leaving their demanding careers for motherhood – mostly because we all remember the one horrid apple best and all the multitudes of average kids blur into an undifferentiated mass.

    I am sure there are some demographics – say, not the large regional state campus I teach on – where these parents are more common, and others were they are wholly non-existent. Most community colleges, I’d bet.

    I also think, like Jay, that is more reflective about economic anxiety as it is anything else, especially because most of hte claims about how ‘different’ modern parents are are – historically speaking – bogus. Again, cf Coontz.

  21. December 7, 2007 at 10:50 am

    As someone who was born in 1984, I guess I’m a “millenial” although I always figured I was a Gen Y. I have to say one thing about the comment above:

    ..expect to know WHY they have to do something when asked – instead of just doing it…

    I don’t see why this is a bad thing. If I’m doing something, I generally need a reason to why I’m doing it. Blind obdience always seemed silly, if not downright dangerous, no matter who it is to, but particularily if it’s a boss. Am I shredding this documents because they’re old and out of date or am I shredding them because they have incriminating evidence for a CEO?

  22. December 7, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Yeah . . . why don’t professors and TAs just laugh parents off of the phone? Because I would.

    Unless your kid is a child prodigy, once they are in college, they’re an adult. It amazes me how easily Americans forget that. I’m an American who went to college in Australia. It’s interesting that college students there almost always live at home with their parents, for at least the first few years of college, but I never once heard of this type of problem. And if it ever came up, I can see all of my professors laughing those people off of the phone.

    I mean, it’s fine to ask about why this is happening and to talk about those issues . . . but part of the problem has to be the fact that our society is increasingly condoning this kind of behavior.

  23. Eileen
    December 7, 2007 at 11:14 am

    From talking with those TAs, however, the general impression is that this is almost exclusively an upper/upper-middle class phenomenon as they don’t see this type of obnoxious overbearing behavior from parents of working-class or middle-class undergrads on scholarships and financial aid.

    I agree. It’s a class thing. And maybe an East Coast thing (because class is very different in SoCal than it is back East). My husband teaches English at two community colleges and he’s never met, heard from, or even seen a parent. Lots of 18 year olds just muddle their own way through because, for the most part, they come from families where nobody else pursued an education.

    That said, I agree with everything else you said. It’s wrong to castigate parents for behaving as a family should when one of its own encounters a hostile environment. I lived at home far longer than I was expected to based on the model set by previous generations, and my mother was picked on for it by family and co-workers. But if she hadn’t agreed to let me live at home I wouldn’t have been able to earn my way into a first-class college, and I would have entered my adult life with a lot of economic strikes against me and little to no opportunity to turn things around. I’ll make sure to do as well by my children when the time comes, and I won’t feel obliged to apologize to anyone for it.

  24. Asher
    December 7, 2007 at 11:23 am

    There’s a phenomenon called Dunbar’s Number that is based on both theory and observation. This number is 150, and it is the maximum number of interpersonal relationships the vast bulk of human beings are capable of managing on a daily basis. We see many real world examples of this number working as Hutterite communities split off into two when they reach 150 and mafia families split off or implode in orgies of violence at that point.

    The maximum limit of a community, in the coherent sense of the term, is probably limited to this number unless you’re talking about a group selected for highly similar traits and high IQs.

    Applying the term “community” to 300 million people renders the term itself meaningless.

  25. CTD
    December 7, 2007 at 11:24 am

    “but in the 1950s the family had help from a much better-funded school system”

    Sorry, but I have to call shenanigans on that statement. Total spending per pupil in constant dollars has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Federal spending on education has increased 10-fold since 1965 and doubled since 1990.

  26. Natkat
    December 7, 2007 at 11:25 am

    I think there is a certain competetiveness among parents. I am a mother of two grown children. I am the daughter of parents who had more kids than they should have. I didn’t have the greatest role model for parents. I wasn’t that great a parent myself.

    All the while I was raising my children I suffered the self-righteousness of others my age who were raising children. It was my generation who started doing things like exposing children to music en utero to make them smarter.

    Parents train so strenulously for this role and perform it for so many years that it’s difficult for them to switch it off….or that’s my theory anyway. It’s sort of like getting empty nest syndrome prematurely.

    Still, feministe has a point – life is more difficult for young people today. I have two adult children – one still lives with her father trying to get it together enough to get on her own. I don’t worry about her. She’ll be fine.

    My other daughter lives in a house with 4 other adults, the bills are split 5 ways, and she still hits me up for help paying her insurance, getting an oil change, etc. It’s not that she is spending her money foolishly. She lives on Ramen noodles and never goes out because gas prices are too high. When I was her age I was on my own, paying my own bills, had my own car, etc. Granted I lived in a shit-hole apartment with ratty furniture, and lived on a diet of scrambled eggs and canned soup, but I was surviving.

    I’m way more involved with their lives than my parents were with mine. But then, my parents had a houseful of other kids to deal with and didn’t have the resources or energy to help me out anyway. Still, I find myself doing more for my kids because I can. My parents didn’t help me with getting a resume together, getting ready for job interviews, applications to college and so on beause they had no clue how these things worked – and which is why they didn’t rise above middle class. I say that I’m glad I can do the things for my kids that no one did for me. I’m not worried that I’m hindering their growth. I wasn’t one of “those” parents when they were little. They weren’t in the ballet/playgroup/karate/soccer circuit. They went outside and played until the streelights came on, just like I did when I was a kid. But the world has changed and I’m doing what I can to help them figure out how to survive in it. Meanwhile they are allowed to make their own choices, fall flat on their faces, but then I’m there to encourage them to try again and not lose faith in themselves. I’m here so that not every mistake is a disaster, that they have someone help them find their way back to starting over or going off in a new direction without fear.

    Hovering? Maybe. I just think if I had a parent to guide me when I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t be still trying to figure stuff out in my 40s when you have fewer chances to start over and less time to watch a bad decision play itself out.

  27. December 7, 2007 at 11:54 am

    But the long-term implications of Roe are just being explored, and in China we have just an inkling of what that might entail. What Roe opens the door for is what we are now seeing in China where the government decides when an infant is viable.

    Wait, so the fact that Roe says that the state can’t decide whether or not someone’s allowed to get an abortion means that the state can decide anyway? Or are you under the impression that they didn’t do abortions in China until Roe was decided in the US?

  28. December 7, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Sorry, but I have to call shenanigans on that statement. Total spending per pupil in constant dollars has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Federal spending on education has increased 10-fold since 1965 and doubled since 1990.

    Link to the inflation-adjusted numbers, please? I’d also like to see the median (not the average) spending per pupil in inflation-adjusted dollars.

  29. Shankar Gupta
    December 7, 2007 at 11:59 am

    CEO salaries rival those of baseball players.

    I was confused by this. Are you saying that CEOs should not be paid as much as people who can hit a ball very, very hard? Or are you saying that neither baseball players nor CEOs should have salaries as high as they currently do?

  30. Jay
    December 7, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Are you saying that CEOs should not be paid as much as people who can hit a ball very, very hard? Or are you saying that neither baseball players nor CEOs should have salaries as high as they currently do?

    The former. Baseball players are paid a lot of money and their industry makes a lot of money. CEOs often make a lot of money whether or not their industry is thriving, and regardless of the welfare of stockholders or other workers. If baseball is going to generate billions of dollars in revenue, I’d rather have it go to the players than only to the owners – and it’s the owners who are more closely equivalent to the CEOs.

    That said, it’s not a robust analogy for many reasons. I said it because I’ve always been struck by the outrage generated by baseball salaries and the lack of accompanying furor about CEO compensation (or, for that matter, salaries of other highly-paid entertainers). At least baseball players generally get paid for doing what’s in the best interests of the industry and the fans. And while I may write a post about sports sometime soon, I won’t allow this thread to be derailed into an argument about baseball; I’m not defending the MLB business model.

    “but in the 1950s the family had help from a much better-funded school system”
    Sorry, but I have to call shenanigans on that statement. Total spending per pupil in constant dollars has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Federal spending on education has increased 10-fold since 1965 and doubled since 1990.

    Mea culpa – a minimal amount of checking shows me you are correct. I assumed (I know, never assume) that the better-maintained infrastructure of my youth and the greater number of enrichment classes resulted from greater spending; I was wrong. I should know better that to accept a simple explanation for a complex problem

  31. Jay
    December 7, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    and the end of that sentence, which I cut off, was “even from myself”.

  32. Karen
    December 7, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    I also have to ask, when parents show up with an interviewee, why does the interview even happen? (Assuming we’re talking about appearing *at the interview*, not something reasonable like riding/driving with one’s offspring to an interview in a distant city but taking off on one’s own once the offspring reaches the building where the interview is to take place, if not sooner.) And did a previous poster actually at one time consider applicants who used their parents as references? Aren’t all references supposed to be non-relatives? And, as someone else asked, why do college instructors of any stripe not laugh the parents off the phone when they call to try to get their child a better grade?

  33. Eileen
    December 7, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Again, I don’t think this is a widespread phenomenon. I think it is class-based, and I think it involves a class for whom a call from a parent has always been the preferred method of job advancement. Where would Bush Jr. be without daddy’s connections, for instance?

  34. AB
    December 7, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    I’ve been teaching in higher ed since 1995 – and I can still count the number of ‘helicopter parent’s’ I’ve encountered on half the fingers of one hand.

    I tend to think these stories are highly overblown – rather like all those highly educated moms “voluntarily” leaving their demanding careers for motherhood – mostly because we all remember the one horrid apple best and all the multitudes of average kids blur into an undifferentiated mass.

    Boy, I’d like to be in your shoes! I know the plural of “ancedote” isn’t “data,” but I sure have a lot of anecdotes. I’m an academic advisor at a large flagship campus of a state university, and I could tell stories that would make your head spin.

    I have had students hand me their cell phones so that I can talk to mom or dad during an advising appointment. I’ve had a parent accuse me of misadvising her child into a 5th year of college in order to make money for the university. My co-advisor in the next office has had a parent say that he was going to genetically test his own son without the son’s knowledge (???) to find out if he had a learning disability (???!!!).

    Every year, we have to physically bar parents & other well-meaning relatives from our freshman orientation advising room. (I’ve seen my supervisor have to stand in the doorway to prevent parents from walking in.) Even then, the parents just wait and rip the advising plans out of their children’s hands and tell them what to register for.

    Every year, my co-workers in the residence halls deal with parents who ask who will be doing the daily wake-up calls for their children, or parents who stay in their kid’s dorm room during the first week of school until the roommate or RA complains. I’ve personally been asked by parents about the time of the “curfew” at our campus.

    Or, there’s my fave anecdote from a fellow advisor at a conference I attended – the mom who asked permission to go to college in her daughter’s place, since her daughter had committed a crime and was serving a sentence that legally barred from leaving the state to attend school!

    These parents are by no means the majority, or even 10%. But in my mind, there is VERY little reason why a parent should be calling an institute of higher education EVER, unless their child is in physical or mental danger.

    My theory: I think that these are the same parents that in the “good old days” would just force their married adult kids to live with them, or at least next door. Dad would force son to work with him, Mom would show up unbidden at daughter’s house to “help” with the kids and cooking. Now that college is becoming common, the parents just take the show on the road for 4+ years, before the child moves on to choose a parentally-approved job and mate.

    There’s also the rising cost of college creating a consumer mentality. Parents are often paying the bills, and they want good customer service, or they want someone’s head. Complaining doesn’t usually produce results (federal educational privacy laws help ensure that), but it puts just enough fear into the hearts of those without power (staff members, TAs, and junior faculty) that we really worry about dissatisfied parents. That’s why we don’t “laugh parents off the phone.” If you have an oversensitive department chair, it could mean your head.

  35. Eileen
    December 7, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Allow me to change my mind just a bit on what I just wrote in comment 34. I still believe that this is a class issue, but I think that it suits those in power (who, as I said, have always benefited from the intervention and connections of parents) to not have the class directly under them make use of the same methods.

    Make it seem like giving your kids up is infantilization. Use the most egregious examples to shame parents into abandoning their children instead. Keep those uppity risers down. The truly privileged like to keep the secrets to their success to themselves.

  36. Raine
    December 7, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    “Hovering? Maybe. I just think if I had a parent to guide me when I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t be still trying to figure stuff out in my 40s when you have fewer chances to start over and less time to watch a bad decision play itself out.”

    There’s a difference between being involved and being a helicopter parent, at least from my experience as a recent graduate of a small, private liberal arts college. (I’d add that I do think it is primarily class-based, thus schools like mine would be where it’s seen a lot, and then not so much in community colleges). What natkat described in comment 27 is what I would think of as being a good parent. When I think of helicopter parents, I think of the ones who step in and write their kids’ application essays for them, or who, when their child is preparing to go on study abroad, steps in and takes care of all of the forms for them (really just preparing the kid for a shock when they get abroad and no one is there to step in and do things for them). There’s a huge difference between helping your child, and doing it all for them. And that’s the difference between parenting and helicopter parenting.

  37. Reba
    December 7, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    There are not a huge number of helicopter parents, but those who are make an impression. I have friends who teach at a state university, and they have noted the increase in parent attempts at intervention. Generally, they inform the parents that each student is treated as an adult so they don’t feel at liberty to discuss the matter. Then they encourage the parent to call their child if they want to talk about it. A lot of these kids don’t know that their parents are calling on their behalf. As for economics – most of the “helicopter parents” are from upper middle class households.

    I do want to say there is a difference between helicopter parents and parents who are advocating for their kids. For me, the latter includes those who want to make sure that schools/teachers have information on medical issues or family emergencies or who are asking advice on how to support their kid when they’re having trouble. I think parents can play an important role in their kid’s development through adulthood, but they shouldn’t be micromanaging.

  38. nell
    December 7, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    And, as someone else asked, why do college instructors of any stripe not laugh the parents off the phone when they call to try to get their child a better grade?

    Because angry parents strike fear and panic into the hearts of administrators everywhere, who then take out their anger at having been frightened on the offending faculty member. Everything from cold shoulders to nasty letters in personnel files to denial/cutting of funds and or desired schedules, which in turn impact research productivity which becomes another club.

    If the faculty member is sufficiently impressive (ie male, old, tenured full professor with a good rep among the administrators) he might be able to get away with laughing off an angry parent and pissing them off further.

    No one else can.

  39. nell
    December 7, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Generally, they inform the parents that each student is treated as an adult so they don’t feel at liberty to discuss the matter.

    In this case, federal law is on the faculty member’s side. We cannot discuss a student’s grades/class performance with anyone without a direct release. The law has been on the books since the 1970s, but is taken waaaaaaaay more seriously now.

  40. December 7, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    And did a previous poster actually at one time consider applicants who used their parents as references?

    For that industry and that age group, it’s so common that an employer can’t simply discard such applications, at least not in my city. In NYC, where there are tens of thousands of full time, lifelong, professional servers and bartenders, it’s probably not an issue. In Atlanta, it comes with the territory.

  41. Linnaeus
    December 7, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    I’m a teaching assistant at a large state university, and I have to say that I’ve never had to deal with a “helicopter parent”. Perhaps this phenomenon is more common in other contexts; I’ve never even seen or spoken to a student’s parent.

    That said, I have detected from time to time a clear sense of entitlement on the part of some students. It’s been a minority of students, but the experiences were significant enough to remember them and I know colleages who have had to deal with such cases more often than I have. I can’t say that this sense of entitlement is specific to people of a particular generation. I think it’s a function mostly of two things: class and maturity. Students from upper-middle/middle-class backgrounds might be more likely to do this because they’ve gotten so used to having things come to them relatively easily that they get surprised when that doesn’t happen and figure someone else is responsible. In terms of maturity, while it’s true that college students are legally adults, there is a spectrum of maturity among them. Some do conduct themselves as adults, others are still adolescents. This isn’t intended as a pejorative statement; I just think that different people mature at different times in their lives. That’s life.

    I should reiterate that I don’t think the entitlement complex – at least where I work – is operating among most students with whom I and my colleagues deal. It happens enough to be noticeable, but it’s not the norm from where I sit.

  42. meggygurl
    December 7, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    I had a good friend who’s mother was like this. My friend almost flunked out of college several times, and every time she was about to get kicked out, her mother went to the dean and begged to keep her in, just another semester. The girl never once went in herself to beg, always her mother. I remember hearing about this and thinking “God, how embarressed I would be at 20 to have to have my mom call the dean and beg for me to not get kicked out. I wouldn’t want to go back there from the shame.”

    Where I went, which was a large state school, the school had to get written premission from the students to let their parents see grades or anything. I know friends who’s parents made them give the school it. My mom just shrugged and was like “You’re an adult now, it’s your job to keep up your grades.”

    And oddly… when I did bad in a class, do you know who i blamed? Myself. Not the professor.

  43. exholt
    December 7, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Yeah . . . why don’t professors and TAs just laugh parents off of the phone?

    Those TAs I’ve chatted with and even their Profs would have a hard time doing this as the parents who pull this crap tend to be from the socio-economic classes the college administrators hope to develop an institutional relationship with so the children and their parents become life-long alumni donors…or at least are not likely to feel entitled to throw a temper tantrum at a TA, Prof, or Dean because jr. is unhappy at receiving a B rather than an A s(he) so “richly deserves”. Doesn’t help when the institution’s administrators increasingly tend to back parents in order to maintain this relationship as some TAs and their Profs have experienced.

    It is pathetic that this behavior is especially prevalent in the Ivy leagues…including the one with the most endowment of any American university. *Hint* *Hint* From what the TAs who teach there told me, upper/upper-middle class parents calling to throw temper-tantrums and/or hiring lawyers to threaten a lawsuit to effect a positive grade change for their child is commonplace enough that it has become a running inside joke among them and some Profs.

    In this context, I would actually say the Asian-American parents of high school classmates are far more reasonable and sane. The reason why I say this is that like my own parents, they came from a culture where until quite recently, no one would dare even think of complaining to an instructor or Professor about their child’s grade unless the mistake was obvious and/or egregious…an extremely rare occurrence. The high degree of respect accorded to teachers and university instructors during my parents’ youth in China and the ROC(Taiwan) (1940’s-60’s) was such that if the student received a bad grade, it was presumed an accurate reflection on the quality of his/her work unless proven otherwise. In such a context, parental outrage was usually directed towards the child with seemingly poor academic work habits, not the instructor who evaluated the him/her. Parents who had the temerity to call and complain would usually be seen as an uncouth people attempting to use their wealth and influence to conceal their child(ren)’s subpar academic performance. This behavior was viewed in the same light as if someone attempted to bribe school officials to give their child better grades.

  44. December 7, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    I think it might also be helpful to look at the experience of the parents’ generation wrt to parenting, also.

    I’m at the forefront of Gen X. My 16 yr old is a millenial. I don’t helicopter parent, but then I’m from a working class background. My Baby Boomer parents weren’t able to hand me $100 and tell me to go entertain myself. They dumped me off on my grandparents (Greatest Generation) instead. I’ve seen these same tendencies over and over and over again in all the areas I’ve lived. Working class/poor Gen Xers raised by grandparents, middle/upper middle thrown to the wolves until they caused a problem and then sent to places like Peachford for brainwashing, upper class kids raised by nannies. So, while I got a good parenting model from my grandparents, and the upper class kids got a decent one from their nannies, the middle class kids have no concept of good parenting and overcompensate.

    All speculation, of course, but that’s been what I’ve observed.

  45. exholt
    December 7, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    And oddly… when I did bad in a class, do you know who i blamed? Myself. Not the professor.

    Bingo! That was the reason why I never changed a bad grade I received in precalc in my first semester…the quality of work I did then merited such a subpar grade.

    The only times my friends and I disputed grades with our Profs was if there was a numerical calculation error or if it was apparent the Prof held a biased animus against us for some reason. IME, my grade disputes were all numerical calculation errors that were usually corrected with an apology when I politely notified the instructor(s). In the experience of a working-class high school friend who was a MechE major at an Ivy, however, his grade dispute was derived from a math prof who had an animus against engineering students which resulted in my friend getting an F even though his tests and homeworks marks should have merited a B+/-A grade according to that Prof’s syllabus. Though his grade was corrected after two years of bureaucratic wrangling, neither he nor I ever bothered our parents with such matters.

  46. meggygurl
    December 7, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Bingo! That was the reason why I never changed a bad grade I received in precalc in my first semester…the quality of work I did then merited such a subpar grade.

    The concept of blaming professors always baffled me. The friend I mentioned above always blamed her teachers. Apparently, it was their fault she didn’t study or do her work either.

    In 4 years of college I recieved one grade a didn’t deserve. In spanish I got a C. I should have gotten a D or an F, but the professor took pity on me and bumped me up. My parents knew nothing of any of this.

  47. Kathleen
    December 7, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    I pretty much agree with the original post — the “helicopter parents” typically have what they KNOW to be problematic kids. Kids that have it together don’t need helicopter parenting. Kids that don’t have it together — well, the problem is parents know that in life as we now know it, effing up university might have really terrible consequences cause there’s not much of a safety net, not many decent jobs for the less educated, that in fact our society is more than ready to throw people on the trash heap if they don’t “make the grade”.

    It’s really easy, as a college prof (I know b/c I am one) to lament how kids today oughta be more responsible. That’s true in some cases, and of course I have spent my fair share of time snarking about student excuses and entitlement and what-not.

    But when I am honest with myself about what I am seeing (rather than blaming students, which quiets my own unease), the truth is that many — most — of the kids that I encounter that are performing badly in class are kind of a mess in general — they don’t understand the work, they really *don’t* grasp instructions, etc. etc. What is going to happen to them? College is the last chance parents have to “turn things around” for those kids, and so they try desperately to do so, because once those kids leave college that’s it. The larger society definitely more or less says: be responsible for yourself or die.

    To inevitably blame students for not “getting it”, to slag off at their parents for trying to help them — is to participate in that “be responsible for yourself or die” mentality. To be clear: I don’t think the answer is bouncy-bouncy “up with people!” pedagogical approaches designed to ensure everybody gets an A (of the sort advocated by too many university teaching/learninc centres). I think the response is much more challenging: deciding that as a society, we have to make space even for the kinds of people who are just not going to get even a C- when left to their own devices. As things stand right now, if my kid was one of those kids I would *totally* helicopter parent the heck out his/her situation.

  48. exholt
    December 7, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    The concept of blaming professors always baffled me. The friend I mentioned above always blamed her teachers. Apparently, it was their fault she didn’t study or do her work either.

    My TA friends have noticed an uptick in this trend….though this is more common among those who teach at Ivy-level institutions…and nearly always among upper/upper-middle class students.

    Though classmates at my undergrad rarely complained about their grades among friends as it was considered an exhibition of a mercenary attitude towards education…the classmates who tended to have strong academic work habits and thus, earn the best grades tended to be international students and working/middle-class students on scholarships and financial aid. As a result, I modeled my academic work habits after theirs.

    In 4 years of college I recieved one grade a didn’t deserve. In spanish I got a C. I should have gotten a D or an F, but the professor took pity on me and bumped me up. My parents knew nothing of any of this.

    Interestingly enough, my parents didn’t know what my GPA was, much less my college grades until I mentioned it in passing two years ago….several years after I graduated.

    As for getting higher grades I didn’t deserve, that was something I wondered about in my first year as my overall college level grades were far higher than my high school performance. After comparing notes with several high school classmates at Ivy-level institutions, I found this was due to the rigorous preparation provided by the urban public magnet high school I attended.

    Moreover, from looking over exchanged seminar papers of undergrad/grad classmates in many history/poli-sci courses, some of the papers which were later graded in the B-/B level would have merited a D-/F from some of my high school teachers.

  49. Vail
    December 7, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I have a friend who teaches high school. She gets calls etc. from parents demanding that she change a grade or let a child re-take a test. It seems the squeaky wheel gets the grease, if the parent pushes enough she gets orders from above to fix it. I also remember in high school that the football players got good grades because no teacher would have kept their job if the players couldn’t play a game due to bad grades (mind you this was a while ago, but I’ve heard it still happens).

  50. December 7, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I’m a definite millennial – child of 88 – and a prep school alum and current “elite” school student. I have definitely seen this trend in the parents of my peers–one mother of a kid at my school reportedly challenged the fact that her kid hadn’t received an A in a sixth-grade class because it was harming his chances of admission to an Ivy League school. Wish I were making this up. Another alum of my school who currently attends my college (though he’s older) had his parents call the dean about some housing complaint.

    My mum did call my dean, once, because she was (in retrospect, rightly) concerned about my mental health. But I would have dropped out of school in shame if she had called about my C- in calculus (totally earned. honestly, I should have failed, but the department had a policy that if your grade on the final was better than your average, your grade on the final was your only grade. I’m considering retaking the class not to erase the grade but because I actually would like to learn calculus and maybe now that the mental health issues mentioned above are resolved, more or less, I can do that).

    And, yes, my C- was my fault (well, my fault and my depression’s fault. but definitely not my teacher’s fault. And DEFINITELY not the result of the fact that my teacher was a non-native English speaker, another common whinge, which sort of reminds me of people in my high school who complained that Their Eyes Were Watching God was too hard to read because of the dialect, like, um, you cannot brag about attending one of the most exclusive high schools in the state and also whine about the fact that this dialogue is written in dialect. It really doesn’t work that way).

  51. Rhiannon
    December 7, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Total spending per pupil in constant dollars has almost doubled in the last 30 years

    -CTD

    Spending may have doubled but COSTS have more than doubled. That’s inflation for you.

  52. Rhiannon
    December 7, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Oh and also, I’m willing to bet that Attendee’s (i.e. students) have more than doubled as well.

  53. Raoul_j_Raoul
    December 7, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Not graduating from college does not necessarily mean a life of poverty and hardship; though it might mean a lower standard of living than your college educated parents. Sometimes the children of college professors are better suited to being heating and air conditioning techs and not profs like the parents. (FYI I’m not pointing at the college profs here, but have a friend as described. I have another friend whose father is a lawyer and he is a non-college grad printer. He’s happy with his choices.

  54. Rachel
    December 7, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I think the point is that now not even graduate from college is not enough to guarantee the same standard of living as your college educated parents.

    And I am sick about people complaining about “millenials” not being loyal. I am born in ’85 and damn straight I am not loyal to companies after seeing so many going belly up and leaving their employees with shit.

  55. Luna
    December 7, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    I think #48 hits it on the head. Parents are going to do whatever they think they have to in order to turn it around for their struggling kids. If my kids can’t manage to function well enough at 18, I’m damn straight going to be hovering there helping as much as I can.

    And blaming them for the way their kids turned out pisses me off. It’s not all parenting. There’s no end to the barrage of “you should have everything” messages.

    And I’m also agreeing with #53 about being sick of people complaining that millennials aren’t loyal. Why in the hell does anyone expect them to be loyal when they’re treated like crap? My husband (born in ’73 – whatever stupid term that makes him) has been working at the same job for 6 years. On year-to-year contracts. He has no security. And he should be loyal? He shouldn’t just jump on the next permanent job he finds? Pfft.

  56. mustelid
    December 7, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    You should see what happens when “helicopter parents” let go at age 18. Junior, who previously hadn’t been able to move a micrometer towards trouble, has about 16 years of rebellion to work through. And he starts right at age 2/thereabouts: “Mommy and Daddy say good boys potty in the toilet, but Mommy and Daddy aren’t here now!” Oh, and every time a kid’s caught doing this? Middle class or higher.

  57. Blunderbuss
    December 7, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    I think Natkat’s post was sort of right too – that there can be a shocking amount of competition to be the ‘best’ parent. I’ve gazed at some parenting forums online and the sheer amount of petty and viscious revulsion of anyone who didn’t meet their standards was jaw-dropping, much like in the ‘Female Labrynth’ post. And their status as a ‘perfect’ parent relies on the success of their children, so you can bet those parents will take over every single facet of their kids lives in order to be seen as saintly parents. Anyone who disagrees with their methods or tries to stop them is greeted with a hatred usually reserved for the anti-christ (if you don’t believe me, try reading a breastmilk vs forumla debate). Hell, I’ve even seen the attitude that ‘bad kids’ (disabled kids, kids with behavioural problems, kids with bad grades) are punishments for ‘bad people’.

    As for grades people didn’t earn, this story of my father’s always cracks me up:

    “Ross, you better have a damn good reason for missing your final exam.”
    “My daughter was just born.”
    “…. Oh. Y’know what, never mind. You pass. Get outta here.”

  58. Laura
    December 7, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    The commenters who have asked why faculty don’t just laugh off the complaints of helicopter parents are missing the biggest trend in higher education – adjunctification. When half your faculty has zero job security and works on whim from semester to semester for a pittance and no health care, you’d better bet they don’t want a whisper of complaint reaching the dean’s ears.

    And helicopter parents are not just an East Coast phenomenon. I teach at one of the better California state universities, and I’ve seen my fair share.

  59. Lorelei
    December 7, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    i think the babyboomers and gen x’ers here need a nice heaping dose of ‘get the hell over yourselves.’ what, genereation x, you don’t remember the older folks telling you that you’re all apathetic and ignorant? babyboomers, we know you were just the best fucking generation ever and no-one will ever be as good as you, but consider this, perhaps: maybe y’all did a bang-up job of raising us by telling us effectively that the only and most important thing in our lives is contributing to the capitalist system (and yes, that is what you have taught us) that we are disillusioned — not only that, but we have been alienated by every sector of society — politics, education, labor, etc. guess who these sectors are run by? people of your generations. the media has been on a campaign to keep us numb and constantly entertained, and this is the doing of a mixed bag of babyboomers, generation x’ers, and some of our own.

    you wanted us to be little adults — spend every second of our lives studying or working, striving for an impossible perfection so we can get into THE BESTTTTT overprivileged schools, and lord forbid we did not do these things with the FINESSE of the older generations who had been out of high school for years! high school is a place where you’re SUPPOSED to fuck up — you did not allow this, though. hell, nevermind high school — this training started ever since the 1st grade. i’ve seen 3rd graders cry hysterically over a ‘bad’ grade that won’t ever even count unless you’re fucking applying for exeter.and the reason this was is because of a society that YOU created where to even live vaguely comfortably you need a master’s and more money than ever before — and not only a masters, but a masters from an ivy league college if at all possible!

    whenever you tried to assert your authority over us, you have made goddamn fools out of yourselves. there’s gang problems in high schools? make a strict dress code! school shooting problems? install metal detectors! kids getting pregnant? abstinence-only education! campus rape? put lights in the parking lots! drug usage? DARE programs and insane jail sentences!

    now, we are disillusioned. our seeming ‘laziness’ or ‘inability to be independent’ is a silent rebellion. we do not care for your authority because you have not proved yourself worthy of respect, so we don’t listen to you. you can see this most evidently in the claim that we won’t just do something, we demand an explanation for it. we refuse to be blindly obidient like you were. we do not have your protestant work ethic because it has done nothing for us and we see and know how dead it makes you and us.

    every generation is hated by the previous ones, and of course in every generation, the rich/upper middle class members are the most batshit insane (i think parents practically yelling down or bribing a prof into giving a better grade is, um, unkind to say the least). and obviously some of the things i wrote about are exagerrations, or things only subconciously realized by my generation. but my point is to note how generations are created by earlier ones, and maybe instead of bitching about our bad qualities, you should see how you may have contributed to them, and then try to see the good in those qualities.

    my generation can become a gigantic pack of sociopaths or true social reformers. it’s partly up to how society deals with us to see which will occur.

  60. Rebecca
    December 7, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    My helicopter parent story:

    When I did my student teaching – fall of 2001 – one of my first graders crossed the line and was punished accordingly. Many many warnings, but she didn’t think I was serious since I wasn’t the ‘real’ teacher.

    It was the first time little Miss had ever been in trouble in school, the first time she had ever had even the smallest of stains on her record, total shock and astonishment. All she had to do was sit out for five minutes from recess and a note would be written in her take home folder about what had happened. No big, some of those kids had a note at least once a week. It was little more than a ‘hey, we all have bad days, this is just a gentle reminder’ type thing. For little Miss, however, it was the equivalent of the end of the world.

    I wish I was kidding, but I’m not….HER MOTHER TOOK HER PUNISHMENT.

    The next day, her mom joined her daugher for lunch, and when the kids went to recess, the MOTHER SAT ON THE WALL and her daughter went to play. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me her daughter didn’t deserve to be punished, but she (the mother) understood that discipline was important in the classroom, so she was sitting out instead.

    After that and other experiences, I have very little sympathy for hovering parents. It’s one thing to be there and pick up the pieces when things go splat, it’s another to bubble wrap the world to prevent even a skinned knee.

  61. December 7, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    I pretty much agree with the original post — the “helicopter parents” typically have what they KNOW to be problematic kids. Kids that have it together don’t need helicopter parenting.

    I could probably be classed as having been a “problematic kid” — the “bright, but doesn’t apply herself” type. I came very close to flunking out of college a couple of times.

    However, as far as I know, my parents never — not once — called the school to try and intervene. It was, “Hey, you didn’t do the work, what did you think was going to happen?”

  62. December 8, 2007 at 12:46 am

    Lorelei, of course we (Gen X) do. We remember being told that we’re big ol’ do nothings that will never get anywhere or make it in this world. We were told we were ignorant, apathetic and just plain lazy. It’s easy to remember since it’s still being said.

    And I wrote about this myself a long while back.

    Both of us (Gen X and Millenials) are dealing with the fall out of a society re-engineered to benefit one generation and one generation alone. The Baby Boomers said they were going to change the world. They sure did.

  63. kate
    December 8, 2007 at 1:07 am

    I disagree very highly about the assertion made among many here that helicopter parents are a feature of class.

    I’d posit more that it is a pattern of dysfunctional parenting that is common among all classes; only that the upper middles or middles have the financial resources to continue to prop up their children and protect them so they can achieve at least to the university level.

    I’ve seen plenty of poor parents and working class parents who also can’t seem to grasp how to teach responsibility.

    Unfortunately, instead of talking to the school advisor or teacher, they are asking the judge, the parole officer or the juvenile courts to give their darlings another break. In fact my middle daughter is hooked up to a boyfriend who has a hovering, forever forgiving mother. Is it any wonder that he’s an alcoholic, I suspect has drug problems and hasn’t held down a job for an entire year? But that’s ok, mamma’s there to give him money, make excuses for him or simply lie for him.

    Its too bad because usually these people are no better or worse than their better off brethren, but due to financial and social limitations, their road to hell is often much faster and shorter.

    So, in summary, I think helicopter parents hurt their children for life and that the behavior is part of whatever dysfunction the parents carry with attachment, boundaries and individuation.

  64. Linnaeus
    December 8, 2007 at 1:09 am

    Generational warfare annoys the hell out of me, because it’s the same record played over and over again and nothing comes of it.

    The youth think their elders are corrupt, and the elders think youth are ignorant know-nothings. The current elders die off, the youth become elders, a new generation arrives, and the cycle repeats.

    Last year I and my students were reading an author who talked about the the decadence of the elder generation and the idleness of the younger. Who was it? Hesiod. In the eighth century BCE.

  65. Lorelei
    December 8, 2007 at 3:34 am

    linnaeus,

    your post reminded me that i wanted to clarify a point: my posting was not meant to sling mud at the older generations and whatnot. i too hate generational warfare and i really think it’s just silly. i don’t even think that the older generations are corrupt on their own! like i said, i kind of exagerrated a few points to, you know, make a point. but i posted my longass comment of doom to illustrate that the ‘bad’ qualities people may see in the young generation may be ‘good’ qualities and to remind people that youth generations do not come out of a vacuum.

  66. exholt
    December 8, 2007 at 3:47 am

    i think the babyboomers and gen x’ers here need a nice heaping dose of ‘get the hell over yourselves.’ what, genereation x, you don’t remember the older folks telling you that you’re all apathetic and ignorant?

    As a Gen Xer, I do…, but my similar generationed classmates and I ignored that because we all knew the Baby Boomer dominated press was full of it….especially at my alma mater.

    Also, as I tried to make clear in several comments, neither I nor my TA friends think helicopter parenting is an indictment of all millenials. Heck, the vast majority of millenials, especially those who are working-class/middle-class, are just as hard working as we were back when we were undergrads.

    Unfortunately, what those TA friends and their Profs are having to increasingly deal with are the irate upper/upper-middle class parents of millenials who are demanding to know why jr only received a B when s(he) deserved an A because s(he) always got them in high school, jr was unable to get into a popular course, and/or other matters that not long ago would have been dealt with by the student him/herself.

    If you feel this is the older generations ragging on your generation, rest assured that my TA friends, their Profs, and many other diligent hard working millenial students are equally fed up with rich/well-off parents who feel entitled to throw their weight around to provide their child with an unearned privilege at the expense of his/her classmates, especially the more diligent harder working ones.

    Generational warfare annoys the hell out of me, because it’s the same record played over and over again and nothing comes of it.

    Linnaeus,

    While it may seem like generational warfare, the generational factor is actually incidental, rather than a key factor.

    Rather, I see this phenomenon as one caused by an increasing mercenary attitude among most Americans of seeing a college degree as a product to be bought and consumed rather than a product of an experimental learning experience which could be as narrow or as expansive as the student desires. In so doing, many feel that if they’re going to pay a lot of money for a college degree, that they aren’t really getting their money’s worth unless jr’s transcript is flooded with as many As with maybe a few A-/B+s thrown in…regardless of whether s(he) has actually merited such good grades through his/her academic work.*

    This mercenary attitude is often accompanied by easily intimidated school boards and college/university administrations eager to curry favor among these upper/upper-middle class parents and child as a good relationship could result their donating large sums…or at least not utilizing their wealth and influence to their detriment.

    In the college/university context, currying favor with these upper/upper-middle class parents not only helps their finances, but also facilitates an increase in their US News & World Report Rankings. Rankings which could help raise their institutional prestige and thus, more applicants, especially those from the upper crust.** By currying this favor to excess, however, these educational administrators are telegraphing to those parents that such unsavory practices are not only acceptable, but sometimes enthusiastically welcomed.

    * This way of thinking really pisses me off as these parents ignore the fact that if jr. gains that undeserved higher grade as a result of their enraged call, that it is ultimately at the expense of the diligent harder working students who did not resort to this form of academic extortion.

    ** IMHO, US News gives far too much weight to alumni donations when determining college rankings. What if you have an institution with well-known top-notch academics, but low alumni donations because the vast majority of graduates go into socially helpful, but relatively low paying occupations?

  67. exholt
    December 8, 2007 at 3:58 am

    I could probably be classed as having been a “problematic kid” — the “bright, but doesn’t apply herself” type. I came very close to flunking out of college a couple of times.

    Mnemosyne,

    I was the same way in high school. Fortunately, I got that out of my system by the time I started college.

  68. Linnaeus
    December 8, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Lorelei,

    I do understand what you meant and let me clarify and say I wasn’t pointing fingers at you or anyone else here. It is frustrating to hear opprobrium heaped upon one’s age cohort; that’s why I also sympathize with Christina’s comment in #63. Being of the same generation as she is, I heard a lot of the same messages and actually continue to hear them from time to time. Generations certainly don’t come out of a vacuum; they are shaped by the conditions in which they mature. Furthermore, the concept of a “generation” itself is a construct. What a “generation” means or signifies depends a lot on who is drawing the parameters and that is always to some degree arbitrary.

    As an aside, it’s interesting to hear the supposed problems with the Millenial/Gen Y cohort. I’ve tended to hear quite the opposite: that the Millenials are a new Greatest Generation (or “Hero” generation in the words of Neil Strauss and William Howe) that’s going to fix everything and save the nation/world. I don’t find this generalization to be on its face any more accurate than the more negative ones.

    While it may seem like generational warfare, the generational factor is actually incidental, rather than a key factor.

    Rather, I see this phenomenon as one caused by an increasing mercenary attitude among most Americans of seeing a college degree as a product to be bought and consumed rather than a product of an experimental learning experience which could be as narrow or as expansive as the student desires. In so doing, many feel that if they’re going to pay a lot of money for a college degree, that they aren’t really getting their money’s worth unless jr’s transcript is flooded with as many As with maybe a few A-/B+s thrown in…regardless of whether s(he) has actually merited such good grades through his/her academic work.*

    Exholt,

    I agree. That’s what I was getting at in my other comment way upthread. I do think I’m seeing an attitude among some students that reflects an increasing sense of the consumerization/commodification of higher education (and there are understandable reasons for this), but I don’t think that it’s “generational” in the sense that we are using the term here. It is, as you say, incidental.

  69. December 8, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    Rather, I see this phenomenon as one caused by an increasing mercenary attitude among most Americans of seeing a college degree as a product to be bought and consumed rather than a product of an experimental learning experience which could be as narrow or as expansive as the student desires.

    When you’re having to take out $40,000 in college loans (on the low end) that you’re going to have to pay back over the next 10 years, you bet your sweet patootie that you’re going to look at that college degree as a commodity that you are paying good money for.

    Not that it applies to exholt, but it drives me nuts when baby boomers who got free state school tuition in the 1960s complain about how “materialistic” “these kids today” are for needing to get a degree that will allow them to get a job straight out of school and start paying back their loans. I graduated 15 years ago and my friends are just now sending in their final loan payments.

  70. exholt
    December 8, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    When you’re having to take out $40,000 in college loans (on the low end) that you’re going to have to pay back over the next 10 years, you bet your sweet patootie that you’re going to look at that college degree as a commodity that you are paying good money for.

    I don’t think we’re necessarily in disagreement….we’re just looking this issue in a slightly different way.

    I tended to look upon my college education as an investment in a learning opportunity….the money I paid in(Whatever the generous scholarship did not cover) only provided me the opportunity to gain a meaningful education, however I may choose to define it. However, attaining that goal was also determined by whether I actually put in the time and effort to learn the material well enough so that outcome was achieved and imperfectly validated by the good grades earned in the courses taken.

    The problem my TA friends, their Profs, and diligent hard working millenial classmates have with helicopter parents and their child(ren) is that the parents feel that merely paying the money entitles their child(ren) not only this availed learning opportunity, but a guarantee of good grades regardless of whether s(he) has taken the time and effort to earn those grades. That is not only aggravating for the TAs and Profs, but also ends up cheating hard working diligent classmates whose parents are not inclined to do an end-run around the academic grading and administrative processes all students are subjected to. The world does not revolve around desires of helicopter parents and their children to gain an unblemished transcript through academic extortion.

    The best adage I can think of to describe my thoughts is “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”.

    it drives me nuts when baby boomers who got free state school tuition in the 1960s complain about how “materialistic” “these kids today” are for needing to get a degree that will allow them to get a job straight out of school and start paying back their loans. I graduated 15 years ago and my friends are just now sending in their final loan payments.

    Not only are the baby boomers clueless when they make such criticisms, the ones dominating the establishment are the very ones who created the conditions forcing us and the milennials to get expensive degrees…..while laughing their way to the bank and the next luxurious retirement resort.

  71. Bloix
    December 9, 2007 at 1:42 am

    Yeah . . . why don’t professors and TAs just laugh parents off of the phone? Because I would.

    I don’t know. Maybe because the parents are paying $45,000 a year for the privilege of having amateurs teach their children? It is just astonishing the way universities crap all over their customers – ie the parents who pay the bills – by putting unqualified, untrained, unprepared TA’s into the classroom. What pedagogical education does a TA have? Hell, what substantive knowledge does a TA have? You have a BA. That’s it. And you think you are entitled to sneer at people who are delaying their retirements for years in order to pay for you to teach their children. Well, ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand – that’s nothing new.

  72. Linnaeus
    December 9, 2007 at 11:37 am

    …by putting unqualified, untrained, unprepared TA’s into the classroom. What pedagogical education does a TA have? Hell, what substantive knowledge does a TA have? You have a BA. That’s it. And you think you are entitled to sneer at people who are delaying their retirements for years in order to pay for you to teach their children. Well, ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand – that’s nothing new.

    In my program, pedagogical education is part of our training as teaching assistants. The university offers it at the beginning of one’s career as a TA, and our department offers it pretty much continuously, both in the form of frequent seminars and as a course that every TA must take. Furthermore, there are some things you just don’t learn about teaching until you do it.

    As for substantive knowledge, well, TAs typically have quite a bit of it. Not only (again, in our department) are you not typically made a TA until you have the equivalent of a master’s degree, but you’re either taking advanced courses while you’re TAing, or you’ve passed your general exams and you’re in the dissertation stage. At that point, you have quite a bit of knowledge, and are even allowed to teach your own course occasionally.

    Keep in mind that in this equation, the TA is probably the least powerful person. He/she doesn’t determine the content of the course, doesn’t (officially) have final say over course grades, and isn’t the one who ultimately determines which course she or he will be a TA for. The TA’s job security and pay are relatively low especially in light of the education he or she has and the duties he or she is expected to carry out.

    No one here, from what I’ve seen, thinks students and parents should be sneered at for being concerned about their educations. That’s fine. But education is a product that is unlike any other in that the outcome depends on considerable input from the consumer, rather than a simple purchase of a product or service that is entirely created by someone else. That means that the student has responsibility to do his or her part in the process. One doesn’t deserve a grade solely on the basis of payment of tuition.

    To be fair, I’ve not run into this attitude a whole lot, at least not openly. Most students and parents I know understand this. A student may not always agree with how I evaluate him or her, but he or she usually understands the responsibilities everyone in the process has.

  73. exholt
    December 9, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Maybe because the parents are paying $45,000 a year for the privilege of having amateurs teach their children?

    Bloix,

    I want to second Linnaeus’ comment #73 to explain the situation. I also would like to refer you to the first part of my comment (exholt #71).

    You may also want to look at the last paragraph of my comment #44 to see why I see helicopter parenting in the academic context as one manifestation of parents and their child(ren) attempting to cheat the system at the expense of their child(ren)’s classmates. In short, this action is almost always one of unethical and selfish rich/well-off parents trying to gain unearned privileges for their child(ren) at the expense of other classmates, especially the diligent harder working ones. Remember, the TAs and Profs are responsible for all the students at the college/university, the world does not revolve solely around your own child(ren).

    If your child’s test grade/final grade is “subpar” by his/her/your own standards, the first thing I would think a responsible parent would do is to explain to the adult child(ren) that they should first figure out whether their academic work habits were the cause and if so, to figure out ways to remedy this problem for the next test/course (preferably on their own initiative). Only in extremely rare cases where the child(ren) has found the “sub-par” grade was due to a numerical error or instructor bias and s(he) has exhausted all his/her own attempts at getting the issue resolved due to an unresponsive instructor(s)/administrators should the parents be involved. Among the multitude of friends and classmates I’ve known well in undergrad and grad school over the last several years, I’ve only known of one such extreme case where parental involvement may have been necessary…a working-class high school friend at an Ivy whose calc professor failed him because that Prof had a blatant animus against engineering students which took two years to correct even with the deans of both Engineering and Arts & science schools working on his behalf. Even then, he managed to get it resolved without getting his parents involved.

  74. exholt
    December 9, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Bloix,

    Moreover, if parents who are paying ~$40k/year really are concerned about “amateur TAs” teaching their children…their children have the option of attending small private liberal arts colleges where the undergrads have much more access to “Professional Profs” teaching their courses. As someone who attended one such institution on a generous college scholarship, the environment gives you a great deal of access to your Profs without the “amateur TAs” getting in the way. Last I checked, my alma mater’s current yearly tuition is right around $45k/year.

    While I was working professionally, I attended a summer stats course at an Ivy which was populated with 300 students and 6 TAs. From my impression, the quality of TAs was just as variable as Profs….ranging from the atrociously terrible to downright terrific. My TA happened to be downright terrific and I actually learned just as much about stats from him as I did from the lecturing Professor….and I learned quite a bit.

  75. Kathleen
    December 9, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Mnemosyne / Exholt — when I was talking about “problematic kids”, I was not talking about “smart and lazy”. I was talking about “actually does not understand college level work and cannot perform at a competent adult level”. Believe me, there are a LOT of kids in that category. I really do worry for them, and think deciding “oh, they’re just lazy like I was” is a self-centred excuse for not worrying about the pretty tragic problem they actually represent. Seriously — what’s the long term plan for them? Turn ’em into soup? Our society has NO good answers, which I can just imagine keeps their parents lying awake at night and calling profs in the morning.

  76. queerhapa
    December 9, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Interesting discussion. I would highly recommend Annette Laureau’s Unequal Childhoods: it’s an ethnography of a group of Black and white middle class, working class, and poor kids and their families. She concludes that there are class-based styles of childrearing. Middle-class parents fit the “helicopter” mode people have been describing above, and the kids come out with a sense of entitlement. Working class and poor parents are more apt to let their kids develop naturally, but rather than grow up with a sense of entitlement, they often grow up with a sense of constraint. I think she misses the boat on racial and ethnic differences in childrearing, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

  77. exholt
    December 9, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    when I was talking about “problematic kids”, I was not talking about “smart and lazy”. I was talking about “actually does not understand college level work and cannot perform at a competent adult level”. Believe me, there are a LOT of kids in that category.

    If a child is not able to understand college level work and cannot perform at an competent adult level, then should that not be taken as a sign that the child concerned is not ready for college at that stage of his/her life?

    You’re point is well taken that we as a society do not provide enough for “problematic” children, adolescents, and young adults who screw up early in life who need a second chance. I am not sure, however, the answer lies in the college becoming an effective extension of high school as you seem to be advocating.

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