I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed the issue of helicopter parents. To those of us in higher education, the concept is not new. Even though I’m not a member of the teaching faculty, I am constantly aware of the connection that our Millennial students have to their parents. I often hear them chatting with Mom or Dad about the coming day’s schedule, while they wait at the bus stop at a time that is earlier that I would want to be talking to my adult child unless there was an emergency. When referencing weekend activities, they often talk about their parents – coming to get them, or visit them, or do their laundry for them. And while laundry isn’t that unusual of an activity for the parent of a college student, neither is help with homework or research, something of a new trend. I have gotten several research help queries from parents of students who have assignments and need help finding resources. Are the students lazy? No, probably not. But their parents are doing what helicopter parents do, and hovering around, helping their children to be the best students they can be, seemingly doing some of the legwork for them. I, of course, wonder what this does to the student. How are we to foster their independence, while acknowledging that reliance on a community or family of support is also a positive value?
This connection between our students and their parents, the article points out, is not going to go away any time soon. If anything, the force will become stronger. It’s a phenomenon that I’m wrestling with myself, as I now represent the Gen Xers/Millennials as a parent myself. My daughter will likely enter college in 2019. Closeness of family is a great value that I rejoice to see growing in our society. Lack of independence in our youngsters is a bit disconcerting. As someone who was born on the line between the two generations, I recognize that I possess the some of the characteristics of each.
While not much was news to me in this article about how our generations behave, the tactics the article recommends to colleges and universities were very interesting to me. Can you imagine what things would be like at Penn State if we had a parental advisory board, especially now?? Universities have traditionally respected their students’ status as legal adults and kept grades and financial obligations a secret from parents (this is legal, but also ethical). What will become of this practice? And as someone who admittedly has issues with current authority figures, I find it a personal and generational challenge to figure out what to do with those sentiments that is productive rather than destructive. What will we teach our children about standing up for themselves – and will we remember to teach them that sometimes we must accept what is and work within a system?
For those of you in the Lector Book Club, who are making a semester’s work of studying the Millennial Generation, I know it may be difficult to imagine yourselves as parents, but what do you make of these issues? Do you agree with the author’s assessment? How often do you talk to your parents – and do they help you with your homework? I’m not passing judgement, but rather recognizing and struggling a bit with what is, so I hope you’ll indulge me. What do you hope that we carry forward to the generation that comes after us? What will our Outliers look like?