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5 Things Boomers Should Know When Sending Their Children to College

Much has been written in recent years about Baby Boomers and the children they are sending off to college, and a lot of it hasn’t been all that good. You may not have heard the term “helicopter parent,” but if you are sending a student off to college soon, you certainly will. These parents constantly “hover” over their children, engage with them several times a day, and quickly swoop in guns-a-blazin’ whenever their student encounters any problem at college.

As someone who spent over 15 years working in higher education, I met more than my share of helicopter parents, and I can tell you that you do not want to be one. First, it’s a stressful way to live. Second, this sort of “savior” complex keeps your student from developing critical skills to survive in the real world, especially communication skills, problem-solving and decision-making. Third, your student will be perceived as immature. And fourth, college administrators will think you are a pain in the you-know-what, and will avoid you at all costs, thus hindering you in your quest for information as well as possibly complicating efforts to resolve your student’s issue(s).

5 Things You Should Know to Avoid Being Labeled a “Helicopter Parent”

1.When your student complains to you about an issue, it’s not the same as asking you to solve it.In student affairs, we call this the “dump call.” Your child wants a sounding board, some sympathy, some advice or some encouragement. You listen, your child feels better and goes on with the day, while you feel worse and get all worked up about it. Don’t take action on your student’s behalf unless they ask you to do so. And then, only after your student has made reasonable efforts on his or her own behalf. It’ll save you a lot of stress.

2.Most of your student’s learning and development will happen outside the classroom. It will involve learning to communicate effectively, to make decisions, and to solve problems. These are critical life and career skills. One of the best ways to gauge for yourself whether an issue is normal or not is to read up on Student Development Theory. Start with Arthur Chickering’s “Seven Vectors” of college student development. It’s an easy read, very practical, and it will make sense to you and help you contextualize what your student is going through during the college years.

3.College staff members are not the enemy. Most faculty and administrators got into higher education because they love interacting with students and helping them learn. Many of them (myself included) had problems during college (academically, socially or both) and went into the field because they wanted to help students overcome obstacles to learning and development, in the same way that others did for them. Go into conversations with a partnership mentality. Both sides want your student to be successful. We just come at the issues from different perspectives.

4.You aren’t just paying for room and board or classes. You are paying for the college experience, which includes meeting all different kinds of people, being challenged to broaden your perspectives, and learning to overcome difficulties of all kinds. So don’t approach a problem your student is having with a mindset that says “I wasn’t paying for this!” College comes with a lot of unexpected add-ons, and there will be times when how things are fall short of how you want them to be. Give staff the benefit of the doubt, and ask how you can work together to find a solution, instead of insisting that someone else meet your demands.

5.While education may be a basic right, the pursuit of a particular degree at a particular college is a privilege. Your student will be expected to act in ways that are in accord with the colleges policies and principles. These are usually reasonable and related to whether your student’s behavior is detrimental to the community or to self. Certain expectations of civility will also apply to you. If you and your student maintain a civil disposition in dealing with representatives of the institution, they are likely to respond in civil ways. If not, your student’s college experience is likely to be difficult.

The key take-away here is simple. Your student is the one who needs to do the learning. You can’t and shouldn’t try to do the growing up for your student. Instead, let your student tackle academic and life issues, and learn skills that will help with transition from college to career.

Sean Cook is a Life Purpose and Career Coach based in Athens, GA. He specializes in transition coaching for college students and parents, and career coaching for higher education professionals. Before becoming a certified coach, he spent 15 years working in higher education as a student affairs professional.You can read more from Sean and other guest contributors working in higher education at HigherEdLifeCoach.Com and HigherEdCareerCoach.Com