Do 'Helicopter Moms' Do More Harm Than Good?

Robyn Lewis is an extraordinarily devoted parent. As a single mom, she home schooled her sons, Ethan and Brendan, and her life has revolved around caring for them. Even though Ethan, 21, and Brendan, 18, are now attending college away from home, and she's taken a full-time job, that doesn't mean Lewis is losing interest -- or hour-by-hour involvement -- in her boys' lives.

When she's not on her cell phone with one of the boys, she's organizing their lives. She spends an hour drafting to-do e-mails for her sons, checking their grades, their bank account balances and even using their personal passwords to check their student e-mail.

Lewis works tirelessly to keep everything in her sons' lives in order -- from doing their laundry to organizing their schedules to proofreading their papers.

And Brendan and Ethan both say they're grateful for their mom's efforts on their behalf. "She wants to make sure that I do it well, and it, and it's all because, you know, she cares," said Ethan, who's studying at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Brendan, a freshman at Arizona State University, also appreciates his mom's help. "It's nice to have someone else who kind of serves as ... a secretary mom."

And the secretary characterization doesn't bother Lewis. "I think that's great. It means that I'm very organized. A secretary helps to keep the boss focused and organized, right? We don't know how to balance much of our lives yet when we're 18," she said.

Can Parents Be Too Involved?

No one could deny Lewis loves her sons and wants them to succeed. But not everyone thinks that she's helping them.

"I can understand why a parent would think, 'I'm just doing what I think is right for my son or daughter.' The problem is, they're doing exactly what's wrong for their son or daughter," said Helen Johnson, author of the book, "Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money."

Johnson is a consultant on parental relations for some of America's top universities, and she says parents like Lewis are far too involved in their children's lives.

"In taking over, they are sending a profound message: You are not capable of handling your life," she explained.

Johnson is more than familiar with the term now in vogue to describe someone like Robyn Lewis: a Helicopter Mom.

"A helicopter mom is a mom who hovers over every state in her child's development, from basically in utero, through the college years and beyond," she said.

Administrators say helicopter moms -- and dads -- have become a campus phenomenon.

Nationwide, there's a 12,000-strong advocacy group called College Parents of America -- emblematic of parental eagerness to get their money's worth in an era of skyrocketing tuition costs.

But there are other reasons why some parents and their college kids are staying so close: There's been a change in the way students once prized their on-campus freedom from home, and perhaps above all, technology means parents can still hover from a long way away.

"We certainly have parents calling about everything. Everything from 'who will be doing the laundry for my son or daughter to if they have to miss a few weeks of class,' [to] 'can I come in and sit in on the class and take notes for them,'" said Annie Stevens, assistant vice president for student and campus life at the University of Vermont.

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