'Helicopter Moms:' Hurting or Helping Your Kids?

Hovering Mothering Has Become Common on College CampusesCourtesy Robyn Lewis
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.

It's the start of the school year, and for kids who are heading off to college many miles from home, it's time to learn a big lesson from their parents: You can run, but you can't hide.

Tech-savvy moms and dad are texting, tweeting, even "friending" their college freshmen on Facebook -- eager to stay close to their kids long after their minivans pull away from the dorm.

Those who've felt the power of parental omnipresence include Ethan Lewis and his younger brother, Brendan. Their mother, Robyn Lewis, is an extraordinarily devoted parent. As a single mom, she home schooled her sons and her life has revolved around caring for them. Even while her sons attended college away from home, and she had a full-time job, Lewis maintained interest -- or hour-by-hour involvement -- in her boys' lives.

When not on her cell phone with one of the boys, Lewis organized their lives, spending hours 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. She worked 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. "She's like the most selfless person on the face of the planet. She has succeeded in every aspect of giving my brother and I everything a kid can ask for."

Brendan echoed his brother's appreciation for 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 that Lewis loves her sons and wants them to succeed. But not everyone thinks that such intensive involvement is the best thing for their development.

"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, a consultant on parental relations for some of America's top universities, 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 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.

Helicopter Parents: A Campus Phenomenon

Administrators say helicopter moms -- and dads -- have become a campus phenomenon. In an era of skyrocketing tuition costs, parents are eager to get their money's worth and technology allows them to hover from home.

Some colleges have even organized seminars aimed at limiting parental involvement in their children's lives.

"One of things we want to teach the students and to have students learn is to try and help solve issues and problems on their own," said a resident adviser at the University of Vermont.

But there is evidence that "helicopter parents" can help their children become more active learners at college. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, "Contrary to popular belief, students with highly involved parents outperformed their peers in engaging more frequently in many areas including deep learning activities. They also reported greater educational gains and were more satisfied."

Robyn Lewis says that her son's success and independence is living proof that her parenting style works. Ethan, now 25, decided to pursue his passion for music instead of college; he's currently working as a songwriter and composer. Brendan, 23, graduated with honors from Arizona State University, and with a mere $200 in his pocket, flew to Europe to pursue a lofty goal -- creating a new model for the neighborhoods of the future, based on ecological sustainability. He credits his mother with helping him pursue his dreams.

"What the close parental parenting I received did for me was to realize how valuable a resource your family and extended family can be," Brendan told ABC News.

Despite the ocean between them, Lewis says that she communicates with Brendan often, through e-mail, MySpace, instant messenger, letters and phone calls, but that their relationship has evolved from one of constant monitoring to close friendship.

Drawing on her personal experience, Lewis is writing a book about helicopter parenting, in hope that other parents will maintain close connections with their children as well.

And she is preparing for an even greater separation yet to come when the boys settle down and start families of their own.

"When they get married, I'm not going to be the most important person there, and I know that," she said. "You go through a period of withdrawal, and then hopefully, you get to be best friends with their wife. And you have a good relationship, and then she'll call you and tell you what he's doing."