Some college students cope with ‘helicopter parents’

Alyssa Kroeten

While some University students think they left the watchful eyes of their parents upon entering college, their voicemail and e-mail inbox tell them otherwise.

The phrase “helicopter parent” has flown into society, describing those mothers or fathers who hover a little too closely over the heads of their offspring by being in constant communication with them.

“I think it’s really easy to pick on a few parents who are overly involved and turn them into a great story,” Marjorie Savage, University Parent Program director and Minnesota Daily Board of Directors member, said. “They make good stories, they’re really interesting, but they’re not the norm by any means.”

One Stop’s parent-guest access program and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act restrict the involvement of such parents by protecting the privacy of student data.

Upon enrollment in post-secondary education, FERPA does not allow parents to view their student’s academic record without the student’s consent, Tina Falkner, associate director of the Office of the Registrar, said. Students can grant such access to parts of their educational record to their parents or third party by registering for parent-guest access.

Savage said these privacy measures can be frustrating for new college parents because they are used to receiving their student’s grades frequently in high school.

“It’s a whole different thing for them and it’s an educational process that that’s not how it works in college,” Savage said.

Falkner said sometimes parents call to vent because they cannot view their student’s grades, at which point she walks them through FERPA and explains why they do what they do.

“We’re not trying to be obnoxious,” Falkner said. “We’re protecting students’ data and we’re obliged to do so by the law.”

Since the parent-access program went live in fall 2005, students granted more access requests to their student account than to grades, Julie Selander, senior associate director of One Stop Student Services, said. Grades receive the smallest number of access requests, yet Selander said such data makes sense in thinking about what data the student wants to give up.

Although she does not agree with the phrase “helicopter parent,” Selander said there needs to be a balance between parents helping their child be successful and students becoming independent.

Parent-guest access is a tool to help bring about this balance, Selander said.

“What I hope would not happen with this is that parents kind of coerce their kids to do this,” she said.

Michelle Davis, ombudsman for the Student Conflict Resolution Center, said even with such access, some parents still involve themselves in their student’s grade disputes. The SCRC receives calls from students about basic grade complaints, conflicts the Center tries to keep between students and professors.

Parent involvement puts professors on the offensive, Davis said, and makes conflict resolution more difficult.

“Usually when parents get involved it really impacts the process negatively,” Davis said. “It’s not been productive in any of the cases I’ve seen.”

There is a difference between a “helicopter parent” and a parent who is appropriately supportive, Savage said.

“Appropriate involvement is caring about your student, supporting your student and understanding what the student is going through,” Savage said.

Inappropriate involvement would be trying to solve their student’s problems, she said.

Fourth-year interior design student Suzanne Jarosz said being a “helicopter parent” is a personal decision.

“It is more justified if they have some sort of vested interest, such as they are paying for the student’s tuition,” Jarosz said.

Katie Granholm, parent orientation coordinator with the University office of Orientation and First-Year Programs, said many students want their parents involved. What some might see as being overprotective stems from good intentions, she said.

“Parents still just want the best for their child,” Granholm said. “I think in anywhere a student can have more support is a good thing.”

The parent orientation program encourages parents and students to have conversations about information access early to avoid grade conflicts, Granholm said.

“The student is an adult and they’re developing a sense of autonomy,” Granholm said. “They’re learning to take responsibility for their academic experience, but at the same time parents feel a sense of involvement.”

Advancements in technology and increased use of cell phones are factors some believe contribute to the growth of “helicopter parents,” Savage said. It is easier for students to go to their parents with a problem when cell phones make them only a call away, she said.

“Certainly families are in touch on the phone a lot, I don’t see that as ‘helicopter parent,’ ” Savage said. “It’s hard to say that good family relationships are a bad thing.”