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Helicopter Parenting Children In College

UNITED STATES—The stores are overflowing with shelves of books providing advice for everything related to college preparation, including tips for excelling in entrance examinations, crafting a winning application, and scheduling campus tours.  But a void in these books exists when it comes to the needs of the parents.  Too few resources provide guidance on how parents can best cope with the emotional separation from their children.

The end of high school marks one of the most conflicting phases of life for a parent.  For 18 years, most parents have deferred their own needs and desires in favor of protecting, feeding, nurturing, bandaging, cheering, carpooling, attending recitals and playoffs, supporting, and teaching their children.  Then rather abruptly, they are faced with the symbolic end of their offspring’s childhood and left experiencing a painful void as the children venture off to their next phase of life.

Relinquishing control of children is the task at hand when they leave home to go off to college.  Yet this relinquishment is the painful parental paradox.  Transitioning from being completely involved in all aspects of a child’s life, to experiencing life as an oftentimes uninformed outsider, can result in a loss of identity.  Letting go means a change in your role and being out of the information loop.  No longer will you know if your son or daughter is getting enough sleep or dating someone undesirable.  Nor will you be able to talk to the health clinic, the professor, or even the university registrar about your child’s issues, due to confidentiality.

Unfortunately, some parents have a particularly difficult time accepting these new boundaries when their children leave the home.  Unable to find the balance between guidance and interference, they continue to remain enmeshed and desiring to solve their child’s tribulations. These are known as the helicopter parents.  They’re the ones proofreading their child’s papers, calling the resident advisor regarding a roommate problem, and challenging professors about a grade their child received.

The helicopter parent’s love is love on steroids. Like any good medicine, overdoses of involvement framed as love is toxic.  College is the time for students to learn how to make their own decisions, make some mistakes, and learn a lot about how to resolve matters on their own.  If we want our children to be able to write their own reports and memos after graduation, and be able to withstand the pressure of making mistakes, these are lessons best learned when 18 to 21 years of age in a safe environment of college.

No parent will live long enough to intervene and rescue his or her child forever. Striking a healthy balance by doing less now means children will be able to do more for themselves later.

Remember that your child is taking a part of you with them when they go off to college. You have taught them well. They are moving to the next stage if life with the values, social skills and expectations that now make them self-reliant and independent.

Celebrate this opportunity for your children to grow.  Your children are moving out of the family home and making new friends, but they still need your love.  You are their anchor.  They will turn to you when they need support.  Talking to them like an adult and helping them figure things out for themselves enables your children to develop a healthy sense of autonomy.  This autonomy will serve them well for the rest of their life.

Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, is a life and business coach in private practice.  She has been instrumental in establishing an empty nest program, and presents on this topic. Prior to becoming a life coach, Eileen was a licensed clinical social worker for 20 years.  For further information, write to her at Ei****@Le****************.com, or visit her website at, or call her at 949-244-5100.

By Eileen Lenson

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