Dedicated to providing information for learning assistance professionals.

Mona Pelkey

Confessions: In Defense of Helicopter Parenting

By Mona Pelkey

Recently the LRNSST-L listserve for learning center professionals hosted a popular thread with the subject line, “Helicopter Parents.” The various messages on the thread talked about parents who attended advising sessions with their adult children, regulations concerning student privacy, and issues of what rights tuition-paying parents feel they should have in regard to their adult child’s college grades. To read the discussion in its entirety, see

As both a learning assistance professional and a baby boomer parent, I identified with many of the issues presented, and from my personal experience, I would like to offer some insight.

As a baby boomer parent I belong to “the” generation of “helicopter parents,” perfectionist parents who hover over their adult children, becoming overly involved in their children’s college lives and even beyond. These well-meaning parents often wish to provide not only the material goods but the support they yearned for in their own upbringing, a trait most probably rooted in the teachings of their own Depression-era parents. A CBS report illustrates that well-meaning baby boomer parents who have been “overly involved” in their children’s lives often extend that involvement into their adulthood. To view a video of this report, see

I never thought of myself as a helicopter parent, although I certainly fit the description in many ways. I spent 20 years out of the workforce raising two sons and two daughters to adulthood. My children were involved in multiple sports, Boy Scouts, dance classes, music lessons, church groups, and all sorts of club activities. I was never far away, grading papers in their classrooms, chaperoning their field trips, baking cupcakes, helping with homework, sewing costumes, and attending their games, plays, and recitals. When my oldest son was a senior in high school in Germany, I helped him fill out applications to art school after consulting his teacher for his recommendations, nagged him to write his college essays and submit them on time, and even hired a professional photographer to take slides of my son’s portfolio so the admissions personnel could really see how talented he was. I did not write essays for him, but I admit that I hovered and checked his work! I was so afraid that he would be denied admission because he could not attend a face-to-face interview with portfolio in hand that I became too involved. Sometimes I thought I cared more than my son did because he seemed so casual about the process. Years later I found myself consulting with my oldest daughter’s college guidance counselor several times because my daughter seemed frustrated with the advising, class registration, and book buying processes. Recently I called my youngest daughter’s college registrar and bursar to complain that for the third semester in a row her pre-registration paperwork had disappeared and she had a blank schedule the week before the upcoming semester. Although three of my children are now college graduates and the fourth is a college junior who moved out of state three years ago, I still feel like a part of me will always be on 24-hour call in case of emergencies. I strongly empathize with my fellow “helicopter parents.” I also believe that it takes a great deal of discipline to resist those urges to constantly hover, and we owe it to our children to discipline ourselves in this regard so that they can develop into independent, happy adults. It’s not easy, however, and as you can see, I myself have relapsed from time to time.

In times past, attending college was a privilege for the elite few, but times have changed, and college is accessible to more students than ever before. Many baby boomers were first generation college students who yearned for the same kind of family support enjoyed by their peers with college-educated parents. Armed and emboldened with personal experience of the social opportunities, temptations, and potential academic difficulties of college, as well as keenly aware of how competitive the academic and work worlds have become, these college graduate parents feel more comfortable and indeed justified in becoming involved in many if not all aspects of the college application process, and beyond. It’s no wonder that more and more parents are appearing on college campuses to monitor their child’s progress. There are more of them, they are more aware of what is going on, and they probably believe that by being involved they are helping their student and perhaps themselves as well. Some of these parents go too far, harassing university instructors to change grades they deem unacceptable, plaguing administrators with complaints, or otherwise interfering with the college student’s academic and social progress, but I believe that most do not. That these overzealous, interfering parents are sometimes a nuisance to the learning assistance professional is clear. Many if not all learning assistance professionals are involved to some degree in helping students to learn to make more mature choices in order to reach their academic and/or career goals, and parents who enable their children’s irresponsible behavior by bailing them out too often (doing their homework, bullying professors into changing grades, etc.) can hinder this endeavor.

As a learning assistance professional I have met some of the parents of my students. It doesn’t matter if I perceive them to be “helicopter parents” or just caring parents who have a close relationship with their offspring, because I tell all parents I meet that my mission is to help their son/daughter learn how to succeed in college. I welcome them the way I would like to be welcomed on my adult child’s college campus. One thing I can do is use every opportunity to talk to parents about the resources available to students who wish to take advantage of those services. I believe that “marketing” the learning center reassures parents that their students have somewhere and someone to go for help. But just as important, I believe that trust-building dialogue between “helicopter parents” and college educators helps parents to perceive that we care about the same thing—the welfare of that individual student. I believe that sometimes, we need to communicate our concerns to parents and remind them that we are all on the same side. Vigilant college parents must be able to trust that someone at the college is looking out for the best interests of their offspring, before they can justify landing that helicopter and allowing their adult child to fly on his own.

Questions or comments? Contact the author at

More about the author

Printable Version


Back to top

Home:: Past Articles :: Conferences :: Citation Information :: Feedback :: About the Authors :: Subscription Information

Site Last Updated May 29, 2007.
Sponsored By AccuTrack and NCLCA