How much parent involvement is too much?

by Grace

According to the National Survey of College and University Parent Programs, in 1999, some 35 percent of institutions offered parent orientations. In 2007, over 95 percent conducted them.

It seems amazing to me that just over ten years ago only 35 percent of colleges offered parent orientation.  Is this development good or bad?

This generation of parents has readily accepted that they have earned the Helicopter Parent label. Some flaunt the label proudly, despite warnings that their “hovering” may undermine success and prevent their children from learning some fundamental lessons of young adulthood — such as negotiating conflicts, advocating for themselves, and coping with disappointment.

I’m unaware of conclusive evidence showing that “over-involved” parents are causing serious problems for young adults.  Also, I’m a bit suspicious of a label that educators seem to promote as a way to push parents out of the way when their involvement is inconvenient to the schools.  On the other hand, I know that some parents are guilty of making it hard for their children to develop self-sufficiency skills.

Some parents speak with their college children every day

How much contact between college students and their parents is too much? The Second Annual Survey on College Parent Expectations indicated that 72.5 percent of parents communicate with their college students at least 2 or 3 times per week. If parents wish to foster independence, this number of weekly contacts may be excessive, depending on the purpose of the communication.

Parents need to ask themselves whether they are calling to simply touch base or keep tabs on their students. Parents and students should determine a communication plan that is comfortable for both parties.

Why parents should leave their kids alone at college – WaPo


5 Comments to “How much parent involvement is too much?”

  1. I am of two minds on this one. On the one hand, I have some co-workers who are definitely doing too much for their kids. At my old job, I could hear everything in the cubes around me, and I heard many conversations in which moms of college kids gave them detailed instructions on how to run a coin washer, how to purchase supplies, how to buy a bus ticket, even in one case calling the kid to wake him up in time for a train. One mom had a kid who had many learning difficulties, and she had basically sheltered him through high school. She continued to do that for college, even choosing his college for him – and he promptly flunked out his first year because he had no personal investment in going to college.

    On the other hand, I see no evidence of helicopter parenting among my own students. I have never talked to nor seen a parent during the normal course of a semester. Perhaps it is because our students are largely commuters from the city. Personally, I think some of them could use some helicopter parenting – some advice on study skills, perhaps, or how to purchase pencils and pens for class?

    I also think more involved parents are better in the long run. The one night I do see parents on campus is for our awards dinner. We honor the best students and their families during this event. I love seeing all the extended families with the students that I know. Many of these students are the first to go to college, often from immigrant families, and it is clear they are getting a lot of emotional support from their families. I have also noticed that our best students are more likely to talk about their parents openly.


  2. This is one of those area I’d prefer educators stay out of. I believe each kid is different, has different needs, and a different relationship with their parents. There’s no way to come up with some blanket rule — even if the perimeters are wide.

    My two kids are opposite of each other in almost every way (always have been): One is fiercely independent, headstrong, and wants very little involvement from me (and in fact, any involvement from me seems to achieve the opposite result).

    The other one wants (and needs) a much more hands-on and involved relationship. In fact, at one point, when I’d “given up” for a few weeks and basically turned the role of guardian enforcer over to their father (former husband) — this child came back to me and asked me to please be more involved again. He said, in his own words, “I want the rules back.”

    He likes my involvement; he does better when the road is narrower and I’m watching over him closely. He knows it, and I know it. This is not to say he won’t “get there” and be an independent high functioning adult. I believe he will. I just think that for some people it takes more time. Believe me, I’M READY to be less involved! Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to keep on top of his stuff in addition to my stuff?

    This all reminds me of a couple of years ago when I realized I was at a turning point with the public schools.

    My son was in the 7th grade at the time, and his English teacher and the SpEd teacher called me in for a meeting. It was the beginning of the school year — maybe early early Oct. — and he had received back some paper with corrections he was supposed to make — but they made no sense, even to me. I told him to go and ask the teacher for clarification, which he did (and surely would not have done so had I not instructed him to do that). He never got clarification, but he did get an email to his mother asking me to come in for a meeting.

    I still remember that morning it like it was yesterday. They handed me a paragraph from Outward Bound, and they told me that it was time to let go of my son and “let him fail a little.” I kept my composure and tried to make my point that just because he’s in 7th grade doesn’t mean he’s on the same pre-determined route to independence as the other kids.

    I get red faced just thinking about it now. They had known him for maybe 4 weeks — tops — and they were telling me that I needed to let my son “fail a little?”

    I understand the necessity of backing off so someone learns to stand on their own — believe me, I believe in this and am SO READY to back off. But for this kid, that wasn’t that time.

    Everyone’s different and every relationship is different. I wish the schools would worry more about educating and less about controlling the parents.

    I’m actually surprised that this still goes on in college.


  3. I will never forget the principal at our kindergarten, who ever year gave the same back to school speech to the parents on “How parents are too overinvolved with their kids”. Give me a break, these were kindergartners!


  4. Agree that children vary in the amount of parental involvement needed. Sometimes schools can sometimes be helpful in advising parents on this, but clearly many times they are not.


  5. And sometimes the schools run hot and cold on the amount of involvement they want from parents, as in help kids with projects and drill math, but don’t organize their backpacks for them.


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