Tuesday 20 March 2018

Why more 'helicopter' parents hover in their children's college life

Daddy's girl: Labour Junior Minister Alex White and his daughter Maeve
Daddy's girl: Labour Junior Minister Alex White and his daughter Maeve
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Alex White, the Labour Junior Minister, has been in a bit of hot water after he contacted his daughter's university to try to change her work placement.

In getting involved in his daughter Maeve's college education in such a direct way, the fatherly TD for Dublin South is by no means exceptional.

Parents are increasingly putting their oar in not just in their children's choices of university subjects, but also in day-to-day college life.

They have been known to contact the lecturers of their offspring to discuss grades, and even turn up at careers fairs.

Alex White, who is minister of state in the Department of Health, has admitted that he got it wrong when when he sent an email from his Oireachtas account to NUI Galway, where his daughter is a medical student. He said he should have taken care to ensure it was sent from a personal email account.

He wanted to have her one-year work placement switched from Letterkenny General Hospital to Sligo Regional Hospital "for family reasons" – but received no response from NUI Galway.

Mr White did not use his ministerial title in the email, but his personal intervention on behalf of his daughter is perhaps an example of the "helicopter parenting" that is becoming increasingly common, even at third level. Mums and dads hover around their children's education, and whenever they see a problem or a crisis they swoop.

In previous generations parents hardly got involved in their child's education at all, apart from perhaps choosing the school,and nursing the bruises that resulted from corporal punishment.

Parental involvement is now routine at second level with mothers and fathers holding regular meetings with teachers.

Now, as Alex White's case shows, the influence of mum and dad extends into third level. Dublin Institute of Technology recently held an information evening for parents of first-year students. Most of the calls to CAO helplines at the time of college admissions are from concerned parents rather than students.

DIT said it recognised that parents of incoming students were "anxious to support their son or daughter as much as they can in this new transition". The parents' session covered issues such as finance, academic requirements, and settling into college.

The rise in college fees may be a factor in the growth of this phenomenon. Parents want to ensure that their money is well spent.

The popularity of the mobile phone is also blamed. It has frequently been called the "the world's longest umbilical cord''.

In American colleges it is not uncommon for parents to phone their children each morning to wake them up for lectures.

Rose Tully, former president of the National Parents Council, says: "When your children are going to university they are young adults. They usually have the right to vote. You cannot make decisions for them. There comes a point when you have to take a back seat."

Helicopter parents are now even exerting influence in the workplace, according to a recent report in The Guardian.

Donna Miller, European HR director for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, was nonplussed when she started noticing parents at college careers fairs two years ago.

She says: "They come right up to us and say, 'What would my son be doing if he worked for you?' while the son is standing right there. It's like they're asking about a nursery place."

And then she even noticed mums or dads coming to job interviews. "We try to be polite and say, 'Gosh, it's lovely you're here, but can you wait in reception?'"

Irish Independent

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