Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Telling Helicopter Parents To Take Flight

It looks as though the Washington Post is once again writing about Helicopter Parents. This time, the focus is at the K-12 level and with a slightly different moniker: "Millenial Parents:"
They are needy, overanxious and sometimes plain pesky -- and schools at every level are trying to find ways to deal with them.

No, not students. Parents -- specifically parents of today's "millennial generation" who, many educators are discovering, can't let their kids go.

They text message their children in middle school, use the cellphone like an umbilical cord to Harvard Yard and have no compunction about marching into kindergarten class and screaming at a teacher about a grade.

To handle the modern breed of micromanaging parent, educators are devising programs to help them separate from their kids -- and they are taking a harder line on especially intrusive parents.

At seminars, such as one in Phoenix last year titled "Managing Millennial Parents," they swap strategies on how to handle the "hovercrafts" or "helicopter parents," so dubbed because of a propensity to swoop in at the slightest crisis.

Educators worry not only about how their school climates are affected by intrusive parents trying to set their own agendas but also about the ability of young people to become independent.

"As a child gets older, it is a real problem for a parent to work against their child's independent thought and action, and it is happening more often," said Ron Goldblatt, executive director of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.

"Many young adults entering college have the academic skills they will need to succeed but are somewhat lacking in life skills like self-reliance, sharing and conflict resolution," said Linda Walter, an administrator at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and co-chairman of the family portion of new-student orientation.

Educators say the shift in parental engagement coincides with the rise of the millennial generation, kids born after 1982.

"They have been the most protected and programmed children ever -- car seats and safety helmets, play groups and soccer leagues, cellphones and e-mail," said Mark McCarthy, assistant vice president and dean of student development at Marquette University in Milwaukee. "The parents of this generation are used to close and constant contact with their children and vice versa."

Academics say many baby boomer parents have become hyperinvolved in their children's lives for numerous reasons. There is the desire to protect youngsters from a tougher and more competitive culture. And there is the symbolic value of children.

"It was just about 20 years ago that we started seeing those yellow 'Baby on Board' signs in cars, which arguably had little to do with safety and a lot to do with publicly announcing one's new status as a parent," said Donald Pollock, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

"I imagine that parents who displayed those 'Baby on Board' signs are the ones who are now intruding themselves into the college experience of those poor babies 18 years later," he said.

"There are a lot of things I can't control," said one Bethesda mother who asked not to be identified because, she said, her daughter would be mortified. "Terrorists, the environment. But I can control how my daughter spends her day."

Teachers and principals in the early grades began noticing changes in parents in the 1990s. Parents began spending more time in classrooms. Then they began calling teachers frequently. Then came e-mails, text messages -- sometimes both at once. Today schools are trying to figure out how to take back a measure of control.

Some parents who once had unlimited access to classrooms or school hallways are being kicked out, principals say. Teachers are refusing to meet with parents they consider abusive, some say. A number of private schools have added language in their enrollment contracts and handbooks warning that a student can be asked to leave as a result of a parent's behavior. Some have tossed out children because their parents became too difficult to work with.
Read the whole thing.

I try to exercise extreme patience when addressing parent concerns. As a public school teacher, it's my firm belief that I work for them... but then again, I've been fortunate to have not been on the receiving end of an irrate parent's diatribe for over 13 years. I can certainly sympathize with those of my colleagues who have...

And as for those "Baby on Board" signs... well, that's another post.

Related: Going to the Mat
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