Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother, Anna, was a helicopter parent. She was influential in getting her son his first job after law school, although he was an indifferent law student. Roosevelt practiced law at Carter Ledyard, a Wall Street firm which still exists today, for four years, before pursing his true love, politics. He was elected to the New York State Senate twice, also with his mother’s help, until Woodrow Wilson appointed him to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Of course most parents, no matter their circumstances, will not wind up raising their son or daughter to become President of the United States. But most parents want the best from their child, so s/he will hopefully have a good life–by their terms or their child’s–in college and beyond. I’ve heard enough of the bad stories about helicopter parents trying to push professors, student affairs professionals, career counselors and recruiters attempting to fill internships or full-time jobs. But I visit a lot of schools and take a lot of tours and see roles where parents should become more helpful, where their children are less likely to investigate.

  • Accommodations. If your student has any special needs that a college must meet, whether they be related to dietary issues, disabilities or medical care you are in the better position to explain these needs. You also need to arrange contact between your doctors and the campus health professionals.
  • Financial Aid. It’s important to have the “money talk,” unless your finances allow you to avoid it, as early as possible. No family should go into financial suicide to pay for college. The opportunity to earn a college degree is a privilege, not a birthright. But parents should try to understand financial aid, complete the necessary forms–they earn the lion’s share of the money in the family most of the time–and be fair to themselves as well as their children.
  • Paying Bills. The student gets the bill. But s/he has to give it to you.
  • Transportation. Different schools offer different ways of getting home, and you might not always want to be your child’s ride. Checking typical bus or plane fares is a good idea if your child wants to go to college far away. S/he is not likely to consider that when applying.
  • Housing (Off-Campus). When college students live in on-campus housing the school has the responsibility for maintenance and safety of the property. Private landlords do not take on similar responsibilities. Parents have every right to inspect any possible off-campus living option and have the lease reviewed by an attorney, even if the student is quite anxious to get away from “dorm life.”
  • Employment. I’m biased here, but I believe that every college-age student should work during their education, even if it’s just for the summer. If family friends can hire your son or daughter in a meaningful position, it doesn’t hurt for you to ask. The search for the permanent job is a different story since the recent college graduate is expected to be far more productive than the summer employee. I do not recommend what Anna Roosevelt did for her son.
  • Discipline when needed. It’s your money going towards college. You have every right to ask that your child respect that and do the best that s/he can do in the class. Colleges are marketed very much like vacation destinations, but that does not mean that higher education is a four-year, much less a five or six-year, vacation before real life calls. You do  not have the rights, per FERPA, to ask for grades or transcripts, but you should expect your child to make adequate, if not better, progress in academics.

Being known as a helicopter parent is not easy. You can make “enemies” with people on campus and make your relationship with your child more difficult. But sometimes parents must be involved in the college experience to their child’s benefit.


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