Teen Parenting Expert’s Tip – February

Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right?
By Barbara McRae, MCC

The reference to “helicopter parents” has resurfaced in the news lately. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the term describes parents who unnecessarily hover over their high school and college-age children. In my work with parents and teens, I find both over-and under-involvement disturbing.

Too Much
Let’s begin with over-involvement. Increased parental involvement over the last decade has been identified by both counselors and college officials as being a hindrance to healthy young adult development. Colleges across the country – as reported by MSNBC.com and elsewhere – have announced new customer service policies in regard to hovering parents. Some have gone so far as to hire “parent liaison officers” and “parent bouncers” to keep parents from interfering with vital learning opportunities while students live away from home.

How do you know if your involvement is over the top? Take a look at these examples:

• Your brief check-in calls happen more than once per week to give guidance on what to do, whether you are asked for it or not
• You expect your son or daughter to report to you about every little thing (how the day went, etc.) in order to steer your child in the direction that you think is right
• You make phone calls on your child’s behalf or you insist on meeting with college advisors yourself whenever you sense the slightest hint of trouble

While I realize that helicopter parents believe that they are indeed loving and caring, it’s important to understand that the most loving – and often the hardest – thing to do is to help your children become self-reliant.

Too Little
Then there is the survey data that suggests that parental involvement is lacking. This is true especially for African American and Hispanic students. These students stated that they felt a lack of support during the college search and application process.

You’re not being involved enough when:
• You think you’re doing all you need to do by financing your child’s education and related expenses
• You take very little notice of your son or daughter unless there’s obvious trouble
• You rarely, if ever, ask your children about their future goals and how they plan to attain them

Although teens may not express their desires to you directly, teenagers really do wish for parents to be involved in their lives. They want you to be interested without taking over.

Just right
Parents need to be involved in their teens’ lives, and teenagers have a strong desire to keep their parents involved in a lot of what they do. In a healthy parent-teen relationship, parents are able to offer their help or their presence when their teenagers need or want it, and teens are able to ask their parents for advice. If you have a history of being overprotective, teens often expect you to do too much for their own good.

You know you’re involvement is just right when:
• You coach your teen through handling sticky life situations, such as talking to a teacher about changing a grade or negotiating with a college roommate
• You ask your emerging adult what his or her plans are for problem-solving unwelcome events (you provide resources, not solutions), and let your child learn from the experience
• You let your child take the lead with you as the co-pilot, fostering responsibility and accountability

If parents keep their eyes on the goal to raise kids to become adults who make wise choices, then learning from mistakes is part of the process. A parent coach knows that with the right level of involvement, you might not always be happy about your teens’ choices now, but you’ll feel good that you prepared them for a happy future.

© Barbara McRae

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