I chose to go to college 2,000 miles away from home because I thought it was the best way to become my own person. I was excited to leave my parents behind, have the freedom to make decisions without question, and to have an experience that was solely my own. It is this that leads to some of my greatest disconnect with the new students coming to campus, those who are the children of so-called helicopter parents. For me, I am more perplexed by the students who willingly share information with their parents than I am by those parents who work so diligently to be heavily involved in the life of their student.
Then this happened.
I was approached by a few members of a student group I co-advise, who expressed concern about another member of the group. This individual had some significant trouble with the law last spring that they had managed to hide until now. As the group struggled with how they could help, and what this meant for them as whole, we began a lengthy discussion about the welfare of the student in question. See, for the other members, discovering this information allowed them to piece together a string of unusual and concerning behavior. The student had stopped being as active within the group, they had done some unkind things to other members which seemed deliberate in nature, and seemed as if they were moving through their daily routine with half the effort and passion. However, the fact they found most alarming was that this student had stopped communicating with their parents on a daily basis.
You read that right. The other students viewed the lack of parental contact as the most concerning sign. As I asked more questions around this issue, I found that the other students knew what time of day, and how often this student usually spoke with their parents. They knew the information that was usually shared. They knew how often the student went home. They even knew how to contact this student’s parents, and they did. Collectively, they had reached out to this student’s parents to make sure they were also aware of the change in behavior. (They were.)
As advisors, we were some of the last adults involved in the situation. Several of these members had spoken with their own parents about the situation, soliciting advice, expressing concern, and working through their feelings.
As they shared the advice they had received, I was grateful to hear it was actually very sound. Parents had told their students that feelings of worry, sadness, and even anger were appropriate and okay. They reminded them that even though they wanted to provide help and support, it was not their responsibility to make sure this student accepted the offer. The students spoke of their parents as the ones who calmed them, assured them, and acted as a voice of experience.
I found that my credibility as an advisor was strengthened by reaffirming the information the group members had already received from their parents. Myself and the other advisors thanked them for sharing, and told them we would be there to support them as the group addressed the issue. As we left the meeting, I found myself thankful for the network which existed around these students, the fleet of helicopters that were there to help us with this situation. Our students had found support, comfort, and reassurance in a difficult time. It served as a good reminder to reach out and work with parents when possible. Truly, they can be some of our greatest allies as we work to develop and nurture students.
note: this is a group which is not covered by FERPA laws, which did allow us more freedom in addressing the situation.