Work with Families, Not Against Them to Support Student Success

Work with Families, Not Against Them to Support Student Success

Carol Sacchetti

Director of Student Programs and Leadership, Roger Williams University

Did you see the article about helicopter parents I was asked? See the article? It’s all my colleagues were talking about on social media, how could I not see the article? Earlier this fall, former dean at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, shared her thoughts with the Washington Post on how helicopter parenting is impacting today’s college students as adapted from her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

In her book, Lythcott-Haims shares that many families have been “overhelping” their students by “shepherding them from milestone to milestone and by shielding them from failure and pain…leaving young adults without the strengths of skill, will and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.”

As the coordinator of our family programming, I spend much of my time considering how we can best equip families to support their student without “overhelping” them – it can be a fine balance, and one that looks different for each student. As we are fast approaching the season of New Student Orientation, Welcome Week and later Homecoming & Family Weekend celebrations, I pulled this article out as a refresher of the characteristics our students and families bring with them to the college transition.

Knowing how important a student’s network is to his or her success, our institution, like many, has welcomed families to campus with open arms in hopes of changing the conversation and equipping parents with the tools and resources needed to appropriately help their student, and avoid “overhelping.”

While some in our profession may dread these family events for all of the tiring logistics and potential difficult conversations it brings, I truly look forward to it and embrace it. I love welcoming families to our campus and seeing our students’ support networks at work.

One way in which we seek to support families is by offering a highly engaging two-day program specifically for them as part of our New Student Orientation programming. During this program, we take the time to introduce families to our institution – its lingo and processes, and offer specific guidance on tangible ways they can help their student navigate the transition to college. We try to work with the network, instead of against it. We understand many of our students’ families have spent the past 18 years being a major part of their life and we can’t expect this to look different a mere three months after high school graduation without some guidance.

While these efforts may not change the conversation or the culture overnight, I do think we are taking steps to harness the energy of our helicopter parents and families in a more positive way that sets up our students for success. As higher education professionals, we have a crucial role to play in shaping our students into productive adults, and this should be done in partnership with a student’s support network, not in spite of it. Positively engaging our students’ families in conversation and guiding them in navigating the new role they will play in their student’s life will go a long way in setting up all of our students for success in their collegiate journey and beyond.

About the author: Carol Sacchetti is currently the Director of Student Programs and Leadership at Roger Williams University in Bristol Rhode Island. She graduated from Bridgewater State College (now University) with a BA in Communications and from the University of Hartford with an MA in Organizational Communications. In her role, she directly advises the Student Senate and WQRI 88.3 (campus radio station), and provides support to 75 clubs and 5 other organizations. Carol also works to coordinate large scale programming such as Homecoming and Family Weekend and Weeks of Welcome. While not at work, Carol enjoys visiting the local Starbucks, watching Boston sports teams and living by the water.

Carol Sacchetti

Director of Student Programs and Leadership, Roger Williams University