This week, the New York Times advised parents of incoming college freshmen to drop their kids off, “back off,” “walk away,” and “move on” so that their “students can develop independence.” In the article, parents who don’t hop in the car, return home and consider their parenting over are dismissed as “super-involved” or “over-involved” and are described as “Velcro parents,” “Helicopter parents,” or “baby-on-board parents.” Some colleges join in the derogatory attitude toward parents, going so far as to advise limiting phone calls and text messages. Some provide not-so-subtle indications that parents are not to “meddle.” According to the New York Times, the University of Minnesota holds a separate reception for parents so that their sons and daughters can meet their roommates and negotiate dorm room space without the parents around. Grinnell College has the new students sit on one side of the gymnasium and the parents on the other with all speakers talking to the student side — a symbolic way of putting parents in their place.
These attacks against parenting are another attempt to intimidate parents into surrendering their influence to that of supposedly “superior” intellectuals and professional “educators” who know what’s best for our children. My husband and I spent years on college campuses as professors and as administrators. We saw campus life from the inside. Then, as parents of college students, we saw it from the outside as well.
Certainly, there are over-involved parents living vicariously through their kids’ experiences, but many more parents just “wash their hands” of involvement with their children when they go off to college. My judgment: far too many parents assume that their parenting role ends when college for their child begins. I do not agree that parents are superfluous. Nor do I think kids should be abandoned to flounder in a totally new environment where they are deluged with new worldviews and ideologies. Some students are suddenly cut loose from their anchors in an environment of total freedom without adequate preparation; they move out of a home where there are clear rules and expectations (which stabilize both their conduct and emotions) into a place where there are few rules or expectations for their behavior or conduct.