Helicopter Parents Are Ruining Their Kids' Chances At University

When faced with mediocre grades and the stress of the expectations associated with higher education, these kids are primed for a breakdown
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Helicopter parenting is creating high school grads who can't compete at the college level.

Helicopter parenting is the over-protection, coddling and enabling that, despite the parent's best intentions, produces overly-entitled young people who are unable to cope with even the most insignificant of challenges.

I believe that helicopter parents are responsible for the growing mental health crisis in our colleges and universities. Armed with great love but misguided notions, these parents are raising kids who, by the time they reach the post-secondary level, are having emotional melt-downs on a regular basis.

In a recent Toronto Star article, education writer Andrea Gordon, talked about how more and more high school kids are showing up at the guidance office with mental health issues, and how school counselors are stretched to their limit and understaffed.

Writing in Slate Magazine, author Julie Lythcott-Haims argues the correlation between helicopter parenting and student mental health issues. When parents over-protect their children, the children fail to learn how to take care of themselves; when parents do too much for their children, the children fail to learn how to do things for themselves. This leads to kids growing up with a lack of confidence and a lot of anxiety around even minimal challenges.

Most helicopter parents are just trying their best to help their kids, but by doing too much for them they're stunting their emotional growth. These kids grow up not knowing how to stand on their own two feet, solve their own problems, advocate for themselves or bounce back from adversity.

Some helicopter parents are overly-invested in their kids' performance, convinced that if their kids do well at high school, they'll feel better about themselves. These parents will do their kids' homework, they'll call up the teacher or the principal to argue about grades, and they'll pressure colleges to accept their kids, even when the kids don't meet the admission requirements.

Spoiling and over-parenting will create kids who lack the basic coping strategies necessary for success at school and in life

The children of this type of parent are at a double disadvantage: not only are they unable to cope on an emotional level, but they also haven't been allowed to develop the academic skills that would lead to success in post-secondary education or their future careers. When faced with mediocre grades and the stress of the expectations associated with higher education, these kids are primed for a breakdown.

Recently, for my Ruthless Compassion podcast series, I interviewed Dr. Holly Rogers, a psychiatrist in charge of student mental health at Duke University in North Carolina.Rogers described how she witnessed similar problems in several of her students.

Rogers pointed out that college students who were raised by helicopter parents have been barely hanging on, while those who've had to face some adversity in their young lives and who were expected to deal with problems mostly their own are by comparison, excelling, both academically and socially.

Neither I nor Rogers are advocating that we abandon our kids or deliberately put them in harm's way, but we're both aware of how too much spoiling and over-parenting will create kids who lack the basic coping strategies necessary for success at school and in life.

Maybe one of the best choices for a kid with helicopter parents would be to take a gap year between high school and college and go off on their own to work, travel, have adventures and finally learn to stand on their own two feet. It could be the cure for their over-parenting.

It doesn't help that academic institutions and government bureaucracies are reinforcing the message of overprotecting and over-scheduling high school aged kids. Just recently, a single dad in British Columbia was threatened by a misguided government office with losing access to his kids because he had them ride the bus on their own, despite the fact that the kids were thriving while doing this. These institutions are letting down our youth by failing to recognize that they need more autonomy and responsibility; not more coddling.

It's essential that we rethink how we parent. If we truly want the best for our kids, we must focus on making them more resilient and empowered.

Recently in Utah, a bill was passed to allow parents to give their children more freedom without fear of school or government repercussions. Parents there now know that they can allow their kids to walk to school on their own or play outdoors without getting into legal trouble.

We need to stop doing our kids' homework and calling up the teacher or the principal every time we don't like our kid's grade. Maybe it's time to figure out why our kid is struggling with that particular class. The child might need extra help, or maybe they just need to develop better study habits.

Maybe all our coddling has left them so lacking in confidence that they need support in seeing that they're capable of functioning independently and competently.

We need to stop over-protecting our kids and fighting all their battles for them

We need to stop over-scheduling our kids and let them play outdoors on their own, without adult supervision or control. We need to trust our kids and recognize that they're smart, resourceful young people, better able to care for themselves than we might imagine.

When our kids can spend time just playing with one-another, they'll learn essential life skills including leadership, cooperation, problem-solving, flexibility and compassion.

We need to stop over-protecting our kids and fighting all their battles for them. We can teach them good coping skills and then encourage them to practice these skills. This is how they'll gain confidence and competence and it's how they'll begin to learn from their mistakes and their failures. This is how they'll become competitive with their college peers.

High school is our last chance to change the way we parent before we send our kids off to college and into adult life. If we love them, we must stop hovering over them and start preparing them for the very real challenges that lie ahead.

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