College Parents of America (CPA) often finds itself in the position of defending parents and our behavior in support of our college-aged, or soon to be college-aged, children.

Let’s be honest, some small percentage of us may go over the edge and try to do too much in support of, or on behalf of, our kids. Examples of this behavior are filling out the college application itself or writing an application essay in the pre-college years, or calling a professor about a grade or e-mailing a residence hall advisor to settle a roommate dispute during the in-college years.

Unfortunately, that small percentage of parents who do engage in over-the-top and intrusive activities tend to get the lion’s share of attention from college officials and some members of the media.

I am convinced that most current and future college parents simply love their children and want to do whatever they can to support their children’s activities on the road to and through college. That’s why the mission of our organization is to empower you as parents to best support your children on that path, by helping you to understand, prepare for, protect and maximize your family’s college investment.

As I tell news organizations on a regular basis, it is important to note that, as a society, we have gained a near-universal consensus in support of the importance of parents being involved with and supportive of their children in the K-12 school years.

This involvement is encouraged because a wide body of research shows that the children of supportive parents are more likely to continue in school, to succeed in and finish high school, and to go on to college.

So with that as a given, it is unrealistic, in my view, to then ask parents to suddenly turn off that involvement at the college campus gates.

Let me know if you think that I am off-base, but I believe that, in general, today’s parents tend to:

  • have children later in life;
  • have fewer children than back in the day;
  • provide, or strive to provide, a “best of” support system for their kids, whether it be an academic tutor, a SAT/ACT coach, a bevy of ballet lessons or a commitment to a travel youth sports team.

As a result, we parents have developed a tremendous emotional – and monetary – investment in our children, and we are interested in and concerned about what is going with that investment.

And rightly so, as every autumn more than 2 million young people in this country are first-year students at an institution of higher education, and by the following fall more than a third of those students are no longer attending those institutions, either because it was specifically the wrong school or because they had experienced academic, physical or emotional problems to an extent that higher ed, in general, was no longer in the immediate realm of possibility.

High stakes indeed, so no wonder families want to “hover,” as “helicopter parents” are prone to do, around their children.

One final point: I am not happy that the term “helicopter parent” has seemed to take on such a negative connotation.

After all, we humans use helicopters to perform some important and essential jobs. Traffic reporters use choppers to help us keep an eye on local roads and to suggest alternate routes if our commute becomes clogged. Emergency personnel use helicopters to perform search and rescue operations, and those individuals certainly value the fact that these mechanical birds can hurtle into the sky on a moment’s notice, flying whenever and wherever it is necessary.

Analogous to the examples above, I think that parents can and should keep a watchful eye on their children, and that they can and should be there in case an emergency should arise. But as you well know, the young adult in your family will, in the end, make his or her choices when it comes to choice of major, choice of friends and choice of career.

Helicopter pilots, and the crews they carry on their missions, perform important and sometimes heroic tasks. So too do “helicopter parents” on your mission to best support your children on the path to and through college. We wish you happy and successful piloting!

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