UNCG Campus Weekly

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Jim Settle shares research on helicopter parents, from ‘Black Hawk’ ones to the ‘consumer advocate’ ones

Students at universities learn academic subjects. At the same time, they learn decision-making and how to handle adversity and challenges. One thing that may prevent that:

Helicopter parents.

Dr. Jim Settle, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, has seen many helicopter parents in his years of experience. And he has conducted and published research over the last decade. What are helicopter parents? Simply put, they are parents who hover around their children. Even when their children are hundreds of miles away, and are no longer children.

These Generation X individuals have grown up and had Millennial children, he explains, and they are tied to their offspring by “the world’s longest umbilical cord – the cell phone.”

It’s not just a United States phenomenon, his research shows. Worldwide, many students are learning “someone else will solve it for you.” It’s a lesson some will unfortunately carry well past their college years.

So what’s an example? A college student runs into a challenge or finds they are not being successful. They immediately pull out their phone. “Mommy, someone told me no!” is the gist of the conversation. It’s not uncommon for the student, he says, to then offer the phone to the person who has told them no. “You talk to my mother.” As you might expect, the parent on the phone, not knowing the circumstances fully, acts like “Mama Bear or Papa Bear.”

The experts even have names for the helicopter parents. For example, “Black Hawk” parents are the ones who come into a conversation with “guns blazing.” In contrast, there are the “consumer advocate” parents, whose position is “My child deserves the best.” They don’t see why their student should be treated like others. His first experience with this type of parent? He was director of Housing & Residence Life at a college in another state. One residence hall did not have air conditioning. A student applied late. And the parent called and called – speaking with various individuals in the office. When asked, “Why should he be able to jump in line in front of the students who’d applied on time” the reply was memorable. “Because my student is special.”

Settle notes that Student Affairs can assist any UNCG faculty members or service providers who need help with helicopter parents.

Additionally, he moderates online workshops on this topic, for those in higher education. And conducts workshops and presentations nationally. For example, one high-level Div. I athletics program asked him to present to them on how to deal with parents. He has been interviewed by such news outlets as “Good Morning America.”

His advice to parents who hover too much, trying to make sure their offspring are immediately successful in every way? Here’s what would be helpful to keep in mind:

“Students should learn to solve problems, to learn to deal with adversity. There will be conflict in life,” he explains. “Instant gratification is not always the best thing to provide for students.”

By Mike Harris