Phi Beta Cons

Low-Cost Helicoptering

David, helicopter parents are intensely interesting. To me the question is, where did they come from, and how?

Twenty years ago, we were still reading about the ill effects of daycare. The implication was that well-off, two-worker parents were neglecting their children by leaving them in daycare from early in the morning to well after 5 p.m. while they pursued their emotionally satisfying careers. That made it difficult or impossible to build close attachments with their children.

Yet these children, now in college, seem attached to their parents, and their parents seem concerned about them. While the extreme involvement of some helicopter parents is unhealthy, I have also read about young people who consider their parents their “best friends”; that is, the closeness may be genuine and beneficial in many (even most) cases.

Did the early estrangements lead to a compensating dependency today (the negative view)? Or did those parents foster close relationships in spite of frenzied schedules (the positive view)? Alternatively, perhaps the high priority given to having a parent at home was misplaced. The frustration of parents’ being at home all the time may have had its own negatives on relationships with children.

Actually, I have an even simpler answer to propose: The costs of being a helicopter parent have gone down. That is, the advent of cellphones, e-mail, cheaper jet travel, more prosperity, and greater leisure (even for hard-driving two-worker families) may mean that it’s easier to swoop down and bother instructors and administrators than it used to be. Perhaps everyone would have liked to be a helicopter parent in the old days. Only now has it become cost-effective.

In sum, there are many ways to look at this issue.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...


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