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Helicopter Parents: How Much is Too Much?

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There’s no denying that parental involvement is crucial to a child’s well-being, but media highlights of helicopter parents with no qualms about calling and emailing their adult children’s professors and bosses have become the butt of jokes, causing plenty of head shakes and tsk-tsks.

A 21-year-old college student from Ohio with parents that did not know when to say when decided that enough was enough—and a judge agreed with her, granting a restraining order against the parents.

Student Grows Weary of Parents’ Over-involvement

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music senior Aubrey Ireland sought legal intervention to help prevent her parents’ escalating involvement, which included multiple unannounced visits. David and Julie Ireland would drive 600 miles from their home in Kansas to “surprise” their daughter on campus, where they made accusations of her supposed illegal drug use and promiscuity. Mr. and Mrs. Ireland also installed software on their daughter’s laptop and cell phone to monitor her whereabouts as well as every single call and keystroke she made.

According to the Enquirer, Mr. and Mrs. Ireland also informed their daughter’s department head that she was suffering from mental problems that required evaluation and treatment. Eventually, Mom and Dad’s unwanted involvement became such a problem that the college was forced to hire security guards to keep them out of their daughter’s musical performances.

After the college senior—who, ironically, excels in her studies and musical performances and routinely makes the dean’s list—cut ties with Mom and Dad, they quit paying her tuition. The college responded by issuing a full scholarship for her final year of classes.

Court Issues Restraining Order

When Aubrey filed a civil stalking order against her parents on Sept. 24, 2012 in an effort to keep them out of her life, a judge asked both parties to attempt a settlement. Mr. and Mrs. Ireland requested that their daughter reimburse them $66,000 for three years of college tuition. Intervention specialists informed the couple that they—not their adult daughter—were causing problems, to which they responded that she was a good actor who was lying about the situation.

The judge’s ruling? Aubrey Ireland is an adult who is free to live her life as she desires. The parents were ordered to stay at least 500 feet away and have no contact until at least one year.

What Causes Helicopter Parents?

Overly protective helicopter parents — nicknamed as such because they tend to “hover” over their children like helicopters — have most likely existed for all time, yet the term gained prominence in the early 2000s when the Baby Boomer generation’s children began applying for and attending college. No one knows for certain what “causes” some parents to become so overly involved, but some stay-at-home mothers and fathers grew so accustomed to assisting their children with every aspect of their lives that they did not want to give up their habits after the “kids” went off to college or joined the workforce.

Some parents who want to be the cream of the crop simply go overboard.

School safety should most definitely be a priority with families, but helicopter-ing doesn’t start at the onset of college. In 2008, The New York Times told the tale of a sleep-away camp that had to employ a full-time “parent liaison” to field calls and messages from meddlesome parents with unreasonable concerns and unsolicited requests.

Problems with Overprotective Parents

While situations like Aubrey Ireland’s above-mentioned restraining order are somewhat extreme, studies have found that over-involved parents may be impacting their children’s personalities in a bad way. Further research is necessary, but teens and young adults who are constantly “monitored” by Mom or Dad tend to be too dependent, more vulnerable, anxious and unable to solve their own problems—even minor ones, such as what to eat for lunch or how to wash their own clothes.

“It’s amazing how non-independent students have become,” is how Indiana University psychologist Chris Meno explains it. She recommends that students attempt to figure out problems on their own before calling home, or switch from three to four calls home per day to one.

Meno also reports seeing a connection between helicopter parents and trouble getting a job after college. Students were once expected to figure things out for themselves during college and start life on their own afterward; now they move back in with Mom and Dad after graduation because they cannot find the perfect job.

Over-dependent children and overbearing parents can be harmful to both sides involved. Students are encouraged to become more independent and parents are encouraged to learn how to let go.

Read More:

Parental Involvement: How Much is Too Much?

Parental Involvement During College: Find the Right Balance

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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