It’s too much work to be a helicopter parent

“Call me Mr. Massa.”

These are not the words I said to Ferrum College staff when my son enrolled there on move-in day. No, these were the words I said to my son when we moved up from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.

“From now on, son, when we are at meetings or on camp-outs, especially camp-outs, I want you to call me ‘Mr. Massa.’ I want you to think of me as just another adult leader so that when things go wrong, you go through the leadership chain. The older boys are in charge of this troop, and we adults are just here to teach and keep things from getting out of control.”

That eleven year-old boy wanted to think I was crazy, but he knew better. The other adults, especially the moms, thought I was kind of harsh. I didn’t care as I wasn’t seeking their approval. Instead I was thinking about what I knew about leadership from the Army and various colleges. I was thinking about raising a boy that knew how to work with others, to some day be in charge, and ultimately, to live his own life.

I think it worked.

Not only do I have immense pride in the man he is at 23, I can’t imagine having a better, mutually respectful relationship with him.

It is also just too much work to be a helicopter parent. One of the constant lessons of our scout troop was responsibility for self. Each boy is responsible for his body (fitness), his gear, his responsibility to the patrol (such shared and assigned tasks), and his responsibility to the troop. It becomes much easier to send them off to college knowing that he’s learned that if he doesn’t make arrangements for food (bringing the meal(s) he is responsible for, getting to the cafeteria on time, managing a budget) that he doesn’t eat. And more importantly, both the parent and the boy learn that missing a meal won’t kill him. Other lessons are equally important.

“You said your hands are cold, did you bring gloves?” “No, I forgot them.” “Well, I hope you did not forget your extra pair of socks so you can put those on your hands.”

(Of course, in severe conditions, we always had extras. )

A few years later it becomes so much easier on the first day of class to say goodbye. Or, at the time the college is trying to split families from students to guide the families to the chapel for a final breaking away, to say, “Okay dude, your mother and I are done here. We are going to lunch. This is all your responsibility now. See you in a few weeks, give your mom a hug.”

Or months later: “Excuse me? You got busted for a keg party with the rest of the baseball team? Behind the president’s house?”


Laughter. “You’re on your own, dude. Don’t do it again.”

It is much easier to laugh than making calls or driving to campus to interfere.

Two years later. Angry phone call. “My buddies and I were all set to move into the apartment we want, but they told me I don’t have enough credits to be a junior because I failed that religion course second semester.”

“Life’s tough. Grades are important and often have other consequences.”

“You don’t understand, I will have to wait in line with sophomores. Oh well, at least I will get in Bassett again and it is air conditioned.”

Next night. Really angry phone call.

“I want you to call these people and get this fixed. Other parents are doing so.”

“What are you talking about?”

“They won’t put me, or others back into Bassett. They are going to put all the new freshman in Bassett with a/c to try get more of them to come back the second year. They are going to put all sophomores in the crappy dorms across the lake.”

I laughed. And then I laughed some more. To top it off, I laughed some more.

“It’s not funny!”

“It is if you think I am going to call the president about this. I admire them for trying something out-of-the box to fix their retention problem.”

I hung up the phone and laughed some more. (The truly harsh piece of the story is that much of the reason he failed that course was worrying about me in Neuroscience ICU for two weeks at VCU/MCV following a 32 hour brain surgery. I still wasn’t going to get involved.)

How the hell is he going to learn to solve problems if I ride to the rescue?  A year later, Ferrum hosted us for and enrollment projections training session for private colleges. I did bring up this story then and learned that they did receive a lot of calls and backed off the experiment.

I wasn’t one of them. As I say, being a helicopter parent is far too much work.

So, for all you parents that have dropped your son or daughter off at college lately, relax, lean back, and prepare to laugh, just bit.




Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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