Sunday, October 18, 2009

Secretary Mom

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Robin Lewis was recently featured on 20/20’s Helicopter Moms: Hurting or Helping Kids as a very serious Helicopter Mom—a mom who by definition hovers over her children from beginning to end.

Lewis is more along the lines with the Black Hawk version of parenting.

At the controls, she knows all the passwords for her college-age children’s bank accounts and school portals.

She monitors their student email accounts to help them keep up with assignments and communicate with teachers.

She spends hours daily creating individual to-do lists, which she delivers to each son via email. She calls them throughout the day to check on their progress or remind them of tasks. Twice weekly she makes the two hour drive to wash their clothes.

The boys see their mother as being supportive and helpful. One son said: “It's nice to have someone who kind of serves as ... a secretary mom."

The boys are appreciative, but are they learning how to handle their own lives?

According to Helen Johnson, parenting expert and author of the book Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money, they are not. She believes that Lewis and parents like her are sending a message to their kids that screams, “You are not capable.”

This new parenting trend is building its own industry. Many four-year colleges hire Parent Coordinators to handle the “hovercrafters”.

A Parent Coordinator is charged with manning an information hotline and organizing parenting events.

Colleges even offer seminars for students to help them learn to separate from so much control, although many of the millennium generation report they prefer having their top advisors in the middle of their business—handling the tough issues and minor hassles they face. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

The College Board, a New York-based nonprofit organization that oversees the SAT and Advanced Placement programs, provides information for the parents of entering Freshman. It offers a quiz so parents can see where they fall on the Helicopter scale.

Questions include how many times caregivers contact their college-enrolled child a day, if they have ever contacted a professor on the child’s behalf and if they have written a paper for their child.

Parents who answer too many questions with the wrong answer are told, “We know you mean well, but you've just learned that hovering can be detrimental to your student. Take a deep breath, and check out the books listed below.”

To take the quiz, click here. This site provides a wealth of information, including recommended books.

On the flipside, new research tells us hovering parents can actually be helping their students.

The main message of these new findings is that involved parenting can be a good thing. Checking in, asking about grades and encouraging our college students to stay on top of their work and commitments certainly isn’t overstepping any boundaries.

For a clear delineation of where hovering becomes toxic, heed Johnson’s advice, “You do not take on your children's problems,” Johnson says, “but you talk to them about their problems.”

Learning how to manage one’s own problems and challenges builds a required muscle. If the child never does anything for him or her self, no lesson is learned.

Many times in my young adult life, I wished my parents would handle my problems—talk to my professor about a missed class or call my boss to explain what happened. Thankfully for me, having my parents handle those challenges wasn’t even an option. Unfortunately, for our latest generation of college students and young professionals, it is.

Allyn Evans
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