The cost of over-managing college kids

By Betsy Hart

I’ve long written against the practice of helicopter parenting, or over-managing our children’s lives. Good grief, I literally wrote a book on the subject.

And I admit that some of my children look at their friends’ families and then chide me for not being more aggressive about, say, forcing them into rigorous dance classes early in life. I guess I’m the reason my daughters are not on their way to becoming prima ballerinas. OK, I can live with that.

Eventually they may even thank me for encouraging some independence. And by the way, I’m far more involved in my children’s lives than my parents ever were in mine. For example, I will never leave a 16-year-old daughter home alone for a weekend while my husband and I go out of town. I still don’t know what my parents were thinking. But I’m getting off topic.

What I do find is that when it comes to college — especially as my oldest, a son, goes off to school as a freshman in just a few weeks — I want to get in and manage the situation more fully. I don’t know, maybe it’s because the stakes and the investment are pretty high. One of the biggest of both being, well, money.

Suddenly, it’s like I’m a hovering parent. Registration, orientation, choosing classes, preemptively arranging tutors, finding extra-long bed linens to fit his dorm bed, are all on my to-do list.

Just in time, along comes a study that just as helicopter parenting might have negative implications when kids are young, so too at the college level. A recent piece in Forbes magazine says, “A new national study has found that the more money parents pay for their kids’ college educations, the worse their kids tend to perform, at least when it comes to grades.”


“Want Your Kids to Succeed? Don’t Pay for their Education” is the headline of the piece in which Susan Adams looks at a study by Laura Hamilton of UC Merced, discussing these findings.

As I get ready to start writing checks from my 529 college saving plans for my son, I have to admit that looking back, this connection makes some sense. My parents covered every dime of my college expenses, but never even asked for a transcript. (I know, I sound like I was really spoiled. Don’t get my four older siblings started on that topic.)

Anyway, somehow, to me that made class attendance seem sort of optional. I guess as long as someone else was paying the bill I didn’t feel responsible for what it bought. Maybe it was a little like renting a house instead of buying one: not my problem!

Similarly, The New York Times recently cited this study and another showing that parents who are over-involved in their children’s college life itself, i.e., choosing their courses — gulp — also hurt their children’s chances of success. (It’s The Times that labels these practices “helicoptering.”)

I’m doomed.

Or, at least I see I have to back off a little. When it comes to the funding issue, Forbes doesn’t suggest I go to Vegas with the college funds. The author does suggest parents make sure one’s child knows what is being spent, what the expectations are for the child’s performance, and that doing well in school is their “job.” Also, the kids should have to get a job or participate in a work-study program, she writes.

OK. Agreed. And for a little more independence, I might even be able to turn over some course selection decisions to my son and his college adviser.

But call me a later-in-parenting life helicopter mom: my child is not picking out his own (and thus ill-fitting!) dorm bed linens.

— Scripps Howard News Service

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • Special Publications »

    Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Service (updated 4/30/2015) and Privacy Policy (updated 4/7/2015).
    Copyright (c) 2016 McNaughton Newspapers, Inc., a family-owned local media company that proudly publishes the Daily Republic, Mountain Democrat, Davis Enterprise, Village Life and other community-driven publications.