Academic journal article College and University


Academic journal article College and University


Article excerpt

With 117,000 hits on a recent Google(TM) search, the phenomenon of helicopter parenting has been widely reported in the popular press. Yet the scholarly literature is anemic on the topic. This article, part one of a two-part series, presents the small body of research on helicopter parenting and describes a qualitative study of 190 participants which identifies five types of helicopter parents. Part two of the article explores the social, cultural, psychological, and economic factors that give rise to helicopter parenting; identifies implications for practice; and discusses two theories of parenting.


From the Wall Street Journal (Shellenbarger 2007) and USA Today (Jayson 2007) to O Magazine (Rabb 2008), The Chronicle of Higher Education (Hoover 2008, Lipka 2005, Milstone 2007, Wills 2005), and abc's Wife Swap ("Poor Little Rich Girl" 2008, Waldo 2008), stories about helicopter parents abound. Likewise, practitioner interest in the subject has increased (see, for example, recent monographs by Carney-Hall 2008, Daniel and Scott 2001, Keppler, Mullendore and Casey 2005). Yet the scholarly research on the topic is anemic (Toepfer 2008). Recognizing that understanding helicopter parent behavior as well as motivation is crucial to the effectiveness both of educational programs for students and of management of colleges and universities, we focused this qualitative study on those who have experienced helicoptering firsthand: academic and student services professionals. This article presents the small body of research on helicoptering; explores the topic through interviews and focus groups with professionals; and identifies five types of helicopter parents.

The term "helicopter parent" was coined by Charles Fay and Foster Cline (authors of the Love and Logic parenting series) and was popularized by a Newsweek article (Zeman 1991), which described such a person as "a nosy grown-up who's always around. Quick to offer a teacher unwanted help." A helicopter parent (helopat for short) is a mother, father, or even a grandparent who "hovers" over a student of any age by being involved - sometimes overly so - in student/school, student/employer, or student/societal relationships. Helicopter behavior can have a positive or negative effect. Positive results accrue when the "hovering" is age appropriate; when parents and student engage in a dialogue; when the student is empowered to act; and when parents intercede only if the student needs additional help. We label this behavior positive parental engagement. Negative helicopter parents can be found in many settings, including educational, and are inappropriately (and at times surreptitiously) enmeshed in their children's lives and relationships.

This study differs from the numerous anecdotal articles on helicoptering by pursuing a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. While we heard hundreds of stories - sad, tragic, hilarious, and mundane - about helicopter parents, we focused on a higher level of analysis (Miles and Huberman 1994) in order to search for helicopter parent typologies and broader historical and sociocultural explanations for their behavior.


In pre -industrial American society, young people had a relatively brief coming of age period. Industrialization, combined with population shifts to urban areas and the high school movement, meant that by the turn of the 20th century, a growing number of young people graduated from high school by age eighteen. Most entered the workforce immediately. Home, marriage, and children usually followed shortly thereafter. Psychological theories of adolescence and adulthood were based on that narrow band of time between being in high school and joining the labor market. According to Arnett (2007), Stanley Hall, who wrote the milestone book on adolescence (1904), was influenced by the notion oí Sturm und Drang (storm and stress, Goethe 1774/1989). Likewise, psychoanalyst Anna Freud (1958, 1968) promoted a dark view of adolescence which was adopted by the Freudian school. …

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