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A certain amount of hovering is understandable when it comes to young children, but many educators are concerned when it persists through middle school and high school. Some teachers talk of "Stealth Fighter Parents," who no longer hover constantly but can be counted on for a surgical strike just when the high school musical is being cast or the starting lineup chosen. And senior year is the witching hour: "I think for a lot of parents, college admissions is like their grade report on how they did as a parent," observes Madeleine Rhyneer, dean of students at Willamette University in Oregon. Many colleges have had to invent a "director of parent programs" to run regional groups so moms and dads can meet fellow college parents or attend special classes where they can learn all the school cheers. The Ithaca College website offers a checklist of advice: "Visit (but not too often)"; "Communicate (but not too often)"; "Don't worry (too much)"; "Expect change"; "Trust them."
Teresa Meyer, a former PTA president at Hickman High in Columbia, Mo., has just sent the youngest of her three daughters to college. "They made it very clear: You are not invited to the registration part where they're requesting classes. That's their job." She's come to appreciate the please-back-off vibe she's encountered. "I hope that we're getting away from the helicopter parenting," Meyer says. "Our philosophy is 'Give 'em the morals, give 'em the right start, but you've got to let them go.' They deserve to live their own lives."
What You Can Do
Among the most powerful weapons in the war against the helicopter brigade is the explosion of websites where parents can confide, confess and affirm their sense that lowering expectations is not the same as letting your children down. So you gave up trying to keep your 2-year-old from eating the dog's food? You banged your son's head on the doorway while giving him a piggyback ride? Your daughter hates school and is so scared of failure she won't even try to ride a bike? "I just want to throw in the towel and give up on her," one mom posts on Truuconfessions.com "This is NOT what I thought I was signing up for." Honestbaby.com sells baby T-shirts that say I'LL WALK WHEN I'M GOOD AND READY. Given how many books and websites drove a generation of parents mad with anxiety, a certain balance is restored to the universe when it becomes conventional for people to brag about what bad parents they are.
The revolutionary leaders are careful about offering too much advice. Parents have gotten plenty of that, and one of the goals of this new movement is to give parents permission to disagree or at least follow different roads. "People feel there's somehow a secret formula for parenting, and if we just read enough books and spend enough money and drive ourselves hard enough, we'll find it, and all will be O.K.," Honoré observes. "Can you think of anything more sinister, since every child is so different, every family is different? Parents need to block out the sound and fury from the media and other parents, find that formula that fits your family best."