Don’t Let a Label Like “Helicopter Parent” Stop You

Don’t Let a Label Like “Helicopter Parent” Stop You

A few months ago, a college admissions consultant told me administrations are wary of “helicopter parents.” She said that the letter Keep Her Safe encourages parents to send to school presidents, deans of admissions, and boards presidents could reflect negatively on a student’s application, signaling that the student came with the baggage of helicopter parents.

My initial thought: If asking how a school would keep my daughter safe from sexual assault caused them to reject my daughter, I wouldn’t want her attending anyway.

However, Keep Her Safe understands that applying for college is an anxiety-inducing process for many parents and students. So, a letter questioning school practices while pressuring the administration to make the campus safe from sexual assault may not seem particularly appealing. This is why the Keep Her Safe Parent Toolkit provides a letter template to send after a student receives an acceptance but before making a final decision.

It turns out, though, that some schools welcome parental involvement. In a recent meeting, the Title IX coordinator at Rollins College said she wished parents were more involved in the issue. She thinks it would help if parents participate and have tough conversations about alcohol use and sexual activity with their children before they leave for college.

Campus Clarity, the provider of Think About It, a program to reduce risky student behavior developed in collaboration with the University of San Francisco (USF), recently hosted a webinar called Involving Parents in Sexual Assault Prevention.

USF’s Dr. Barbara Thomas, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, and Dr. Peter Novak, Vice Provost of Student Life, talked with a group of college administrators about how important parent involvement is when it comes to the issues of sexual assault and alcohol abuse. They advocated that school administrations support parents in having tough conversations with their students. At USF, counselors offer parents coaching support for these tough conversations.

And parents do have a positive impact. The webinar and a follow-up article by Dr. Novak, Why Parents Matter: New Partners in Sexual Assault Prevention, discuss research showing that parent involvement can reduce peer influence and associated alcohol use, and how parental intervention reduced the incidence of alcohol-involved sexual victimization of first-year students.

As the webinar points out, the relationship between parents and colleges is changing. Colleges are moving away from mostly dealing with parents indirectly through students toward dealing more directly with them through parent services offices. Thomas concluded the webinar saying that helicopter parenting is okay, it just depends on the level at which parents hover.

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Sheri Heitker Dixon is the founder of Keep Her Safe, a non-profit organization committed to making college campuses safe from sexual assault.

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