A 21-year-old college student in the US recently obtained a stalking order against the very parents who were footing her tuition bill. Apparently however, that’s not all they were paying for. There was the money they shelled out for the surveillance software in her cellphone and laptop (that they had installed without her knowing), as well as the big gas bills they ran up routinely driving the 600 miles from their home to the college campus in order to check up on their only child with surprise visits.
While her mother insisted that they were not bothering her, her daughter disagreed and cut off all communication with her parents, who then rescinded their tuition payments, demanding she reimburse them for the $66,000 US dollars they had already spent. The courts have ruled she does not have to pay them back for money already spent, and the college has awarded her a scholarship to finish her diploma.
So, Extreme Helicopter Parents, what have we learned here? Why didn’t these parents trust their daughter, or in fact their own parenting skills that had resulted in them raising a daughter who was accepted into one of the country’s most elite music colleges?
It can be very hard to let your children leave the nest for the first time to attend a post secondary institution. I know. I’ve done it twice, with two more to go. The adjustment for both child and parent can be tough, so what can you do to help make the transition easier, keep the trust intact, and manage your own worries about them being out in the big bad world?
• Start trusting them with responsibility before they move out. Just because you can check up on them with your smartphone every two minutes, doesn’t mean you should check up on them every two minutes on your smartphone. Set a time when they should check in or come home, and leave it at that.
• Many parents insist that their kids use their computers only in their presence, and routinely check their personal phone texts and social media activity. Start trusting them to be online by themselves, checking themselves, and have regular discussions with them about what they’re seeing, doing, versus physically monitoring. Constantly monitoring them doesn’t inspire trust, and when they move out they will be surfing from their dorm room, by themselves. Self-regulation is a key behavior to learn.
• Set up an established time to call and check in – a Sunday night, for instance, when the dorms are likely to be quieter. If you want to communicate more than weekly, use texts and emails to check in so they can respond at a time that works for them. And remember a “Yes, I’m fine” means “Yes, I’m fine”. Don’t overthink it.
• Don’t make the mistake of the unannounced drop in. We don’t like it when our parents and in-laws do it, and our kids are no different. Again, it comes down to a feeling of lack of trust, and the anticipation they might be caught doing something wrong. Set up a lunch date or a visit when it works for their schedule, which may be very different than yours. Give them lots of notice and call just before you get there. It’s courteous.
• Show interest in their schoolwork, but don’t nag them about marks. Colleges and universities are not allowed to give marks out to anyone but their students, and that’s the way it should be. Give them the chance to brag to you when they get an impressive grade. They have to want to do well for themselves, not for you.
• Paying tuition does not mean that you own them and their behavior. If the tuition is offered as a gift, that’s what it is. If it’s offered as loan, that’s what it is. Putting conditions on the gift or loan is not recommended, but eliminating future funding is certainly your option if you’re not happy with their behavior or performance away from home.