Ahh, the new quarter - and freedom from overbearing parents (or not?)

Ahh, Stanford.  What could be more delightful than returning to your palm trees, red tile roofs, and extremely disproportionate concentration of intelligence after a three-week hiatus outside of the Bubble?

I’m sure that some will disagree with me – as indeed, one close friend of mine, upon returning to her dorm for the first time this decade, immediately shouted, “AHH!  I hated your ‘Countdown to Stanford’ statuses on Facebook!  Why did you constantly have to remind me how few days of break were left?”

According to an informal poll of Stanford students (aka my flabbergasted attempts to understand why people enjoy ever leaving Stanford), top reasons to enjoy going home include:

– Home cooking

– Visiting old friends/having a car

– A break from schoolwork/an excuse to be lazy.

Ok, so I understand that last one.  (But hey… dorm food isn’t bad, is it?)  And on the opposing side, some top reasons to enjoy being at college – apart from all the nifty academic stuff that goes on:

– Independence/freedom from parents…

…. Ok, actually – need I go on?  For many people this is enough, and it brings me to the main point of my post:  Helicopter parents,  overbearing parents, and how they may continue to influence some of our lives, even as we enter adulthood and pursue higher education at one of the world’s  top institutions.

Coming from a traditional Jewish background, I certainly know of some parents who express an overeager interest in their child’s success and future – whether it be wanting to know every detail about every person their child dates, or demanding to know whether their child has decided yet between studying law or medicine, regardless if their child is an Art History major.  (Although the ever-popular, but not-quite-PC, mymomisafob.com and mydadisafob.com suggest that my culture is not the only one with this trend of somewhat overbearing parents.)

Fortunately, such parents are merely overbearing parents – but not helicopter parents.   The difference, I believe, is this:  overbearing parents may interrogate you endlessly or demand lofty results , but they don’t do the work for you.  Helicopter parents – a term coined in 1990 by Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay in their book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility – typically go to great lengths to actually do their child’s difficult or dirty work,** often stunting their child’s capabilities as a result**.

Such parental “help” can include writing college admissions or school essays for their child, completing their unfinished homework, making excuses or taking the blame for their child’s failure (to complete an assignment, chore, or social obligation), and making important calls (e.g. to employers or admissions officers) for their child.

For descriptions of some specific roles, Paul Redmond of London’s Guardianidentifies the five most common types of helicopter parent: The Agent, the Banker, the White Knight, the Bodyguard, and the Black Hawk.

Fortunately, it seems that in many cases, parents settle down once their child departs for college.  This is partly because much helicopter parenting revolves around the admissions process – and the anxiety that their brilliant baby will not get into a top college (regardless of whether the student is actually cut out for that school’s academic rigor.)   Furthermore, with the student no longer residing at home, parents are naturally forced to let go – at least somewhat – and realize that their child is an independent adult.

However, an Oct. 2009 article from the New York Times reveals that the helicopter parenting often does not end with undergraduate education.  Indeed, there is an increasing trend in parents trying to aid their child in gaining admission to graduate school.  Clearly, these parents are well-meaning, but I cannot see their efforts being anything but counterproductive.  Derrick Bolton, dean of admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business,  implies that such parents may indeed cause admissions officers to call the student’s qualifications into question:

“People go to business school to learn to lead other people,” says Mr. Bolton, who views the application process as a proxy for the rest of life. “And if they’re not taking ownership of the application process, it makes you wonder — is this person going to take ownership in life, without someone pushing him or her?”

That is, if they can’t apply without Mommy, how will they hold a quarterly earnings conference call with hostile investors, or argue a case in front of a judge?

Now, I’m sure that many – if not most – of these students don’t appreciate their parents’ meddling.  My brother applied to Stanford GSB this fall, and I can only imagine how appalled and he would be if our mother had written him a recommendation letter – a clear insult to his professionalism and leadership abilities.  Our parents have high hopes and expectations for us, but they realize that the best way to set us up for success is to let us conquer the challenges of school and work on our own.

Yet apparently, some parents aren’t getting that message:

Two-thirds of the admissions officers surveyed at top business schools reported seeing more parental involvement in applications now than five years ago, according to Veritas Prep, an admissions consulting company that posed the question.

An increase in involvement?  How much involvement should parents have in their child’s application to top business schools in the first place, apart from a possible scanning of essays for spelling and typos?

Thus, it seems we have discovered a valuable way in which your parents can give you an edge in applying for college, grad school, internships, and jobs: letting you handle the whole task on your own.  This tip is both legal and ethical, and makes the job easier on both parent and student.  But most of all, it allows you to maintain your professionalism and your interviewers’/employers’/admissions officers’ respect – thereby giving you an edge over all those students who cannot bear to put their foot down and request that their parents give them some space.  And hey, all that responsibility, decision-making skills, personal motivation, feeling of self-confidence, pride of accomplishment, etc. jazz must be worth something, right?

And with that, Happy Start of  Winter Quarter!  I hope you find yourself amidst classes that you find rewarding, spending time in student groups that you enjoy, and propelling yourself toward a career that* you *desire.

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