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How to bring helicopter parents back down to earth

A big part of teaching is discovering how to effectively reach and engage students. There are countless articles, courses, training opportunities, forums, and so on, all centered around finding the best ways to communicate with students. However, one aspect that’s often overlooked is how to effectively work with their parents. This can be particularly critical for students whose parents are overly involved in their child’s education. This type of parent is so prevalent that they have been dubbed “helicopter parents.”

Being the teacher of a student with helicopter parents has its challenges. But with a few tips for how to manage these parents, you can make life easier for yourself—and make your students stronger. 

1.) Understand these parents’ motivation. Some parents become helicopter parents because they are acting out a personal need for control, power or attention. But more likely than not, they employ this parenting style because they truly believe they’re helping their child. It’s important for teachers to remember that this behavior, albeit counterproductive, stems from a desire to give their child every advantage in life—or out of the fear of their child’s potential failure. 

2.) Find ways to educate parents on its effects. Only you can feel out whether or not a parent will be receptive to hearing that becoming overly involved in their children’s lives has the opposite effect of their intentions. By not allowing their children to make their own mistakes, experience consequences for their actions and develop coping mechanisms to deal with failure, these students often find themselves unable to successfully manage life as an adult. Overly parented children often experience higher instances of anxiety, stress and depression, as well as an inability to make decisions on their own. Be careful to not sound accusatory or make parents defensive. After all, many parents simply don’t know their hovering behavior is actually hurting their child. (HINT: Don’t refer to them as “helicopter parents.”)

3.) Be clear in your communication with them. Letting parents know at the beginning of the school year when and how they can expect updates from you can help alleviate the impulse to constantly contact you. Be sure to share detailed information with students about how their progress will be measured, your classroom rules and what is expected of them. These documents can then be shared with (and signed off on) by the parents through the student. This helps establish the student’s responsibility in matters pertaining to their own school experience. 

4.) Create boundaries—and stick to them. You know how busy you are and how thinly you’re stretched, but helicopter parents usually don’t consider that. While they might be reaching out constantly, you need to determine your own time frame for responding. Maybe you have a planning period and that is when you reply to emails and return phone calls. Or maybe you prefer to respond to all matters either before or after school on specific days. Whatever you decide, share that information upfront with parents and students so they know when to expect a response. This constant need for contact is a good reason not to share your cell phone number with parents—it’s best to keep your personal and professional lives separate. 

5.) Avoid becoming defensive. Just as in presenting the idea to parents that their over-involvement can be harmful to their child, you’ll also want to be very careful to keep your own emotions in check. Coming off as defensive can serve as a confirmation to these parents that their efforts are absolutely necessary. While it can be time consuming and frustrating, providing your rationale for the decisions you make and the learning activities you assign can go a long way in quelling these parents’ anxiety. 

6.) Make your principal aware of the situation. This is not to say that you should run to your principal at the first sight of a helicopter parent—you will likely encounter plenty over the course of your career. Try your best to handle the situation directly with the parent, keeping a record of your communications, and assure them that your curriculum and teaching style is approved by your principal. However, if the parent you’re dealing with threatens to go over your head, it can be good to have all of your interactions on record with your principal. Even a quick “FYI” email can help your principal be prepared to have your back if the parent tries to escalate matters. 

7.) Nurture your students’ independence. Another way to combat the negative effects of helicopter parenting is to support and empower your students’ independence. When parents take on tasks that students should be preforming, it turns the student from a participant into a spectator. For example, if a parent contacts you with questions from their child, ask them to have the student come to you for the answers. After all, students need to be able to communicate with people for themselves in the real world. While parents may be able to intervene with their student’s teacher, they won’t be able to step in with their adult child’s boss. Find ways to hold students accountable, develop their confidence, share their opinions and encourage them to figure things out on their own. Do what you can to help them develop a stronger sense of self.

While dealing with helicopter parents can take some effort, the consequences (for you and your students) are far worse if the behavior goes unchecked. Even though you have very different ways of showing it, you and these seemingly ever-present parents have the same end goal—so keep that in mind as you continue to focus on their student’s growth.

REFERENCES:

Young, Joel, M.D. (2017, January 25) The Effects of ‘Helicopter Parenting’. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ 

“Helicopter parents” stir up anxiety, depression. (No date.) Retrieved from http://newsinfo.iu.edu/web/page/normal/6073.html

Fudin, Sarah. (2012, July 13) How to Work with Helicopter Parents. Retrieved from https://rossieronline.usc.edu/how-to-work-with-helicopter-parents/