Diagnose Yourself: Involved Parent or Hovering Helicopter?

Stories about obsessive parents make great headlines—like when a University of Cincinnati student obtained a stalking order against her parents because they installed monitoring software on her computer and cell phone.

Crazy, right? You’d never do that.

But would you edit (or rewrite) your teen’s admission essay? Require them to text or call daily? Schedule their classes? Call their professor to negotiate a better grade on the last midterm?

If these sound like reasonable activities to you, then you may be a helicopter parent—the kind that hovers over every aspect of their child’s life. But how do you know when you’ve crossed the (often fuzzy) line from involved parent to active hoverer? Get some perspective on your relationship with your teen by talking to other parents—neighbors and friends are great, but so are online bulletin boards (like the Parents Forum at College Confidential), where you can get anonymous feedback from people going through the same high-school-to-college transition.

If you’ve spotted some helicopter tendencies in your life, it’s time to take action to change them. Start by looking at your motivation for hovering…do any of these sound familiar?

Old habits die hard.

You’ve done their laundry since they were born, it’s just what you do. Perhaps you never even showed them how to work the machines. What about doing the laundry together one week to show them the ropes, then sending them back to school with a brand new jug of detergent?

I only want them to succeed.

It helps to keep things in perspective: failure in a task or class doesn’t mean failure for life, or that you’ve failed as a parent. Setbacks can be great learning moments.

I pay the bills, I make the rules.

To some extent this is true. You have the right to have expectations, but discuss them with your teen and set some ground rules. Identify deal breakers as far as behavior goes and give leeway in other areas.

I don’t want to lose touch.

Your relationship is changing—and change can be frightening—but clinging too hard or intruding too much into their new life isn’t the answer. Talk with your teen about how (and how often) you’ll communicate once they leave home, and let them know you’re always available to give advice.


This article was written by Sarah Engel

Sarah Engel is a staff editor for CollegeView.com. Sarah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.


  1. Big Daddy from Cincinnati

    Our son has been in school and is close to getting his PhD. I promised him living expenses if he did well in school and got tuititon assistance throughout school. Well, he did. Full ride Scholarships (sport and scholar) for undergraduate, teaching assistant and fellowship for graduate and doctorate. He will receive his Doctorate within the next six months and will be 30 at the same time. He has worked very hard being a teaching assistant and for the most we have let him be, finding his own way in many places, living across the country. What we supply is living expenses which he does not abuse. What he can’t pay monthly from his stipend, we subsidize. My problem is he has been told that we are hovering over him. I supply a limited credit card for those expenses he can’t pay out of pocket or earn. He has worked part-time in order to keep our expenses low. I don’t feel like a helicopter for doing this. Am I one?

  2. Mary Mackowiak

    While I am in a different stage in parenting than you are (our daughter is beginning her senior year in high school, and we are in the midst of searching for colleges for her), I think you sound like a loving and supportive parent, and not at all a ‘helicopter parent’! Without your help, how would your son have gotten so far in his education? A helicopter parent would not have allowed his son to live so far away, you’ve allowed him to have freedom and autonomy. You weren’t doing his school work for him, right? Pat yourself on the back!! You’ve clearly done a great job, and any child would be lucky to have you for a parent.

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