Overview

Fairly or unfairly, the term "helicopter parents" has become a popular description for those who get involved in their young-adult children's activities, primarily pertaining to education and the workplace. What do such parents think about what they're doing? What do their children think about it? In this project, where Texas Tech undergraduate and graduate students in Human Development & Family Studies have helped develop the questionnaire items and administer surveys, we address these and other questions. At the very bottom of this page is a collection of links to online articles for anyone wishing to read further on this topic. You can also e-mail Dr. Reifman for a copy of the following published article from the project:

Reifman, A. & Oblad, T. (2012, Fall). College studentsí and parentsí communication and views of proper assistance with school-related matters. AHEPPP Journal [Association of Higher Education Parent/Family Program Professionals; refereed electronic journal], 3(2).

Fall 2010 Study

In Fall 2010, graduate student Tim Oblad and I surveyed parents at Texas Tech's annual Family Weekend. We thank Ken Gassiot and Elizabeth Massengale from Texas Tech Universityís Office of Parent and Family Relations for facilitating the survey. Here is a copy of the questionnaire.

Fall 2010 (Family Weekend) Parents' Questionnaire

What is your relation to the student youíre visiting?   Father___   Mother___    Stepfather___    Stepmother___  Other relative (please specify) _______   Non-relative (please specify)_______

What is your racial/ethnic group?   White/European-American___   Black/African-American___ Hispanic/Latino___   Asian/Pacific Islander___   Native American/American Indian___   Other___

What is your education level?   Less than high school diploma___   High school diploma___           

Two-year college/Trade School___   Bachelorís degree___   Masterís___ Professional (PhD, MD, Law) __

If you are a college graduate, did you go to Texas Tech? Yes ___   No___

Is the student youíre visiting your first one to attend college?  Yes ___   No___

Is the student youíre visiting your first one to attend Texas Tech?
  Yes ___   No___ 

Some educators feel that, while parents can play an important role in supporting and advising their college-student children, too much intervention may hinder the studentís development of skills to become self-sufficient.  For each item, please check off whether you feel the parental action falls within the scope of proper support or may take away from the studentís development of self-sufficiency.

Proper form of support/
beneficial

Hinders becoming self-sufficient

Going with their student on job or school-related interviews or appointments.

 

 

Expressing strong preference for what the student should major in.

 

 

Checking up on the studentís course requirements (e.g., via online syllabi/calendar) to remind student about upcoming tests.

 

 

Making calls to set up the studentís appointments or take care of other errands.

 

 

Assist with cleaning studentís dorm room, doing laundry, etc. 

 

 

How often do you typically communicate with your student?

More than once a day____    Daily____    Two or three times a week____    About weekly____

Two or three times a month____    About once a month____    Less than once a month____

How do you communicate with your student? Please indicate for each of the following how frequently you use the method (please check one box per row).

 

Very Frequently

Frequently

Less Frequently

Rarely

Donít Use This Method

In person

 

 

 

 

 

Studentís cell phone

 

 

 

 

 

Studentís landline phone

 

 

 

 

 

E-mail

 

 

 

 

 

Regular mail

 

 

 

 

 

Text messaging

 

 

 

 

 

Instant messaging

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook (or other networking site)

 

 

 

 

 

Skype (or other online video)

 

 

 

 

 

Listed in the following chart is a set of matters pertaining to your studentís time at the university. We would like to know, since the beginning of the current (Fall 2010) semester, has your student requested your assistance or advice on each matter AND did you personally contact the university regarding your student on each matter?

(Please check off all the topics that apply.)

 

Student requested your assistance

You contacted the university

Health and safety

 

 

Finances/financial aid/billing

 

 

Academics/courses/advising

 

 

Faculty dispute

 

 

Time management

 

 

Campus or community involvement opportunities

 

 

Career planning

 

 

Personal relationships

 

 

Housing/roommate issues

 

 

Physical health concerns

 

 

Mental health concerns

 

 

None

 

 

Other (please specify)

 

 

 If you attended college, how would you compare the level of your involvement/communication with your student to the involvement/communication your parents had with you during college? (Please check or put an ďXĒ over the appropriate box.)

Iím much more involved with my student (than my parents were with me)

Iím more involved

 

About the same

Iím less involved

Iím much less involved

Check here _____ if not applicable.

The fact that youíre attending Family Weekend shows that youíre an involved parent. Below is a list of possible reasons why parents may take a strong interest in how their students are doing in college. Please check off the reason(s) that you agree with. 

___ Parents often pay all or some of studentsí tuition, and so parents are entitled to see what their money is going to.

___ Personal safety on college campuses is now a bigger problem than it was in the past.

___ Wanting to do everything you can to help your student be successful.

___ Just wanting to stay connected to your student. 

If you have any opinions about the proper role of parents in helping their children do well in college, while still letting them develop the skills to be self-sufficient, please write them on the back of this sheet.

 


 Summer 2010 Study

For our summer study, we surveyed incoming students and their parents (or other adult guardians) attending Texas Tech's New Student Orientation (only in the College of Human Sciences). Unlike the spring project (which surveyed only students; see below), the summer version would allow us to compare the responses of students and their parents.

Just for some background, the University of Michigan reports that, "About 50% of new students have family members that attend Parent & Family Orientation. The majority of these families have never sent a student to college before, or at least never sent a student to Michigan before." Although many universities permit parents to attend orientation with their incoming-student children and sometimes even have structured programs for the parents, there are some institutions that do not allow parents to accompany students.  Other schools allow parents to attend orientation, but are very clear in telling parents when it's time to leave. It will be interesting to learn about parent-student dynamics during orientation.

As shown in the following questionnaires, we'll be able to see what factors are possibly associated with parents attending orientation, such as whether the parents attended Texas Tech, and whether the student they're accompanying is the first in the family to attend college (or Texas Tech, specifically). The summer results are not yet available, but will be posted as soon as possible.

Questionnaires for Summer 2010 Project

Incoming-Student Version 

Please put a checkmark by your selected answers.

What is your gender? Male___   Female___

What is your racial/ethnic group?   White/European-American___   Black/African-American__ Hispanic/Latino___   Asian/Pacific Islander___   Native American/American Indian___   Other___

In terms of driving distance, how far away does your family live from Lubbock (if not in Lubbock)?
In Lubbock___, Less than
Ĺ hour ___, Ĺ hour to 1 hour ___, 1-2 hrs ___, 2-3 hrs ___, More than 3 hrs ___

For the next four items, please write in a score from 1 to 4, where 1 = Donít agree at all, and 4 = Completely agree.

I go to my parents for help before trying to solve a problem myself.___

Itís better for young people to go to their best friend than to their parents for advice on some things. ___

When Iíve done something wrong, I depend on my parents to straighten things out for me.___

If I was having a problem with one of my friends, I would discuss it with my mother or father before deciding what to do about it.___ 

Some educators feel that, while parents can play an important role in supporting and advising their college-student children, too much intervention may hinder the studentís development of skills to become self-sufficient.  For each item, please check off whether you feel the parental action falls within the scope of proper support or may take away from the studentís development of self-sufficiency.

Proper form of support/
beneficial

Hinders becoming
self-sufficient

Going with their child on job or school-related interviews or appointments.

 

 

Expressing strong preference for what child should major in.

 

 

Checking up on childís course requirements (e.g., via online syllabi/calendar) to remind child about upcoming tests.

 

 

Making calls to set up childís appointments or take care of
other errands.

 

 

Assist with cleaning childís dorm room, doing laundry, etc. 

 

 

Whose idea was it for your parents to attend orientation with you?
Primarily yours___   Primarily your parents___   Mutual/Both equally___

So far, are you happy your parents are here, or would you rather be attending by yourself?
Happy parents are here.___
   Rather attend alone.___

 [STUDENTS WERE INSTRUCTED TO WRITE "N/A" IF THEY WERE AT ORIENTATION ALONE.]

If you have any opinions about the proper role of parents in helping their children do well in college, while still letting them develop the skills to be self-sufficient, please write them on the back of this sheet.

 

Parent Version

Please put a checkmark by your selected answers.

What is your relation to the incoming student?   Father___   Mother___    Stepfather___    Stepmother___
Other relative___
   Non-relative___

What is your racial/ethnic group?   White/European-American___   Black/African-American__ Hispanic/Latino___   Asian/Pacific Islander___   Native American/American Indian___   Other___

What is your education level?   Less than high school diploma___   High school diploma___ Two-year college/Trade School___ Bachelorís degree___   Masterís___ Professional (PhD, MD, Law) __

---------- If you are a college graduate, did you go to Texas Tech? Yes ___   No___

Is the child youíre accompanying today your first one to attend college?  Yes ___   No___
Is the child youíre accompanying today your first one to attend Texas Tech?
  Yes ___   No___ 

Some educators feel that, while parents can play an important role in supporting and advising their college-student children, too much intervention may hinder the studentís development of skills to become self-sufficient.  For each item, please check off whether you feel the parental action falls within the scope of proper support or may take away from the studentís development of self-sufficiency.

Proper form of support/
beneficial

Hinders becoming
self-sufficient

Going with their child on job or school-related interviews or appointments.

 

 

Expressing strong preference for what child should major in.

 

 

Checking up on childís course requirements (e.g., via online syllabi/calendar) to remind child about upcoming tests.

 

 

Making calls to set up childís appointments or take care of
other errands.

 

 

Assist with cleaning childís dorm room, doing laundry, etc. 

 

 

Whose idea was it for you to attend orientation with your child?
Primarily your child's___
   Primarily yours___   Mutual/Both equally___

Did you attend your studentís orientation primarily because you felt they would need your assistance to understand the proceedings, or in order to enhance your own understanding of what your studentís college experience would be?
Needs my assistance___   Enhance my own understanding___   For both reasons___ 

If you have any opinions about the proper role of parents in helping their children do well in college, while still letting them develop the skills to be self-sufficient, please write them on the back of this sheet.

 


Summer 2010 class students' statements on what they're interested in learning from the survey

...how many parents came with the children for the orientation

...if a majority of the kids actually want their parents to attend with them.

...if it was more the parents' idea or the students' idea to come together to orientation.

...the differences between students who come with their parents and students who come alone.

...why parents came to the orientation. ...because their child wants them to go? [or] ...they wanted to learn about the campus?

*...what purpose does the parents' [being there] serve?

...how many of the students' parents came to the student orientation if the student is from out of state. [We ended up asking about long-distance separation in terms of hours' drive from Texas Tech, not state boundaries.]

...if most parents are helicopter parents.

...how many parents would go on job interviews, etc., with their child.

*Did the students learn a sense of independence from their experience? Or since their parents accompanied them, did they stay sheltered?

*...the outcomes of the students who went to [Red Raider Orientation] alone and those who were escorted by their parents. Also if it made a difference in the way they adjusted to the college life style, if the students who came alone adapted better then those who came with their parents, and which students tended to be more home sick.

...the differences between boys and girls [in their opinions about parental involvement].

...if this is the parent's first child to go to college... ...would it make a difference if the child is the oldest, middle, or youngest [regarding the level of parental involvement]?

...if there is a high percent of parents that are TTU alumni that escort their children to orientation.

...of the parents who attended orientation with their student, what portion of them had never attended college vs. those who had previously been to college.

...if this is [the parents'] first child at Tech. I would think that if they had other children at Tech, the parents would be less likely to attend orientation with them.

...how the parents' and students' answers compared to each other.

...the parents' perspective on [the appropriateness of different types of parental involvement].

*...if the parents who are attending the orientation with their student are paying for the cost of tuition and or books. It would also be interesting to see how many of them are paying for their child's cell phone or any other living expenses such as rent, vehicle payment or insurance.

...whether or not the survey sample we obtained was large enough to make a valid conclusion about parental involvement and their child's developmental skills.

 *Will require further research beyond Summer 2010 study to find the answers to these questions.


Spring 2010 Study

 In the Spring 2010 semester, the class wrote questions for an initial survey and administered it online to a sample of Texas Tech students (using a university-supported program called Qualtrics).  Our sampling frame consisted of students who allowed their e-mail addresses to be published in the university directory.  The survey asked the students about whether their parents had engaged in particular monitoring behaviors and what the students' opinions were about such parental intervention.  The chart below shows the wording of the questionnaire and some initial results.  Further down are some articles and other resources on the subject matter...

  SPRING 2010 STUDENT QUESTIONNAIRE AND RESULTS
(Sample size [n] = 96; 95 for a few items due to missing data)
  INSTRUCTION:  "Below is a list of actions parents might take, with the aim of helping their children in college.  For each listed action, you should answer the three accompanying questions.  You may skip any questions you do not wish to answer, and may cease participation at any time without penalty."
  [Each parental action appears here, one at a time]

Have your parents done this during the time you have been in college?
__yes, __no
    
What is your view of the appropriateness of  parents (in general) taking this action? Check off a number from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate):  1     2     3     4      5

Have you ever tried to get your parents to take this action? __yes, __no
  Parents going with on children's job or college interviews.

7 students reported that their parents had done this (3 times at the request of the student, 4 times with the student not requesting such assistance).

89 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 2 students had requested their parents' assistance)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
1.84

  Parents making major academic decisions for their child (e.g., choosing the university the child is attending or the child's major).

12 students reported that their parents had done this (5 times at the request of the student, 7 times with the student not requesting such assistance).

83 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 3 students had requested their parents' assistance)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
2.17
  Parents making major personal decisions for the child (e.g., whom to date, what jobs to apply for or take).

17 students reported that their parents had done this (8 times at the request of the student, 9 times with the student not requesting such assistance).

79 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 1 student had requested their parents' assistance)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
2.16
  Parents asking children about their academic progress (e.g.., homework, tests, syllabi).

88 students reported that their parents had done this (35 times at the request of the student, 53 times with the student not requesting such assistance).

8 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 3 students had requested their parents' assistance)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
4.40
  Parents monitoring children's academic progress outside of children's awareness (e.g. attempting to access syllabi online, contacting professors or advisors).

5 students reported that their parents had done this (1time at the request of the student, 4 times with the student not requesting such assistance).

91 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 2 students had requested their parents' assistance)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate):
1.92

  Parents contacting child's friends, classmates, and roommates for information on their child.

9 students reported that their parents had done this (never at the request of the student).

87 students reported that their parents had not done this (no students had requested that their parents do this)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate):
1.77
  Parents checking into their child's monthly financial, phone, or other records.

47 students reported that their parents had done this (13 times at the request of the student, 34 times with the student not requesting their parents to do so).

49 students reported that their parents had not done this (no students had requested them to do so)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
2.95

  Parents providing extensive material assistance to their child (e.g., paying all bills, giving free access to parents' credit cards, coming over to clean child's home, making phone calls to set up appointments for child).

52 students reported that their parents had done this (37 times at the request of the student, 15 times with the student not requesting such assistance).

44 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 4 students had requested their parents' assistance)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
2.92
  Parents insisting on knowing child's password to monitor children's financial activities (in exchange for parents paying bills).

16 students reported that their parents had done this (10 times at the request of the student, 6 times with the student not requesting that it be done).

79 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 3 students seemed agreeable to this)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
2.96
  Parents taking over, rather than trying to help solve, problems (going well beyond normal parental advice).

7 students reported that their parents had done this (never at the request of the student).

89 students reported that their parents had not done this (even though 2 students had requested their parents to do so)

Students' average appropriateness rating of parents taking this action, from 1 (extremely inappropriate) to 5 (extremely appropriate): 
1.73
  DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE SAMPLE (number in each category)
 

 
What grade (or year) of school are you in?
Freshman 14; Sophomore 9; Junior 12; Senior 26; Graduate student 34

What is your gender?
Male 45; Female 51

What is your racial/ethnic group?
White/European-American 73;  Black/African-American 3;  Hispanic/Latino 11;
Asian/Pacific Islander 5; Native American/American Indian 1; Other 3

What is your parents' education level (if mother and father differ, use the higher of the two)?
Less than high school diploma 3
;  High school diploma 16;
Two-year college/Associate/Trade School
8; Bachelorís degree (four-year college) 38;
Masterís degree
22; Professional degree (Ph. D., Medical Doctor,  Law Degree, etc.)
9
 





FOR FURTHER READING ON THE TOPIC...

New York Times Sunday Magazine article on "What Is It About 20-Somethings?"
(helicopter parents are discussed at the bottom of the fifth page)

Los Angeles Times article on parents attending their children's college orientations

New York Times article on sending parents on their way at the end of move-in day

Los Angeles Times article on college students and their parents staying in touch via the latest communications technology

New York Times article on parents getting second homes in their children's college towns

Conference paper from NSSE: "When Parents Hover"

Publisher page for "The Trophy Kids Grow Up" (Chapter 1 freely available)

Pew "Gen Next" Survey (see p. 21, "Turning to Family for Help")

Wall St. Journal article on college and "overinvolved" parents

Parent Surveys from the University of Minnesota

Lecture notes on this topic from Dr. Reifman's "Development in Young Adulthood" (HDFS 3318) webpage

Dr. Reifman's faculty webpage

Back to Research Methods (HDFS 3390) webpage