by Maggie Sutton
Student Affairs professionals, whether they like it are not, are trained to spot them before they even make it to the Help Desk table. If you’re a NODA Intern or a professional in New Student Orientation, you can hear them coming before you see them. You can hear the loud swoop of their blades as they move through the air - hovering just behind their students’ shoulder, waiting to land and crush everyone in their path that stand in their way to the Vice President of Student Affairs. You know who I’m talking about - Helicopter Parents.
The first side effect of a Helicopter Parent that you can spot is that you start to see the same parents over and over again at the Help Desk. Each time they ask a question, their voice is panicked and high pitched - like someone is trying to take their most prized possession away from them.
They stand with fixed, furrowed brows of eternal unhappiness - no matter how many cheers, dances, or hurrahs the Orientation Leaders do to get the crowd excited, no matter how many questions you answer or attempt, you make to reassure them - they are relentlessly unsatisfied with their surroundings.
Another indication that you have a Helicopter Parent on your hands is that they ignore the “Parent, Family, & Guest” only sessions during orientation on their schedule and insist on having a copy of the student schedule so they can follow them to their sessions - in spite of all of the time, money, research, and meticulous planning you put into planning the parent sessions.
A word of warning - they become especially enraged when they learn they were not invited to participate in their student’s academic advising session - so much so that they attempt to “break in” to the advising session, or demand to speak to the VP of Student Affairs, or even the President of the university.
You can sometimes distract these individuals and entertain them for a period of time with shiny “Special Parent Giveaways.” These can be anything from free mugs, t-shirts, lanyards, canvas grocery bags - these are the only things that seem to keep the Helicopter Parents satisfied for a short period of time. Beware, however - if you run out of “UAH Mom” car decals, you may have a dangerous attack situation on your hands.
Offspring of Helicopter Parents are sometimes sullen and irritable, saying things like “Mom I’m fine. You can go now.” repeatedly to no avail. Others, have a wide-eyed expression, that seems to say, “Help me, I’m trapped.”
After patiently answering the 50th question from a particularly difficult parent, I turned and asked my supervisor how she deals with these types of relatives of students every single day. She shrugged and said, matter-of-factly, “I don’t use the ‘H’ word, and I just remind myself that they do it because they love their kids.”
Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, a light bulb went off, and I began to see these “H” word parents in a different way. Unfortunately, not all students have parents and family members who love and care about them as much as these parents do. Rather than be frustrated with them, I should be grateful that these families care about the futures of their children. They have a hard time “letting go” not because they want to make our lives miserable, but because they love their kid. And what is so horrible about that? Nothing.
Now, in my third week with UAH, I have a new found attitude regarding “H” word parents. Whenever I see them coming, I do my best to reassure them that their student is taken care of, and try to put myself in their position. I adjust my attitude from irritation to gratitude for the love and sacrifices that these families have made for their students.
Chronicles of a NODA Intern: A New Perspective on an Old “H” Word
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