The Three Types of Parents and the Importance of Partnership

After my first year back at my alma mater, I have been reflecting on some of my experiences with students and their parents. Particularly after a recent interaction with a parent after an orientation presentation, I was reminded of my classification system I created for parents:

  • Nonexistent: These parents are the ones that are barely (or not at all) involved in their children’s affairs. They provide little to no financial support and tend to avoid asking questions for their kids. Administrators interact with these parents the least.
  • Helicopter Parents: Probably the most common of the interactions, the millennial generation has included the rise of parents who want to have more significant involvement in their children’s lives. Financial, housing and even course selection are in the realm of arenas these parents like to get involved. Interactions with helicopter parents are generally amicable but these parents also have a tendency to hang around and continue to ask more questions.
  • Fighter Pilot Parents: A term that I came up with in order to capture their intensity, these parents are on the attack until they get what they want. While helicopter parents have been described as assertive in their pursuit of information, fighter pilot parents are much more aggressive in their attack and at times go beyond reason. Often times, they end up simply needing to vent about a situation they do not understand or agree with, but other times, they are persistent in their pursuit to force administrators or educators to adjust their policies or procedures for their child.

A parent I recently interacted with was one of these fighter pilot parents. She caught me after the information session to ask a question about the housing options for her daughter, who was accepted into a living-learning program. The mother was concerned with the location of the living-learning program in terms of its distance from the corresponding academic department, but she was also concerned with her daughter living on an all-female floor and missing out on a diverse floor community. While the concerns are understandable, the reality of the situation was that the living-learning program was placed where there was office space and a floor that could be dedicated, but the concept of a living-learning community is that it allows students engaging in similar experiences to both go to classes together and live in the same environment. While I attempted to explain this, the mother kept turning the conversation back around to a complaining fest. In an effort to give her the necessary information, I gave her the phone number for the assignments office, but she wanted to continue to complain about the location of the program and her options to get her daughter into a different living-learning program. In the end, several other parents who were waiting could not stay around long enough to ask their questions and the mother still walked away angry.

Working with parents requires patience and clear communication. One of the challenges of millennial students is that they have become accustomed to or have been raised to allow their parents to take a more active role in their lives. Since the students will not necessarily ask the questions themselves or manage their parents’ involvement, the parents are actually a way that we as administrators can covertly get their children to take responsibility. The case that I described above was one in which this fighter pilot parent could not be appeased, but most parents are willing to listen if you can give them answers. I purposely talk about how their children should call “x” office in order to provide their information and get the answer they are looking for. In the end, I am sure that many parents still make the calls or visit the offices themselves, but I know that some of them actually get their children involved in the process and potentially just relay the information so their children can take care of the issue themselves.

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