'Helicopter Parenting:' Tips on Letting Go

By GalTime Teen Expert Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, Psy.D.

Are you guilty of being a helicopter parent?Are you guilty of being a helicopter parent?letting go of your college bound teen

Sending your first teen off to college is both exciting and anxiety provoking. As a parent there is much pride and joy associated with the experience.

Your child has done well. He has grown into the intelligent, insightful young man you'd hope he would become. You have every right to pat yourself on the back, as you clearly had a hand in helping him achieve this milestone. So how come it is so hard for you to let go?

The reality is that sending your teen off to college can feel like a leap of faith. For some parents the loss can result in an overwhelming urge to try to take control of a situation that is supposed to encourage, autonomy and independence; enter the helicopter parent.

Related: Coping With Empty Nest Syndrome

If your stomach is churning with fear as you read this because you secretly worry that you have just been called out, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you continuously call or text your collegian?

  • Do you get annoyed when you do not hear back immediately from your collegian?

  • Do you encourage your collegian to come home often?

  • Have you already made plans to visit next weekend, although she has only been at school for less than a week?

  • Do you offer to have him send his laundry home so that you can wash and fold it?

  • Do you constantly check your cell phone to see if she has tried to contact you?

  • When you do speak to your collegian do you get upset if she tells you she can't talk because she has to study or go to class?

  • Do you barrage your collegian with questions about his life at school and get upset when he fails to offer every detail?

  • Do you try to contact your collegian at times when you know she will be available-- like 6am when you know her first class isn't until 10am?

  • If you live relatively close to your collegian's school, do you find excuses to drop stuff off (like home cooked meals) or pop in to say hello?

  • When you call your collegian do you also ask to speak to her roommate or friends?

If you answered 'yes' to even one of these questions, you need to shut down your propellers and land your helicopter!

Related: 7 Toxic Parenting Styles. Are You Guilty?

Here are a few thoughts on how to back away without backing off completely:

  1. Once she arrives at school and has figured out her daily schedule set up specific telephone times and days. These prearranged calls time will benefit both you and your collegian. Avoid contacting her at other times unless of course it is absolutely necessary. She will be more willing to talk with you when the calls take her schedule into consideration.

  2. Do not 'drop by' unannounced. This intrusive behavior may send the message to your teen that you do not trust him or think he is responsible enough to go it alone.

  3. Avoid planning trips to visit her without talking to her first. You don't want to spend money on a train or plane ticket only to find out that your weekend visit is right before midterms or finals.

  4. Asking questions is okay; insisting on answers, however, may shut him down. If, for example, you want to know about his roommate and his friends accept what he is willing to offer. At all costs, do not air your own negative opinions or judgments, especially about his roommate. Remember, you are not the one that has to live with the roommate!

  5. There are some things, quite frankly, you probably don't want to know about her life at college, nor should you. College provides an opportunity for your teen to grow into a young adult. It this structured and somewhat contained environment, she has the opportunity to truly spread her wings, it is important for her to learn to fly alone. After all have you ever seen a bird flying tandem with its mother?

  6. Seek the support of understanding friends and family. It is okay to feel unsure and anxious, just don't turn to your collegian for support. You wouldn't want to ruin your child's experience by making her feel guilty or worried about you.

  7. Seek out a circle of support from others in a similar situation. It is important to have your own network of friends and family. It is especially helpful to speak with parents who are currently going through the same experience, or who have already had the experience.

  8. Finally remember, this isn't about you, this is her time, step back and bask in the light of her accomplishments.

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