Parents like these want to make sure their children get the most out of college from day one, but few parents understand what "the most" means. George Kuh, PhD, however, has been thinking about that topic nonstop for almost a decade. Since 2000 he has conducted the annual National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which measures what conditions make for the most beneficial college experience.
In 2007, for the first time, Kuh, an Indiana University professor of higher education, had his team ask undergraduate students (about 9,000 on 24 campuses) how often they were in touch with their parents, as well as the effect of that contact. The findings surprised members of the team: "The bottom line," Kuh says, "was that, contrary to popular opinion, students with involved parents tend to study more, have more frequent contacts with faculty, report greater gains in critical thinking during college, write more clearly, and talk to their peers more often about substantive issues than students with less involved parents."
Kuh finds it extremely interesting that the students benefited from contact with parents whether their parents were college educated or not. "That's counterintuitive," he says, "because kids of highly educated people usually have advantages. Not just money but social capital."
Although his findings indicate that parental involvement offers across-the-board advantages, Kuh believes there has to be "a tipping point between beneficial contact and the kind that stunts personal growth." Where exactly that point is, his survey can't measure. In their 1990 book, Parenting with Love and Logic, Fay and Cline argued that helicopter parenting actually failed to prepare children for the pitfalls of adult life, but it will take years to determine if their suspicions were correct.
In the meantime, university-parent relationship consultant Helen Johnson says you can recognize a child whose parents have been too enmeshed in his or her life. "Some become 'hothouse' children," she says. "They feel they can't do anything on their own, because they simply never have." Others can't take criticism because they think everyone should love them unconditionally, as their parents always have. By far the most commonly reported problem facing helicoptered children is an inability to cope with the normal, inevitable frustrations of early adulthood.
"[This generation is] incredibly capable," says the Fortune 500 recruiter. "They're very technologically savvy, very aspirational, and they are very efficient because they've grown up with three things attached to them at all times—a BlackBerry, a cell phone, and a computer. But they want to be on a fast track very quickly. They want to know: What are the five things I need to do to get from point A to point B? And, if I do those five things, will point B come a little bit sooner for me?" These young adults expect an express lane to the top.
Last summer a young intern, four weeks into his job at a multinational bank, e-mailed the CEO to say he was disappointed because he had been in on very few client meetings. He asked the CEO to contact him directly to resolve the issue, says the still shocked recruiter.
This sense of entitlement poses huge problems for both young workers and American business, says Dan Nagy, an associate dean of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. "A generation ago college graduates stayed in their first job an average of four years. Today they stay an average of two years. And that two years becomes one year if the environment isn't rewarding enough." As Nagy explains, that high rate of turnover isn't good for the company or an individual's career.
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