- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

HAMILTON, N.Y. (AP) — They are called “helicopter parents,” for their habit of hovering — hyper-involved — over their children’s lives. At Colgate University, as elsewhere, they have become increasingly bold in recent years, telephoning administrators to complain about their children’s housing assignments, roommates and grades.

One parent recently demanded to know what Colgate planned to do about the sub-par plumbing her daughter encountered on a study-abroad trip to China.

“That’s just part of how this generation has been raised,” said Mark Thompson, head of Colgate’s counseling services. “You add a $40,000 price tag for a school like Colgate, and you have high expectations for what you get.”

For years, officials here responded to such calls by biting their tongues and making an effort to keep parents happy.

But at freshman orientation here last week, parents heard a different message: Colgate is making educating students a higher priority than customer service. The liberal-arts college of 2,750 students has concluded that helicopter parenting has gotten out of hand, undermining the out-of-the-classroom lessons on problem-solving, seeking help and compromise that should be part of a college education.

Those lessons can’t be learned if the response to every difficulty is a call to Mom and Dad for help.

“We have a generation of parents that are heavily involved in their students’ lives, and it causes all sorts of problems,” said Dean of the College Adam Weinberg. College, he said, should be “a time when you go from living in someone else’s house to becoming a functioning, autonomous person.”

Colgate says it has ample resources to help students. When parents call, unless there is a safety risk, they usually are told to encourage their children to seek those resources themselves.

Heightened parental involvement has been one of the biggest changes on college campuses in the past decade, people familiar with the subject say. One major reason is the tight bond between baby boomers and their children.

“This is a group of parents who have been more involved in their children’s development since in utero on than any generation in American history,” said Helen E. Johnson, one of the authors of “Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money,” a guide for college parents.

Another factor is cell phones. The era of the 10-minute weekly check-in from the pay phone in the hall has given way to nearly constant contact. Rob Sobelman, a Colgate sophomore, said when students walk out of a test, many dial home immediately to report how it went. One friend checks in with her mother every night before going to sleep, he said.

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