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Helicopter parents reach college; expert offers tips

Friday - 9/5/2014, 7:32am  ET

As tempting as it may be to help your child write a college admission essay, or offer reminders for deadlines, a parenting expert says the best thing to do is stand back. (Thinkstock)

How not to help your kids with college

Leslie Morgan Steiner, parenting expert and blogger for


WASHINGTON -- It's common to spot helicopter parents hovering around toddlers on the playground, or even middle school students on the soccer field. But those over-parenting propellers are increasingly extending into a new scene: college campuses.

Recent research published in the journal Education + Training reveals that helicopter parenting is more of an issue than ever at colleges, and the implications pack a punch.

Over-parenting of college students causes them to feel inadequate to complete tasks and reach goals -- a problem that can affect future job positions and work performance, the research reports.

But before the problems get that far, parenting expert Leslie Morgan Steiner says, the time to step back and give your student some independence is during the college application process.

Steiner, a blogger for, has a 17-year-old high school senior who's just beginning to apply to colleges. She admits it's harder than she ever imagined not to micromanage his application process.

"I think that standing back and letting our kids apply to college on their own actually feels like parental neglect," says Steiner, who says she sometimes even hears of parents who set up email accounts in their kids' names to send in their applications or write admission essays for their children.

"And I have to always say to myself, ‘Look, I already did my homework; I already took my SATs; I already applied to college. I'm done.'"

However hard it may be, Steiner says, it's important for parents to limit their involvement.

"I think a good rule of thumb is to try to ask your child about the application process only once or twice a week, and not bombard them every day with 'Have you done this; have you done that,' because that just adds to [the stress]," she says.

If parents feel that the only way their kids will send in their applications on time is with constant nudging and nagging from mom or dad, then maybe it's not meant to be just yet.

"If they're not ready to apply to college and meet [deadlines] on their own, maybe they're not quite ready to go to college yet," Steiner says. "And it's a very important time in a parent's life to stand back and let your kid maybe make a few mistakes and pay the consequences, but be stronger and more independent in the long run."

If and when college applicants send off their materials, Steiner says, maintaining a low level of anxiety and excitement is just as important as not penning their personal statement -- especially on the days early admission or regular admission letters are expected. Her advice? Go out of town around those days.

"It's excruciating for the kids, everywhere they go, to be asked, ‘Did you get in? What are you going to do?' Kids are obsessed about this enough as it is, and I think for me, as a parent, I have to not add to that frenzy," Steiner says.

She also suggests parents ask their kids how much information they can share with others. Steiner says she received this bit of advice from a student going through the college application process.

"Because everybody asks -- including the mailman," she says. "And you've got to know from the kid what you're allowed to say and not. Because sometimes, we parents, if we get obsessed with it, we really over-share, and it just makes it a disaster for the kid. And also, it complicates our relationship with our own child."

Steiner acknowledges that standing back is harder than charging ahead for some parents, but if the recent research is any indication, giving your college-bound student some independence when it comes to handling a task such as applying to college will give them the confidence they need to troubleshoot problems that arise when they're on their own next fall.

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