We’ve all heard of them, helicopter patents, parents that are almost too involved in their kids lives, who debate with teachers on homework, grades, projects, class assignments, who design their kids study schedules and nag them incessantly to study. We all know the parents who do this even into college calling their kids to remind them of exams, remind them to study remind them of obligations, wake up calls for class and for work, who are not only watchful of their child’s friends but a fixture in those relationships. Not only is this detrimental to children as they do not develop intrinsic motivation to do things like study, show up on time for work or learn how to manage their obligations, it has a negative impact on society as well because it stunts adult problem solving skills and not just when dealing with young people.
For instance one college now has a policy of calling students parents if they are seen or found on campus drunk, not arrested for DUI or any such offence but simply seen drunk and disorderly for example. While many parents support this whole-heartedly, one saying they are paying for the education and have a right to know, it is hardly the best way to handle such problems. From the college’s standpoint, any college not just this one, they have the option to become a dry campus where alcohol is not allowed. Other options include having students arrested if they are that drunk and disorderly, if they are disturbing the peace. Having a policy you get caught drunk you get a warning, the next time you face removal from the dorm, if it happens again, you get kicked out of school; having them pay for damages to dorms and other property, particularly over the amount of say $500, set up a payment plan before they can return to school the next semester or year, withholding academic credits for non payment. All of these give the student a wake up call to the adult world of responsibility, the adult world of actions have consequences. When they are arrested, when they have to get a job or another one to rectify the effects of their behavior, it makes them think about it.
Another positive for colleges is these above steps curb the ongoing problem of on campus drinking, out of control keg parties, frat parties, binge drinking better than calling parents, the possible lecture to ensue, only serving to escalate the student’s drinking and other risky activities. It realistically addresses what to do with students who are, for the most part, 18 and legally adults, the fact parents cannot be held accountable for student actions; it reinforces the message that this is the real world, making the college appear stronger, more in a position of authority, as opposed to giving students the idea that if I get caught, all they are going to do is call mom and dad. Likewise it is a clear way to handle instances where parents do not care or they are not paying their child’s tuition and therefore have less leverage to influence their child’s choices. It also keeps students in school, paying tuition, putting bodies in seats lest panicked parents pull their kid out of the college they currently attend for one closer to home or book them a space in rehab, whether they need it or not.
Which brings up the next point, as a parent it becomes a question of what are you going to do, pull the child out of the town, out of the state college they attend and force them to go to one closer to home? Of those who championed being told of their kid’s behavior because they were footing the bill, at least in part, for school, are you going to withhold the tuition money so they come back home and take up residence on your couch saying well mom and dad you cut off the tuition money even with a job, the job I have I can’t afford tuition and books, what do you want me to do? And they be absolutely correct in their assessment; how does that benefit your child? Are you going to haul your child off to rehab, do the research, spend that kind of money for the sake of a kid who got drunk once, for a kid who thought they were drinking only beer it turned out to be harder liquor and they are more sick than drunk and disorderly. At the same time, are you going to punish a kid who does have a work study or other type of job, who gets good grades, for experimenting with both who they are and their limits; are you going to take the chance of destroying the relationship, making the problem with one of the few children who cuold be becoming an alcoholic worse, by intervening too soon?
One of the negatives for both the college and parents with the policy employed by that campus, or even the suggested alternative actions is that it could increase death or injury to students who end up in a binge drinking or other dangerous alcohol related situation and are afraid to call for help, afraid of getting kicked out of school, afraid of their parents reactions, afraid of being in trouble with the police. The other option on the table is to leave current policies in place; colleges still have the right to dismantle fraternities and sororities that are in violation of school rules, continually causing damages, breaking the law. They can still hold these institutions accountable for damages, students disturbing the peace or truly drunk and disorderly. By adopting the policy of calling parents on drunken students they are opening themselves up to lawsuits based on privacy law and confidentiality as well.
Colleges aren’t the only ones trying to deal with kids and drinking or folding in policies that make it look like a “nanny state” or “nanny culture;” a high school in New York made the unpopular decision to hold the prom on a school night and those who attended must show up for class the next day or face academic and other consequences. Why, because of drinking at prom after parties, incidence of alcohol poisoning as well as an increase in accidents between March and May, prom season; what is disconcerting about the school’s decision is not just putting a damper on a rite of passage, eliminating the possibility of being up all night talking to your prom date, your high school sweetheart, just being able to enjoy the moment without having to worry about the test the next day or the responsibility for one night. It is more than just the preparation, planning and expense put into this event for teens. The bigger issue here is these are not flasks, kegs or any kind of liquor being brought into the prom venue, not about alcohol being present at school sponsored events; it is about what students do after they have left the prom and the school’s jurisdiction.
Here is a classic case of over reaching that goes beyond the students; many parents objected to what the school planned to do as it usurped their rights as parents to decide what their kids could and could not do on prom night, but they were overruled by the PTA who stood firm in their decision. The problem is we beg parents to get involved, be parents and when they do they are overridden by school officials and other entities. In this case the preventive measures being enacted, while they seemed to work in this instance, may not work in the future. Because, the requirement was to show up to school the next day, there is nothing that says they can’t or won’t show up to school hung over. There is nothing to say that students won’t go to a prom after party with every intention of going to school the next day and get into an accident on the way home, possibly die.
Restrictions like the ones tried in New York also make the assumption that alcohol is the biggest factor in accidents i.e. the March to May spike of car accidents, disregarding things such as the warming weather giving them cabin fever, spring is the wettest time across the country causing accidents, kids just getting their license and being inexperienced on the road more likely to get in an accident, kids having gotten their first car and wanting to show it off to their friends, their prom date being more reckless. Schools putting in such protection have the side effect of not letting kids make a mistake and then learn from it. At the same time the school’s responsibility, authority cannot and should not extend beyond the safe sponsored venue they provide, after that it is up to parents and the students themselves to regulate behavior.
Their approach almost seems backwards according to what they know and highlights one more problem in the culture today; the principal of the New York school was interviewed by Good Morning America, where the story aired, saying that they know kids drink, that parents are in denial if they think it isn’t their kid. Given that they know kids are going to drink, why not teach them how to self protect, teach them what to do if they find themselves in a bad situation; it is what is missing from school drunk driving awareness and parent talks. All we do is lecture kids don’t do it, don’t do it not how to deal with a bad situation, not only stressing of course the importance of abstaining from underage drinking the legal and physical consequences for them and their friends, but teaching them, if you find yourself in a bad situation do the following: things like calling a cab, calling their parents, calling a trusted adult if they even think they might be drunk. If they and a group of friends are going to a prom after party, or a party where there even might be alcohol, choose a designated driver. That is what we teach the adults we hope they become, so why not teach them at junctures like this when it can do the most good?
Technology also plays a roll in helicopter parenting cell phones with GPS trackers are a wonderful new tool to know where your kids are; for younger children there are monitors you can place in your child’s backpack or their shoe that will let you know where they are at all times. However experts say there is a drawback to all these gadgets, especially in relating to teens, is that too often parents simply turn their kids loose and rely on the technology to keep track of them rather than teaching the child the responsibility of coming home at a given time of being where he said he was going to. One mom found her son at a party, when he disappeared for hours, never having told him she could track him in such a way. Driving monitoring software is a popular thing to put in the cars of teens that tracks speed, sudden acceleration, sudden stops and other risky road behavior; while it gives a sense of security teens see it as an invasion of privacy and overbearing. Parents are now employing at home drug tests to make sure the kids are not on drugs.
With the proliferation of the internet parents have one more thing to monitor that becomes a glaring example of not teaching kids how to handle situations instead doling out only lectures of what not to do or jumping in themselves and trying to fix it. One mom monitoring her sons Facebook page saw a young teen girl cussing at him; she proceeded to lecture him on classless behavior, then got in an argument with the 13 year old girl about the woman’s view of kids using cuss words. The woman was further offended when the girl defended her position, eventually telling her whatever. She then advised her son, almost to the point of demanding, that he take the comments down. A woman made headlines for impersonating a teen on line in order to avenge their child taunting the victim until they committed suicide and the woman faced legal charges.
Above are examples of a growing problem, adults with astoundingly poor problem solving skills; there is a better way. Having rules when you give your child privileges, discussing behavior expectations, possible dangers and ways to handle potential situations. For instance experts say buying your kid a car is a bad idea letting them work toward fixing a vehicle or saving their own money, or part of it, for a car teaches them respect for it; making kids ask to borrow your car, ask for the keys makes them more responsible. Limiting the number of friends you let your child have in the car, maybe it is a rule in your house that they complete a driver’s education course before being allowed to get their license or drive the family car. If you have bought your child a car there are still rules you can impose; first a foremost if you wreck it, don’t expect to use ours. Regardless of if it is the family car or their car, letting them know that if they get a speeding ticket, traffic ticket, no more driving privileges for at least X amount of time, you wreck it, you get a DUI, I find out about reckless behavior behind the wheel no more driving privileges. Yet give them the chance to do right before engaging restrictions for possible wrongs.
For the GPS tracking mom, first of all she should have told her child when she gave him the phone that it had such a tracker in it, that she would always know where he was and where he had been, so tell me the truth, let me know where you are. Putting him on notice, letting him know what’s going on leads to him not feeling ambushed and betrayed later, because part of this is about trust as Dr. Phil explained to one mother on his show who was going through her children’s pockets, their school bags, their cell phones, their room, following them to where they said they were going, calling them repeatedly while out. He applauded a parent so involved but said that if they say they are going here and that’s where they go, if they come back on time you have to loosen the reins a little, show them that you trust them otherwise they will go out into the world and go wild.
Our internet savvy parents seem to have the most to learn instead of monitoring their child’s behavior, online history and so forth and only advising on their behavior, looking out for threats to all children, mom in example one chose to treat her son as if he had done something wrong. The mom in example two did something both morally and legally wrong; both of these parents should have had conversations with their kids about online behavioral expectations and what to do if they encounter bad situations. If someone is being inappropriate or annoying, cease interaction immediately, utilize the sites blocking and un-friend options to keep them away from you; tell me, tell an adult about bullying, harassment, sexually inappropriate content sent to you in the form of pictures, conversations, use the report/help sections of sites to report adults to the police for the latter offences. And when parents see these things act accordingly; as for the things that are more a class and social etiquette offense, the parent in example one should have advised her son to un-friend or block the girl and to take down the comments if either one of them was bothering him, advised him that what people say about him online, what people he associates with there can effect his reputation, not only at school but in terms of getting into college, getting a job, then letting him make the decision. There was no reason what so ever to begin an argument with a 13 year old online that she did not know and did not know her.
The same rings true with the at home drug tests; there is a better way and real consequences for not trying a different approach, aside from the possibility of false positives based on what the child ate, demonstrated in the famous Signified episode with poppy seeds, or something they inhaled simply by being in the bathroom at school or at a party, something they touched, didn’t wash their hands and have now ingested or sheer poor quality of test. There is the again the issue of trust. What happens when you bust your kid for drugs and its one of the above scenarios, when you have broken your child’s trust in such a way? The answer, they will never trust you again and they won’t come to you with their problems when they need to.
No parent should be rifling through their kids room, their pockets, reading their journal, invading their privacy unless they suspect a problem; if you suspect your child of doing drugs, first talk to their school, their friends, their coach and to them. Try finding other sources of whatever disturbance you see before jumping to the conclusion its drugs; if they have a new group of friends, try to get to know them. Treat it as an interest not an interrogation; realize that physical symptoms such as tiredness or nervousness could be a result of depression or anxiety, either in general or over a specific issue. They may be going through something emotionally or have too many activities on their plate; use invasive techniques as a last resort.
At the end of the day we need to stop creating so many parental and societal safety nets for kids, teens and teach them how to build nets of their own, teach them to be adults. Society and parents need to both get their problem solving skills in order so they can teach kids. Asking if they studied for their exam rather than nagging them to do so, reminding them once to do their homework then letting them incur the consequences for not doing so, for getting bad grades. Giving your teen an alarm clock and expecting them to get to school on time teaches them how to get up and go so they can do that in college and when they get a job. Teaching them what to do in situations with alcohol, driving, online dangers, then expect them to act on it and have consequences for doing wrong. That’s the way the world works.