Helicopter parents who overparent their children can make life miserable for teachers.
For Teachers

Helicopter Parents: How Teachers Can Bring them Back Down to Earth

By Brian Gatens July 13, 2015

You’ll work with a wide spectrum of families over your career, and one of the most challenging will be the ones who over-parent their children.

Popularly known as “helicopter parents,”’ they are prone to:

  • Pouncing on a teacher seemingly from the moment an assignment is given.
  • Micro-analyzing every grade that goes home.
  • Looking constantly for signs of progress or struggle.
  • Showing far more concern about the student’s work than the student does.

When this is happening, it’s hard to tell who is the student and who is the parent. These are among the more challenging parents to work with because their need for constant attention becomes a drain on a teacher’s limited time and resources. Here are a few things you can do:

Start with understanding the behavior

My experience has been that an overparenting family is acting primarily out of a genuine fear that their child may struggle academically or miss out on future academic opportunities.

A secondary reason is especially pronounced in communities that have high levels of competition for admission into elite colleges and universities. This concern can sometimes rise to the level of near-obsession — allowing it to continue unabated isn’t healthy for the family or child.

Understanding the behavior doesn’t excuse it. You just need to take certain steps for your peace of mind and the long-term needs of the child.

Communicate well

Letting parents know when and how you’ll be in touch regarding a child’s progress is the first step in preventing issues from arising. When there is a vacuum in communication, the overparenting family will rush right in with questions and expectations.

Begin the year by communicating how a child’s progress will be measured, what the class expectations are and whom to contact when assistance is needed. Spend time reviewing these expectations in class and send them home to be read, reviewed and signed off by parents.

Set boundaries

When you begin to suspect a parent will be expecting daily or even hourly communication on a child’s progress, it’s essential to offer clear parameters for when you’ll respond. Some teachers make the mistake of supplying their cell phone number to parents to make communication easier.

Giving a parent that kind of instant access, in which immediate replies are expected, only reinforces their expectation for individual attention. I strongly discourage teachers from interweaving their professional and personal communications. An excellent solution is to use a one-way texting service such as remind.com that enables you to push text messages out but doesn’t allow replies.

Focus on developing the child’s independence

Perhaps the worst side effect of overparenting is the child developing a lack of effort and responsibility. When the mother or father take on the responsibility for checking the grade book, finding homework assignments and following up with the teacher, the child becomes a spectator.

Be consistent in your messaging. The child must be age-appropriately responsible for the work expected in your class. If the parent comes to you with a question from the child, politely request that the child come and see you after school or between classes.

It’s essential that children develop the ability to speak to an adult about a question or a concern. This type of self-advocacy will serve them well when they’re no longer under the direct supervision of their parents.

Keep your principal in the loop

The overparenting family is usually quick to contact the administration if they feel that their (unreasonable) expectations aren’t being met. Be sure to bring your principal or immediate superior into the loop early and often.

Keeping a separate file with all of your communication and outreach is a good idea, as it provides the backup to record your efforts. It also shows the attention that you’ve paid to the situation. Ask for advice and guidance from your principal, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised to learn this is not the first time that this family has been a challenge.

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