How to avoid being a “helicopter parent”

guest written by Suzanne Shaffer of Parents Countdown to College Coach

It’s hard. I know. I’ve been there. You want your kids to have the BEST education available. You want them to want it as much as you do. You see them making some choices that you know they will regret. You hover over them, ready to swoop in and rescue them from their poor choices. As hard as you try, you find yourself pressuring them to make the right choice and the battle lines are drawn. They dig their heels in. You dig your heels in. And the tug of war begins.

What’s a parent to do when they feel their college-bound teens are making the wrong choices related to college? Here are my suggestions based on past parenting experience and observing other parents in these predicaments:

Your college-bound teen tells you he doesn’t want to go to the college that is hard to get into, and is opting for what you consider to be sub-par.

Don’t panic or overreact. It’s possible he is scared. Try and ascertain the reasoning behind the decision. Don’t do this by badgering him or constantly asking him why. The best way to figure out what is wrong is to LISTEN. Listen to him talk about his day, about college, about how he feels. If fear is not the reason, perhaps he feels the other college would be a better fit. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor and back off. The worst thing you can do with a teenager is force him into a decision he feels is wrong. Sometimes the best lessons we learn are the ones that come from making our own decisions (right or wrong).

Your college-bound teen tells you that he simply MUST go to Private College A, even though she knows it comes with a high price tag.

Don’t let her bully you into sending her to a college you can’t afford AND one that will require a tremendous amount of student loan debt. Sit her down and explain to her the dangers of graduating in debt. Use the college repayment calculators if you have to. If she truly wants to go to Private College A, she needs to do the work (good grades, good SAT/ACT scores, great essay) to be awarded scholarship/grant money from that college. If not, there are always other options and choices. It’s your job as a parent to help her to see those other options as viable.

Your college-bound teen is not interested in college, deadlines, studying for the SAT or any other path that leads him toward higher education.

If there is one thing I learned with both of my kids (and clients), if they aren’t invested in the college process they won’t be invested in college. Save yourself some time, money and heartache and wait until they are. If not, they can learn from the college of hard knocks — minimum wage jobs are the BEST motivator!

Your college-bound teen misses deadlines, panics and comes running to you at the last minute to fix it.

The simplest way I know to avoid missing deadlines, is to get yourself a huge wall calendar and a fat red marker. Put it in a place that they have to pass by every single day. In addition, with all the smartphones and calendar apps available today, missing a deadline should be a thing of the past. At some point (hopefully when they go to college), they will have to fix their own problems. Let them do it now, while they live at home, and it will be easier for them once they are gone. Rescuing your kids all time only makes them into dependent adults and colleges aren’t impressed with those types of students or the parents that come with them. Admissions officers can spot these students a mile away, and their applications end up in the reject pile.

Your college-bound teen suddenly announces she is not ready for college and wants to take a year off.

First of all, wait. Don’t react. Just listen. Odds are the mood will change with the wind and once all her friends are making college plans, that desire that she once had will kick back in. If not, let her know that it won’t be a “free-ride” year. She will be expected to work and save the money she makes for college. Or she will be expected to work at an internship to help her determine career goals. There are so many gap year options available now that help parents breathe easier and help students prepare for college. Most colleges are also receptive to deferring admission, allowing your student to enter college the next year with all their financial aid in place.

About the author: Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and provides parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. She is also the College Prep Expert for, a member of the Unigo Expert Network, a College Money Insider Expert and the College Coach for

2 Responses to How to avoid being a “helicopter parent”
  1. This just makes me smile, because every year I have a handful of parents that would benefit from reading it!

    Thanks for sharing, that just made my day!


  2. I completely agree with the advice that parents save themselves “time, money and heartache” if their kids aren’t willing to put in the effort to study for the entrance exams, etc. It’s just not fair to the parents when they make more of an investment than the kids do!

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