KC: How to Support Helicopter Parents & Space Station Parents as Partners in Student Success


Author
Gabby Garrison, Parent and Family Relations KC

Published
July 29, 2018


As we experience the final days of summer before students (and their parents & families) return to campus, how do we support the “overprotective” parent or the “distant” parent? First, we should understand who these families are and how they might support their student. The first category is the “Helicopter” parent, or the parent who might seem overprotective and excessive. The second category is the “Space Station” parent, or the parent who might seem distant and difficult to reach. I read about the concept of the “Space Station” parent in New’s (2014) article titled: “The Opposite of Helicopter Parents,” to refer to first-generation parents & families.

The below outlines common assumptions about both types of parents & families:

Helicopter

Space Station

Takes too much responsibility for student

Distant

“Over” –controlling, protective, etc.

Not involved/engaged in student’s activities

Contacts professionals/faculty for student

Absent

Hovers over their student

Not concerned with student’s success

To support both types of parents, professionals must understand why parents choose to hover over their student or remain distant. Helicopter parents might seem overwhelming in many aspects, but these parents might hover because they want their student to feel secure or protected. Space station parents might seem distant because they don’t understand how they can support their student in a college environment. A misconception about first-generation parents & families is that they aren’t concerned with college-related happenings in their student’s life. However, these parents & families “don’t know what they don’t know.”

As students return to campus for the upcoming academic year, we should include both types of parents & families in the conversation. Review the current resources your campus provides for parents & families and brainstorm passive and active activities and programs you can create to loop the families in the campus environment. When times become tough, student rely on their families/loved ones/caregivers. Sometimes, parents & families will know about an issue their student is facing before a student affairs professional will. If we can collaborate with parents through media, newsletters, campus events, and on-going conversation to let them know about campus resources as they support their student, families might feel more comfortable to collaborate with us. However, to serve parents equitably, understand that first-generation families might need to be engaged differently. We might hold programming specifically for these families, distribute materials to inform these families about the rigor of college, and give them grace as they might seem “distant” and “not concerned,” because they are learning how to support their student in an environment they have never experienced.

To learn more about supporting and engaging families of undergraduate students, get involved with the Parent & Family Relations Knowledge Community! My name is Gabby Garrison and I serve as the Region IV – W Parent & Family Relations Knowledge Community chair. I am the Transfer Coordinator at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, AR. I am responsible for recruitment and on-boarding processes for prospective transfer students. However, in all capacities I have served in higher education, I have been able to interact with and support parents & families. I am certain that our knowledge community can provide valuable research, resources, programming models, and overall support as you include parents & families in the conversation on your campus.

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