Higher Education Strategy Associates

Category Archives: helicopter parents

November 17

Kids in the House

One of the big memes in student affairs these days is the increasing dependence of students on their parents. Sometimes, this is blamed on parents’ over-protectiveness, sometimes on students’ reluctance to grow up, but regardless, it seems a point of general agreement.

We can’t say much about long-term trends, but thanks to our regular CanEd Student Research Panel, we can provide a more nuanced portrait of these students. A few months ago, we asked panel members who lived at home about their parents’ on-going involvement in their lives. Specifically, we asked them what kinds of household activities their parents still did on their behalf. The results are shown in the figure below.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 81% of students reported that their parents often or always shopped for their groceries, 71% of students’ parents paid their household bills and 65% had their meals cooked for them by their parents. Female students were slightly more likely than males to report that their parents conducted household chores for them, with the exception of grocery shopping, where males were more likely to rely on parents than were females. Allophones and scholarship recipients were also more likely than other types of students to report that their parents conducted household chores for them.

In the absence of historical data on this subject, we have to wonder how university students would have answered these questions five, ten and twenty years ago. Are students increasingly dependent on their parents, or are things pretty much the way they’ve always been? And if they are increasingly dependent, is that just a function of changing demographics (i.e., more students from cultures where living with parents into adulthood is more common), or a more general phenomenon of delayed adulthood?

Let us know what you think.

Miriam Kramer and Alex Usher

One Thought to Start Your Day takes requests! Is there a topic you want to see addressed, or some data that makes you curious? We can help. Got any ideas for questions to put to our CanEd Student Research Panel? Drop us a note and we’ll see what we can do for you.

November 16

Helicopter Parents: Grounded?

We’ve all seen stories about “helicopter parents,” parents who hover over their children even after they enrol in university. But most of these stories are American in origin and tend to be anecdotal in nature. What’s the reality in Canada?

A few months ago, we asked our regular CanEd Student Research Panel what kind of on-going involvement their parents had in their lives. Did their parents help them with their homework or help them select courses or extracurricular activities? Had they helped them find a job, or (helicopter alert!) helped them contest a grade? The figure shows the results.

By some distance, the area in which parents gave the most assistance was finding a job, with runners up in assistance with school work, discussing a problem with a professor or administrator, and suggesting extra-curricular activities. Only 3% of students said their parents had behaved in that most helicopter-ish of ways by contesting a grade for them.

Female students were more likely to report having parental involvement in all of the categories compared to male students, and parental education was positively correlated with all categories as well. On academic matters, such as getting help with schoolwork and course selection, parental involvement increased with parental level of education. Anglophone parents were more likely to assist with schoolwork compared to other parents; allophone parents (many of whom are immigrants) were more likely to assist with course selection. Regarding choosing a career path or finding a job, allophone parents were more likely to be involved in choosing a career path, but substantially less likely to be involved with finding a job compared to Anglophone and Francophone parents.

Clearly, helicopter parents are not the norm among Canadian university students. So why do we hear so much about them? For one, they make a great news story. As well, it is possible that even a small percentage of meddling parents can affect institutional work patterns: at a campus of 30,000 students, if 3% of students’ parents call about their children’s grades, that’s 900 parental calls, or at least two calls a day, into the offices of Deans and Student Affairs. If that’s up from 2% a few years ago, that’s an extra 300 calls. That’s certainly enough to cause stories of helicopter parents to circulate, even if they aren’t in fact all that common.

Miriam Kramer and Alex Usher