Hovering over college kids

Published 9:56 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ah, college is back in session — which means, says The Washington Post, that “helicopter parents” are in full flight.

Helicopter parents, says The Post, are parents who have “watched their (childrens’) every move, checked their grades online hourly, advocated for them endlessly and kept them busy from event to activity to play date …”

And now, as their kids head off to college, they are meddling with that, too — going so far as to call and complain to their kids’ university presidents every time the kids face a minor unpleasantry, such as a sloppy dorm mate.

Ironically, the parents who are hovering over their children now grew up two or three decades ago under parents who raised them in an opposite manner.

Not only did our parents not obsess over us, they made us go outside to play and not come home until supper, and we knew we had better not be late.

We were free to roam, invent and discover on our own. We learned how to socialize, make friends and deal with some of the jerkier kids without a parent anywhere to be found.

True, families were bigger back then and there was always an older sibling around to help us get out of scrapes.

When one big bully down the street busted up my go-kart, my sister Kris kicked the tar out of him — he was two years older and 70 pounds heavier than she, but I will never forget the image of Kris sitting on his back, pounding her fists into his sides as he cried like a baby.

When school was called off due to heavy snow, about a million kids would arrive at the top of Tracy Drive with every sledding device known to man. There was not a parent to be found.

Compare that to snow days now — you find two or three adults for every kid, and the adults say things like, “Good job, Billy. Boy, are you a terrific sled rider!”

We didn’t receive such unwarranted praise. Rather, our parents specialized in admonishing us for the millions of things we were doing wrong — not getting to school on time, not getting high enough grades, not keeping our beds made.

In fact, if we were ever accused of any wrongdoing, our parents sided instantly with the accusers.

“What did you do now, Tommy?”

We had to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that we were not at fault — though we usually were at fault.

When my parents dropped me off at college, they didn’t worry about the life challenges that awaited me. They could barely contain their glee that I wouldn’t be eating everything in their refrigerator or racking up auto repairs in our Ford Pinto with Jim Rockford maneuvers (don’t ask).

They gave me a jar of peanut butter, advised me there was no point in writing home for money (as there wasn’t any) and told me that, for godssakes, if I was going to major in English, I better minor in something practical.

I am the only student to ever graduate from Penn State with a major in English and a minor in air conditioning/heating.

In any event, college was frightening at first, but I figured it out in time — just as millions of other kids did.

Having to figure things out on one’s own at each stage of life is one of the greatest ways to prepare for life — so it’s ironic, as I said, that so many of today’s parents, who enjoyed such an upbringing, are still hovering over their kids as college begins.

I sure hope these kids figure out how to function on their own before their turn comes to run the country.

Or will their parents call the White House every time their adult children face one of life’s unpleasantries?

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact Sales@cagle.com or call 805-969-2829. Send comments to Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.