Almost as soon as a student commits to attending a specific college, their parents will receive information about that university’s parent Facebook group. While the groups can provide valuable information on what to pack in addition to XL twin sheets and how much spending money a student needs per month, they have also become landing pads for helicopter parents. Just when students should truly start to become independent, parents are using these groups to stay in the loop, maintain control and micro-manage their students’ lives.
According to a November 15, 2023 article in New York Magazine, parents who join college Facebook groups recognize how over the top they can be. For example, a mom in Oregon who was a member of Syracuse University’s parent Facebook group said, “People would ask where their kid should get her balayage done or who should do their son’s laundry. Or people would rant, ‘Can you believe it? We paid this much money and my kid can’t get into the class he wants.’ That’s how it goes. You didn’t register fast enough.”
Amanda in Miami has two kids in college and is a member of two different groups. She said, “And then there will be questions like ‘Where should my kid get their haircut?’ This is a kid you sent off to live on their own. Could they ask an RA or do a Google search?”
Let me confess, I too am a member of one of these groups: the Cool Parent Group (CPG) at the University of Miami. I know, I know, parents aren’t cool! Where this name came from, I have no idea. I can say the group has provided invaluable support. Two weeks after starting college in August of 2020, my son got Covid and was isolated for 10 days. Communicating with other parents whose students were in the same situation was extremely reassuring. We were able to share information and resources and keep one another updated.
And, the Cool Parent Group has a cohort of Angel parents who live in the Miami area and are ready and willing to step in for parents who live far from campus. Recently a mom posted her son was sick, got dizzy, hit his head and thought he had a concussion. She wondered if there was a parent who might be able to take him to the hospital as she lives in California. Sure enough, one of the Angel parents volunteered. Many parents post looking for mental health resources. Someone in CPG put together a list of providers which can be accessed on the Facebook page. I imagine other university parent groups have similar resources.
But, just like the moms quoted above, I’ve also seen some pretty ridiculous posts. These have included “my daughter has a horrible chemistry teacher,” “my son doesn’t like his roommate,” and “where should my kid get a prescription filled?”
According to Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Temple University and the author of You and Your Adult Child, “Facebook groups can be helpful as long as parents funnel information they find back to their kids rather than acting on their behalf.”
This, I believe, is key. Facebook groups provide extremely useful information and resources and can be very comforting for parents who live far from campus. But, college is the time for students to learn to solve problems on their own, to become independent adults. If your student has a problem, talk it through with them, perhaps do some role playing and then let them take the lead. Solving every issue for your child, in the long run, is counter productive. According to Forbes, “Studies have shown that helicopter parents are more likely to have children who suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.”
Parents with the best of intentions, who swoop in to solve every problem while their child attends college, may find themselves continuing to have to do this post-graduation. Case in point from the CPG page: “So my son, who graduated on Thursday, has lost his tassel, anyone know where I can order him another??” Really? If your son wants another tassel, I’m sure he can figure out where to get one on his own. After all, he’s a college graduate.