This is one of a series of posts on the meme of "Helicopter Parenting and the College-Bound Child: A Meaningful National Problem?"
The story opens thusly:
As housing officials at colleges around the country send out roommate assignments to freshmen this summer, a growing number of schools say they're getting more requests for changes — from parents who don't like the roommates' Facebook profiles.
The gist of both posts: there are Helicopter Parents who look at their child's prospective roommates' listings on FB, and object to the assignment based on the roommates' religion, race or sexual orientation.
I agree with Marianne and Anastasia that parents who interfere with housing office as to roommate assignments are infantilizing their college-age children. I also agree that parents meddling because of concerns about said prospective roommates' sexual orientation or race or religion is despicable. I just wonder (a) is this a new phenomenon and (b) how much of a trend is it?
Did parents interfere with roommate assignments in the years before 2007? You bet. I'll give you a simple example. When dormitories went co-educational in late 1960s-early 1970s, parents complained about students being placed in co-ed, rather than single-sex dorms.
Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that, for example, if in 1970, Mrs. Wentworth Featherstone III saw that Wentworth Featherstone IV was scheduled to room with a boy with a name that "sounded Jewish", well, Mrs. Wentworth might well have made a genteel telephone call to the Residence office.
The difference between now and then is twofold: (1) the issue would never had made the news (2) social-networking sites such as Facebook give meddling parents more ammunition.
How many parents interfering in roommate assignment does it take to make up a trend? In the fall of 2005 (the last year data is available) there were 2,189,884 full-time, entering freshmen. Now, not all of those will be residential students; some will be commuting. Let's say for the sake of argument 90% are residential students, or 1.97 million students. There are 2,582 4-year degree-granting institution. Again for the sake of argument, let's say that there are 10 meddling parents per institution. While 25,820 meddling parents are too many, that's still only 1.3% of students affected by Helicopter Parents.
I wonder three things:
- Are there as many as 25,800 meddling, or is just a handful, made more noticeable because the parents begin the change request with, "I saw on Facebook that my child's assigned roommate...."
- My scenario above assumed that all colleges are the same size, and that Helicopter Parents are spread equally among the colleges. To a small college afflicted by a disproportionately number of Helicopter Parents, it's going to seem like an epidemic. To a very large university with a disproportionately small number of Helicopter Parents, well, it might be just an annoyance -- a source of stories ("Let me tell you about the unbelievable parent I heard from yesterday, she wanted me to change Junior's roommate because he's a Baptist!")
- Hmmn. I'm not sure what to call this, although I know it has a name. It's that mental quirk wherein you don't notice a phenomenon -- say, dark maroon cars. Then you buy a dark maroon car, and suddenly, they seems to be everywhere. I wonder if that quirk is, to some extent, operating here. The pushy, over-involved parent has always been with us. (Anybody remember Ethel Gumm?) Now we have a name for it in spheres outside the stage: the Helicopter Parent. We have a name, we have anecdotal examples (I particularly liked the story, perhaps apocryphal, about the mother whose daughter was assigned a suite. She moved moved the two beds of her daughter's roommates out of the suite's bedroom so her child would have her own room, just like home.) Is it happening more, or are we noticing more?