Parent bouncers

Colleges are trying to discourage overinvolved “helicopter parents” from “flooding campus orientations, meddling in registration and interfering with students’ dealings with professors, administrators and roommates,” reports Sue Shellenbarger in Career Journal.

A number of colleges and universities are having to assign full-time staffers or forming entire new departments to field parents’ calls and email. Others hold separate orientations for parents, partly to keep them occupied and away from student sessions.

The University of Vermont employs “parent bouncers,” students trained to divert moms and dads who try to attend registration and explain diplomatically that they’re not invited. At one parent-student orientation session in June, more parents than students attended, swamping the meeting hall, says Jill Hoppenjans, the university’s assistant director of orientation.

At the University of Georgia, students who get frustrated or confused during registration have been known to interrupt their advisers to whip out a cellphone, speed-dial their parents and hand the phone to the adviser, saying, “Here, talk to my mom,” says Richard Mullendore, a University of Georgia professor and former vice president, student affairs, at the universities of Georgia and Mississippi. The cellphone, he says, has become “the world’s longest umbilical cord.”

Tom Blumer of Bizzy Blog thinks parents are concerned about indoctrination. I suspect most haven’t taught their 18-year-olds to fend for themselves.

About Joanne


  1. I think the parents feel a little bit more concerned since they will be footing a large part of the bills?

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    When I registered, forty-plus years ago, the ordeal of balancing schedules, open versus closed classes, and the map (Michigan State has a BIG campus) was so stressful that a public service fraternity was enlisted to look for those who broke down in the arena, take them off for a cup of tea and some quiet time.
    I didn’t break down, but got enormously frustrated, was thrown out by closing time and had to sneak back in the next day. My experience was not unique by any means.
    It was generally considered an ordeal and was not matched until I got to OCS at Ft. Benning.

    Still, having an advisor talk to a parent? Don’t kids have any pride?

  3. I work as an advisor at a college, and right now every other call I get is, “Is my child registered for the right classes?”

    I think that most parents HAVE trained their kids to “fend for themselves”–I just think they haven’t seen their kids DEMONSTRATE that knowledge yet. When you’re under 18, many companies/businesses/organizations want to deal with a parent when solving problems. For example, if you try to return something to Wal-mart w/out a receipt, they’re more likely to hassle a teenager. It’s easier to have mom take over because people don’t think of you as a functioning adult. Plus, 17 and 18-year-olds aren’t the most articulate bunch. They tend to ramble and get distracted, and add to that the excitement and nervousness of college, and it’s easy to see why Mom or Dad steps in and gets everything explained quickly.

    When you get to college, that changes. Mom isn’t there for backup, so you HAVE to deal with things. I think parents dropping kids off at college haven’t yet realized that administrators there WILL treat their kids like adults, and expect them to solve their own problems.

  4. Richard Aubrey- I went through the same process 10 years ago at MSU, and not much has change. However, during my orientation weekend the school also offered an orientation for the parents as well. They said it was to inform the parent about the college, but it also served to keep the parents off their children’s back. It’s funny because I had a great time at my orientation, but my parents didn’t because a lot of the other parents did nothing but complain. One couple was shocked to find out that boys were allowed to enter the female dorms.

  5. Wow. At my college move-in, my dad left as soon as he could — an eleven hour drive back home is no joke. So he helped me move my stuff up to my room, and get my ID card and other such necessaries, but I was on my own for registration, which I had expected.

    I’m going to be one of the students in charge of orientation for the first-years this year. Since I didn’t have to deal with my parents trying to do this sort of thing, I’ve got no idea what to do. Does anyone have any handy tips?

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps parents have lost faith in the ability of university officials to select instructors based on the Churchill example.

  7. The students who just hand things over to their mom or dad…it will be interesting when they try the same thing during discussions with their first real boss.

    On the other hand: University administrators are some of the most arrogant and obnoxious people in the country, and it’s understandable that students would want to bring some additional firepower to bear on dealing with them.

  8. rouxdsla says:

    It couldn’t be that parents are concerned about their kids? Could it?

    When my oldest 2 went to college I wish I had been more hands on. I wish I had known the freshman dorms were really COED. What my daughter had to endure for 2 semesters was insane.

    18 year olds are not that mature and they can make mistakes that cost themselves and their parents. Usually, parents can just ask the kids but sometimes you have to check with campus officials.

    Hey, Richard and CM it’s not that difficult. “take them off for a cup of tea and some quiet time”. What a bunch of babies.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    Sorry rouxdsla, but if a 18 y/o us old enough to be driving an uparmored HUMMV through Baghdad, they are old enough to make their own decisions. Any excuse that they children of upper middle class families with both parents are not old enough or experienced to make decision like whether to study or not or whether to pay tuition or buy beer is insulting to the adults and condescending to the parents.

  10. Tom at BizzyBlog says:

    Thanks for the link, Joanne.

    I response I quickly put up a post, so here’s an exact link:

    I agree with rouxdsia that a lot of kids get into situations that aren’t disclosed and that they might not be ready to handle.

    superdestroyer, there’s a two-word difference between 18 year-old soldiers and the average 18 year-old: BOOT CAMP.

  11. rouxdsla – Um – maybe your daughter didn’t want you to know the dorms were coed. Maybe she thought it would be fun to live in a mixed group and then complained after it become a problem. Boys can be very messy. That said, I met my husband in the dorms. He was my next door neighbor. Most colleges have single sex dorms for those who request that…your daughter could have probably transferred mid-year if she really wanted to.

    UC Davis has a clever way of getting around this problem. They have summer advising where the parents and students can attend together in July. The parents are entertained with campus tours and other events while the students take placement tests and meet with counselors and peer advisors. They sign up for classes knowing what math and chemistry they will be eligible for. Parents are around and hang out with other soon-to-be empty nesters which seems to be good for them (at least it made my mom feel better). Parents room in separate dorms from the students and everyone gets a taste of what the next year will be like. In September when you show up for school, you already have your minimum enrollment done and you can relax, go to class and focus on learning things like how to exit a bike circle without getting hit, where the free computers are that have internet access, and where to get the really good coffee.

    It is very good for parents to detach but perhaps slow works better?

  12. I get to see this whole thing from two perspectives – as a teacher of 12th graders, and as a mom about to send her oldest off to college.

    The teacher in me is very frustrated to see so many parents who question everything the teacher says, often believing the student over the teacher. Either the parent doesn’t allow the student to grow up and make his or her own decisions, or the parent gets involved when the student goes home crying about some “injustice.”

    The mom in me is very concerned about my daughter going off to college. She has ADD, and I have unknowingly been helping her a little too much when she forgets things. I have noticed it and am now making the change for her senior year. If she doesn’t apply for schools and scholarships, I’m not going to do it for her. She needs to learn the responsibility. The teacher in me however sees that many other parents aren’t allowing their kids to be responsible and suffer the consequences of their actions. I’m afraid that in 5 years or so we may have a generation of new workers whose daddies call the boss when their child doesn’t get a promotion. It’s sad…

  13. Sure parents are concerned about their kids, but they shouldn’t be doing college stuff for them by interacting with college employees.

    If parents want to advise and help their kids, that’s only natural and good. But advising and helping at the college level shouldn’t mean taking the kids’ problems on for the kids.

    The parents should NOT be calling the school. This kids should do this for themselves.

    The kids have to grow up and become independent someday. If parents are over involved, the kids will be living in the basement when they are 30. Is that what the parents want?

  14. Rouxdsla-
    I think you missed or misunderstood the point I was trying to make. My orientation at MSU was overwhelming. The school is very large in size and student population (over 40,000 when I attended). But if you read my post I said I had great time. It was many parents that were making all the fuss about the situation their children were in. Like having their daughter living in a COED dorm, which you complain about. If I wasn’t clear in my earlier post, my fault, but to cast dispersion on people you’ve never meet,

    Hey, Richard and CM it’s not that difficult. “take them off for a cup of tea and some quiet time”. What a bunch of babies.

    maybe you are not as mature as you think you are.

    PS I’d rather have a beer that a cup of tea

  15. It is ludicrous to treat the typical 18 year old as an adult.

    One cannot trust colleges to act competently in loco parentis. The whole concept has been jettisoned.

    The quality of advising in many universities is very poor – this costs students and their parents a great deal of money. Especially at state universities, getting through in 4 years requires very careful planning. Advisors won’t assume that responsibility and the typical 18 year old is simply not equipped to make it through the rapids on his own.

    SOME students are just very immature at age 18. My youngest daughter is an example. This is a developmental matter. She spent her senior year on her own in Ireland. The university coordination and advising was so incompetant we had to intervene constantly. Again and again we got the bureaucratic run around.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    When I registered at MSU in 1962, the big deal was The Pit.
    There were no computers available. There were trestle tables in the Indoor Arena with class signs over them. You’d stand in line, hoping that the signs showing the open sections wouldn’t change so that what you needed was closed. If the section closed, and you couldn’t get one that fit your schedule as you made it to that point, you go back to other classes and try to switch sections, standing in line for fifteen or twenty minutes hoping the different open section you need doesn’t close TOO. It was sort of like playing Tetris when some of the pieces would get up and switch places.
    In addition to merely making sure your class time didn’t conflict with other class time, you had to be sure that you allowed up to twenty minutes–‘tween class time was ten–to get from one place to another. Some sections of basic classes were offered in several locations, but the less common classes were harder to fit in.
    It could get enormously frustrating, but only a few actually broke down–I only saw two–but all swore mightily and kicked things and got extremely short-tempered.
    The U addressed this in part by making the classes in the ‘way out dorms off cycle, as in 9:25 to 10:15. If you took one of those, you couldn’t possibly schedule too little time to get to main campus. And later on, the ‘tween class time went to twenty minutes. It was an example that, in this case, geography was an factor unlike at smaller campuses.
    I have no doubt that some kids called home to express frustration.
    But having parents come up to help????

  17. I think the actual question is how are these kids going to survive without Mommy or Daddy?

  18. Most of the difficulites that one has in college should be ones that an 18 year old can handle. If a kid needs help then the parent should direct the kid, but the parents should not do it for the kid.

    In extreme cases, maybe the kids should take a few years off between high school and college, but if your goal is to produce an independent person, the more you do for her, the less she will learn.

  19. The university coordination and advising was so incompetant we had to intervene constantly. Again and again we got the bureaucratic run around.

    Unfortunately, you have just prevented your child from learning one of life’s key lessons…how to deal calmly, relentlessly, (and ultimately successfully) with the bureaucratic run around. You will not always be there for your kid to lean on – let them mess up in college when the consequences are relatively painless. While it may mean they spend more of their time (and more of your money) finishing up school, there are more expensive ways to screw this up later in life.

    I wrestle with the state bureacracy for a living and I can tell you that the lessons I learned in college about getting information, documentation, deadlines, and politely but firmly insisting on getting what I want have paid off in spades.

    The comments about bad advising confuse me as well. Why on earth would you rely on someone else to plan out your classes and get you graduated on time? The catalog has all the information you need to do that yourself and knowing the college policies can save you a lot of time and hassle. It only takes a couple of hours to read through everything and write up a four year plan.

    In college, as in life, people expect you to take care of yourself and know the rules of the game.