Parent and Child in Front of a LighthouseMany families in your church are likely gearing up to send their children off to college. Whether they're sending their firstborn or the baby of the family, they may benefit from the support of the church to prepare their families and their students for this huge transition.

One of the most common complaints of college faculty and staff is the persistence of helicopter parenting. While this aggressively overprotective and hyper-focused parenting style is most often maligned in parents of young adults, it usually starts when the kids are much younger. The good news is that bad habits can be broken and replaced with healthier choices, and the summer before they go off to college is not too late to make adjustments that will ultimately help them be more successful. Church leaders are in a unique position to counsel parents and offer the support and resources they need to equip new adults to leave the nest.

What's Wrong With Helicopter Parenting?

On the surface, helicopter parenting may not seem that bad. After all, these parents are typically very attentive and involved in their children's lives, and they come across as fierce advocates for the things that are best for their kids. The problem is that this constant hovering doesn't leave a lot of room for growth. Most people learn by experience. The more parents deny children learning opportunities by making them the center of attention and doing everything for them, the harder it is for them to acquire age-appropriate skills.

While this may not pose a huge problem in very young children, as they grow older, they need more independence to thrive. College students whose parents tend toward the helicopter style often exhibit several negative effects:

  • Poor emotional regulation strategies
  • Increased chance of anxiety and depression
  • Low levels of confidence
  • Insufficient coping skills
  • Delusions of entitlement

What Are the Benefits of Lighthouse Parenting?

A lighthouse is a steady, reliable beacon. It marks the shore and signals to approaching ships that there may be danger ahead so that those who are steering the vessels can right the course before it's too late. The older children get, the more effective parents will be if they learn from the lighthouse's example. While it's important to shed light on warning signs of true distress, overall it's best if they realize how capable their children are of handling daily life themselves. They can still be there to offer advice and a guiding light without wading into the water to try to carry the ship to the dock.

Church leaders can offer support groups for parents for whom this approach does not come naturally. The peer support setting is a great way to model the type of leadership that will help the older children and young adults in their families embark on new learning opportunities without an excess of control from the parents. While the facilitator of the group is tasked with making sure everyone gets a chance to share, the bulk of the work falls on the participants. They can share their stories and concerns and ask for advice when they feel like they need it. Connecting with other parents whose children are going through similar experiences can help them realize that they don't have to control everything. Ultimately, the goal is to build their own confidence in taking more of an advisory role in their children’s lives.

Most parents of college students are sensitive to being labeled helicopter parents, but if they have been hovering for their children's whole lives, they may not know how to address the problem. One of the ways the church can support families in this stage of life is to offer group support opportunities and resources for those who want to try a more effective approach.

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