Helicopter Parents: Invest in a Landing Pad

In case you haven’t heard, the majority of students currently enrolled at your college or university are described as the “Millennial Generation“. This generation of students, born sometime after 1983 is characterized by their self-expression, desire for education, love of family, focus on diversity, and their global perspective, among many others characteristics. These traits are the reason why the Millennial are often described as the next great generation.

Yet, this new generation of students on your campus comes attached with a surprise guest from another era. Yes, of course, I’m talking about the “helicopter parent“. That over-protective guardian who will do anything in their powers to ensure the success of their child. During my relatively brief time as student affairs professional, I have sat devoted numerous hours of discussion, presentations, and research to dealing with this issue. For the most part, these helicopter parents are seen as a nuisance to the profession, and a hindrance to the development of the student.

I, however, feel that as fraternity and sorority members, we have an incredibly unique opportunity to utilize the resource that is the helicopter parent to benefit our chapters. By keeping an eye out for the interests and needs of the parents of your members, you can effectively create an entirely new support mechanism for your chapter.

Simply put, these parents want to be involved in their students day-to-day activities in order to ensure that no harm befalls them, help their student make positive decisions along the way, and guide them down a path toward personal growth and professional success. To me, that has a lot of similarities to the mission of all of our fraternities and sororities.

So how can you effectively utilize this resource?

Give them the information they crave at the onset.
When a new member joins your organization, are you doing anything to communicate the values, mission and vision of your organization with the parents of that new member? The parents are often the ones paying the dues for your members, so at the very least you should be explaining to them how that money will be utilize to their child’s benefit.

Think about sending a letter home to all potential new members explaining your organization, and the benefits you provide. A personal phone goes an incredibly long way to show that you care about every single new member, and value the role their parent plays  in their child’s life.

Keep them informed.
Does your chapter regularly communicate with the parents of your members? As I mentioned earlier, helicopter parents love to know what’s going on in their child’s life. Fairly often, your members don’t necessarily do a great job of explaining all the great things that the chapter is doing; and that’s where you come in.

Consider a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly e-mail update sent out to parents. Parents who desire this information can opt-in to such a service. Keep it simple, let them know what the chapter has accomplished since your last update, as well as what is coming up in the near future. Provide them with information on your annual parents event which allows you to…

Get them involved.
Is your chapter inviting parents to visit the facilities, and experience what it’s like for their son or daughter to be a part of your organization? If a parent has no personal experience with fraternity and sorority life, then all they have to base their opinion on is what they’ve seen in the media, heard from others, or learned from their child. Even if the parent is a fraternity or sorority member, or already had another child join a fraternity or sorority, the experience gained within your chapter may vary drastically.

In order to fill this gap, why not host a parents weekend, a day just for moms/dads, or a special event during Homecoming or Parents Weekend at your school? Use this opportunity to showcase the chapter, as well as to allow parents to share in the experience with each other. Many of them are going through the same experiences, why not provide the opportunity for them to share those experiences?

As an added bonus, having such important guests coming to visit is a perfect excuse to get the entire chapter together to clean up the house. Consider planning such an event in the middle of the semester, when your place could use some serious cleaning.

Garner support from them.
If your chapter does any or all of the ideas I described above, then you will begin to build an entire new structure of support for your organization. In addition to your alumni/ae, national organization, and campus professional, a strong core of parents, if used effectively, can do great things for the chapter.

Get the parents on your side, and you will create an entire new group of advocates for your organization. You’ll be able to open the door to a plethora of new opportunities including professional networking and job placement, charitable and chapter fund-raising, programming support, and many others.

The helicopter parent can be your best friend or your worst enemy. How you choose utilize this resource is up to you.

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