To The Young Travelers with Helicopter Parents
We understand. A term coined in the 21st century, the "helicopter parent" literally hovers over their children, asserting their authority over their child's personal life, education, and generally being too involved.
The growing trend in "helicopter parenting" is not exactly breaking news; hyper-involvement on the parent's end has been, and will probably always be, a part of life that is inescapable. In recent years, parental over-contribution has crossed over into adulthood. It has permeated throughout our society to the point of which parents are following their children to college and even cleaning their dorm room (it happens, I've witnessed it). And while the hovering parent has only the best intentions, research increasingly shows that their actions limit their children's growth into adulthood.
One of the most fruitful ways that college students can begin the process of finding themselves is through travel and immersion in a completely foreign culture. These experiences allow young adults, especially, to truly find what they want to surround themselves with, rather than what is given to them. So when parents put limitations on a college students' study abroad experience, you can imagine that their search for individuality and independence also becomes limited.
If you are a child of helicopter parents, we at Go Overseas want to help you ease your parents into the insanely great opportunity for studying, teaching, interning, or volunteering abroad.
- Be assertive. Seriously. This part is extremely important. This is your chance to show your parents that this is your chance to really branch out and stand on your own two feet. Whether you decide to only study Spanish abroad for a month in Mexico, or enroll yourself in a 6 month program in South Africa helping children in shanty towns, you need to be independent from them. If you aren't stern about your goals and expectations from your time abroad, chances are the overbearing nature of your parents will win out and you'll be left disappointed with your experience.
- You may not like this next one, but you have to compromise with your parents. Their overprotection is just their way of showing how much time and care they have emotionally invested in you. So, maybe diving into that 6-month program in South Africa as your first independent trip abroad will give them a heart attack. Try 3 months at first. You could also work with your parents to research programs that you're both willing to agree on; that short month studying Spanish abroad may also open more doors than you realize.
- Don't get too comfortable. You're supposed to feel uncomfortable when you travel abroad. Skyping mom every day may feel like just what you need when you're stressed about how you feel disconnected from your personal bubble, but your independence relies heavily, if not completely, on your own decision to break away. Although you'd like to think if your parents weren't so involved, you'd be able to do it all alone. Truth is, none of us can, but making that first step towards independence is half the battle. You've got to prove to yourself, before anyone, that you too know what's best for yourself.
With these tips, your task of convincing your parents that traveling abroad will probably be the best decision you'll ever make may possible, if only marginally, a bit easier. But you must also remember that independent travel abroad presents the helicopter parents' worst nightmare: letting go of their child, their lifeblood, to venture out into the world, unprotected by a "mother (or father) who knows best." But traveling to new and exciting countries is truly rewarding. Trust us, we know. The negative effects of cutting your time abroad short or enlisting in a program that you're less passionate about but that pleases your parents don't outweigh the lasting impressions you will receive if you go with your gut.
Don't take our word for it
We interviewed travel abroad expert Kimberly Haber, with Adelante Abroad, an international provider for interning, volunteering, and studying abroad. She commented on the fact that "five years ago, [she] would receive one or two calls a month from parents asking questions about our programs. Now, [she's] talking to parents every day." Musing on whether or not it has to do with the abysmal economy and parent's interest in what their money is giving their child, the issue of the helicopter parents seems to have a much farther-reaching sociological aspect.
In recent polls conducted in 2009, "nearly four times as many people said their relationship [with their children] got better as they'd gotten worse [financially]." (TIME) While parent-child relationships have strengthened with the decline of the economy, that leash on which parents hold their children has also become stronger, maybe even too strong. The economy may have been the spark to light the fuse that eventually exploded into the overbearing parents, but they extended their reach far past the physical parameters of downsizing. "Our participants are only interning for one month at a time, two weeks of which is spent being integrated into the community. Our motto for internships [Adelante's program focus] is that the longer the better," comments Haber. Adelante, in particular, offers internship programs at some of the best and most affordable prices in the industry, so the idea that students are cutting their time short abroad appears to have little to do with economic strain. So what's the real problem?
"Kids are Skyping their parents every day abroad," says Haber, which cuts out a major factor of why studying, interning and volunteering abroad programs are so fulfilling and enriching. Again, you're supposed to be uncomfortable. It's with this discomfort you can learn about yourself; how well you adapt to your new surroundings, what kind of people you are drawn to, and in which new settings you find yourself thriving... or failing in, are all major aspects of traveling abroad that you bring with you when you return home.
Remind yourself daily during your time abroad, even when you're so uncomfortable with your surroundings that you think you can't cope, that your parents will still love you even if you decide that they don't know what's best for you right now. College students especially, the target age for interning, studying and volunteering abroad programs: your parents have got to realize that this is your chance to assert your independence. We at Go Overseas can't stress enough how great and enriching traveling abroad is. Well, yes, we can; it's our passion here. It provides you with a universal understanding that our world, culturally, socially, geographically, politically, and economically can teach us more about ourselves than we thought possible. Explore it, we dare you.
* Time magazine article: The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting
* Photo credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times