It’s Scary, But I Can Totally Understand These Crazy Helicopter Parents Stalking Their College-Aged Kid

helicopter parentsAubrey Ireland is an accomplished 21-year-old student attending the College-Conservatory of Music. And now, thanks to a court in Cincinnati, she’s the girl with a restraining order against her helicopter parents. While I can totally understand why Ireland needed a little space from her over-zealous parents, I can also see why it’s so hard for adults to loosen the reins when their kids head to college.

Aubrey’s parents are a new breed of over-protective that’s been gaining prominence for a decade. They frequently drive six hours to pop in for unexpected visits on their daughter. They worry that their adorable little girl is doing drugs and getting wild while she’s away at school. They even attempt to speak to their daughter’s teachers and make sure that her academics are up to snuff.

Now, the Irelands seem to take this idea above and beyond. They warned teachers that their daughter has a mental illness. Which she doesn’t. They installed keylogging software on her computer and cell phone to keep tabs on her social life. They got so intense that their daughter decided to cut off all ties with her parents, to which they responded by refusing to pay her tuition. Admittedly, this whole thing got intense. Now Aubrey’s school is giving her a scholarship for her last year of school and her parents can’t even attend her recitals.

But dial it back just a bit, and I have serious sympathy for a couple of parents who are paying $30,000 a year to put their child through school two states away and just can’t help but worry about how things are going.

Parents save for decades. They deny themselves vacations. They skimp on retirement savings. And they do it all just to make sure that their children can go to college. Forget owning a home, making sure your offspring gets to a university is the new American dream. The yearly cost is pretty much equivalent to a down payment on a new home. And you have to pay it four years in a row.

Then, due to the intense pressure to succeed in college and take unpaid internships to get ahead in your field, parents are still footing the bill for living expenses. They’re sending monthly allowances. They’re adding points to the meal plan.

Higher education for your children is a huge investment. And like most investors, some parents just have a hard time stepping back. They want to make sure that students are making good use of their funds. They want to ensure that all that hard-earned financial support isn’t wasted. Add in the natural concern that parents have for their children in general, and how hard it is to say goodbye to them at all, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of stalking like what happened to Aubrey Ireland.

I’m not saying that Aubrey was wrong to cut ties with her parents. They went too far. They started to lie and manipulate. Their fears took over their common sense. That being said, there’s a small part of my brain that sympathizes with those parents. And that part is a little terrified that I might go overboard myself one day, when I send my daughter off to a college a couple states away.

(Photo: iurii/Shutterstock)

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  • meteor_echo

    No, it still doesn’t give them the right to snoop on their daughter like this. She does not owe them being compliant, and she’s not a perfect Stepford daughter. People who think they can pay for their children’s lives in cash can go fuck right off.

    • LindsayCross

      I get what you’re saying! And I don’t think it makes them right. I’m not saying their behavior is excusable. Just that I understand where it might be coming from. Even understanding it makes me feel icky and old and a little bit insane. Because obviously, their behavior is not okay.

    • meteor_echo

      I DO understand where the need to control comes from, yes. I’m the overprotective kind of person myself, but they’ve turned it up to 11. Seriously, I’m just glad she got a restraining order there (hopefully, she’ll be able to prolong it!)

  • Véronique Houde

    Although I see that you can sympathize with these parents, I wholeheartedly disagree with you. I don’t understand how they could be so controlling. Having children is our choice, not forced upon us (in most cases), and part of that choice is saving up for a college fund. It is also part of that choice to accept that you cannot control your child, shelter them from all harm, and make all their decisions for them. If at 21 years of age, they still can’t let go, it’s because they’re letting their concern turn into a selfish need for control. And that is unacceptable. I know that we all want our kids to live great lives, but sheltering them too much only leads them to be weak – and doesn’t let them learn HOW to make their lives better when things get rough.

  • Bluebelle

    This has moved into the realm of not just being overprotective, but of being totally untrusting. Though I’d never consider my own parents helicopter parents, they definitely looked out for my best interests, but when I got to college, they cut the cord (and invested $100,000 and sent me many states away). They checked up on me in the sense that we called each other once or twice a week (because we genuinely wanted to) and they always asked questions about how classes and friends were going, but they knew they could trust me and were confident in their ability to have raised a young lady capable of making good decisions and who wouldn’t be afraid that the world would end if she made a few “bad” ones. I hope to be able to raise my own brood in the same way.

    Unless she has given them a reason (and I mean a BIG reason) to act so irrationally, I feel bad for these parents and their inability to trust and I hope they haven’t passed their paranoia onto their daughter or any other children they may have. I have never heard of anything quite like this.

    • Brawny71

      If she was living daily wondering if they were going to show up, call, or meet with people she knows, that is reason enough.

    • Bluebelle

      No, no, I mean that I just don’t understand how her parents could be like this unless she gave them a reason to be. Like what would make a parent behave like this aside from a) something that happened in the past or b) just their own paranoid/controlling/untrusting/suspicious personalities.

  • Nikki

    If you read the actual news stories about this, her parents convinced her to turn down full-scholarships to other universities to attended this one. That’s why they were paying her tuition.

    I felt that my parents were pretty strict when I was a kid. I had a 10 p.m. curfew until I was 18, I didn’t get a cell phone or a personal computer until I went to college and while all my friends were out partying and socializing I mostly stayed at home with my family. But to their credit, when I did go to college they let me be an adult. So much so that sometimes I got really frustrated because I’d want them to tell me what to do when I was in difficult situations and they’d tell me that all they could offer was advice, and that I needed to start making decisions myself. It was hard, but I’m grateful that my parents gave me that push. They still swoop in sometimes to help me out thanks to the down economy, but I graduated, got a job, pay my own bills and rent, and still call them once or twice a week and visit regularly. Most of all, I’m a functional adult that has a healthy adult relationship with them!

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Ummm, no. I’m a university student (living in Ontario while my parents are in British Columbia) and this is our first shot at adulthood. We want to be trusted, and we want the right to make our own decisions, for better or worse. When parents are paying, they get some more input, but only minimal – and in the end, it’s their risk. When your daughter goes to university, if it’s far away, please, please, PLEASE let her call the shots. Having a teenager, of course, will give you practice.

  • LiteBrite

    I do not sympathize with these parents at all. Yes, I agree college is a huge investment, and yes I understand that parents want to make sure their kids are making the right choices, especially if they’re paying for it. But hopefully as a parent you’ve raised your kid to make good choices so that once they hit adulthood – whether they go to college or not – they are able to continue a pattern of responsibility.

    However, part of raising a kid to make good choices is letting them screw up once in awhile and having them face the consequences. Mistakes are often the best teachers. If your control mechanism is so intense that you can’t even resist putting keylogging software on your adult child’s computer, then that’s on you as a parent, not the kid.

  • Denise Tavakolinia

    Why is understanding needed? The parents need psychiatric help and the kid might be a spoiled brat. It’s not an either/or scenario. There is a bit of both going on here. There are obvious trust issues and lack of boundaries on all sides. However, the parents are out of line thinking because they pay for college they are entitled to manipulate and control this woman’s life. They have created harmful feelings and distrust that may take a life time to remedy. Control does not equate to love it equates to fear. The parents may love this young woman but their actions equate to something else entirely. Most parents have the desire to control and not let go but few have the NEED to do so. That need is not healthy and is borderline abusive.

  • Courtney Lynn

    I have a friend who just turned 22. She’s married with her own child and another on the way. The girl is grown. Saying her parents need to back off is an understatement. I do understand protecting your child, I have a 7-month-old and another baby on the way, too. What these people have done is narcissistic, beyond overbearing and completely inexcusable.

  • Jessie

    Look, all money comes with strings. You accept money from your parents for college, you’re still on the parental tit. Maybe this college student wasn’t calling home, or in some way not holding up her end of the deal and her parents freaked. There are three sides to every story and we’ve only heard one.

    And if I’m shelling out 30k a year for school, I expect some kind of respect.

    The parents may have been in the wrong, but I don’t know enough to judge.

    • Courtney Lynn

      Nothing excuses putting keylogging software on her phone and computer, random visits to do nothing more than snoop and talking to her professors as if she’s in middle school.

    • Eileen

      What cinches it is the fact that they – wrongly – told her professors she was mentally ill. Yeah, she could buy her own cell phone and computer or pay for college herself if necessary. But lying about her mental state to her professors is insane and not acceptable no matter how much money they’ve given her.

  • HeliMom

    As a self described helicopter parent, I too, believe these parents have gone too far. My only wish is to protect my daughter and I couldn’t imagine purposely harming her. I was enraged reading how these parents told the school their daughter had mental issues; this could have adversely affected her career path and education. I honestly dread the day my daughter leaves for college but even I understand that if I’ve done my job correctly, she will be prepared and it’s time to take a step back. Don’t know how I’ll do that, but I will.

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