Small Admissions and Helicopter Parents

This is the launch week for Debutante Amy Poeppel’s SMALL ADMISSIONS! Whip out that gift card already and go buy it! To celebrate, the Debs this week are writing on topics related to some of the book’s themes – parenting, school admissions, broken hearts, relationships and friendship.

SMALL ADMISSIONS is a book with a helicopter parenting problem to the nth degree. Rich parents and entitled kids help form the backbone of Amy’s hilarious novel. For me, the book felt even truer because my husband works at a college and tells me stories of the same types of parents. Add to that my own experience working as a teacher and some of SMALL ADMISSIONS’ stories seem to hit almost too close to the bone.

For some reason, many parents in my generation decided that it would be better to be friends with their kids and err on the side of over-protection rather than helping their children find their own path through the world. Amy’s book starts these kids out young, with parents trying desperately hard to get them into highly expensive private schools, coaching them on how to behave, what to wear and what to say. But that’s just the beginning. Many of those same types of parents will hover all around their child throughout his/her life, overplanning, overprotecting and worst of all, indulging the child’s every whim. It is especially baffling to me to see parents managing their college-aged kids’ affairs. My husband regularly receives harassing phone calls from parents who are upset that they can’t get the grades for their 22-year-old kids (it’s illegal after the age of 18 to give this information to anyone other than the student) or who are upset because some of the classes their kid wanted are all full. When I was 18 I would have been embarrassed to have my parents managing my life in such detail.

One of the most ridiculous helicopter parenting things that ever happened to me was when I was teaching business writing at UMass Boston about eight years ago. I had a full evening class of nearly 35-40 undergraduate students. On the first day there was a student in attendance who hadn’t registered for the course. No big deal, that often happened on the first day. I let her know that she needed to sign up and pay for the course before the next class commenced. She agreed and that was that. The next class, she was there again, but still not part of the official roster. I reminded her to register and pay for the class by the third class or I would have to ask her to leave. She apologized and promised to take care of things before then.  And of course, you can guess that by the third week, she still hadn’t signed up. I finished taking roll, then asked her if she could join me in the hallway for a moment. I told her that while I’d love to have her in my class, she hadn’t registered and I couldn’t let her stay. She would need to gather her belongings and go, but if she registered, I would be happy to welcome her back the following week. She seemed embarrassed, apologized, picked up her things and left. I commenced teaching the class.

About 45 minutes later, at around 8:30 or so, I hear someone clear their throat at the door to the classroom. I look over and a woman about my age is staring at me from the doorway. “Excuse me, Professor King, but I need to speak with you.” I ask the class to keep reading the passage we had been working on and I join her in the hallway. She immediately began to berate me–loudly–definitely loud enough for everyone in the class to hear our every word.

“HOW DARE YOU embarrass my daughter like that? You asked her to leave in front of everyone!” I assured her that I did not, and that I had given her daughter ample warning about needing to sign up for the class. I showed her my roster and told her that she needed to square things with the registrar. She would have none of it. “I’m going to talk to the Dean!”

“Please do,” I responded. “I’m sure the Dean can help you make sure that everything is set with her registration, then I’d love to have her back in my class.”

At no point did she ever declare that her daughter was in fact signed up for the class, or that the class was paid for. She kept insisting that she was going to go to the Dean and complain about what a terrible teacher I was. I told her that I myself would also do the same, to let the Dean know that she would be reaching out. Finally, after realizing she wasn’t going to get anywhere with me, she left. I went back to the tittering class. It was clear that the mother had embarrassed her daughter FAR more than I ever could have.

I did reach out to the Dean and let her know. And I checked back in a few times but nope, the woman never did talk to the Dean, nor did her daughter ever come back to my class. Who knows what happened to them. I still wonder how that young woman is doing and if she was ever able to get out from under her mother’s wing. Did she even want to?

I have friends in the world of corporate human resources who tell me that they will often have parents bringing their kids to job interviews and some of them even ask if they can sit in. Usually, the HR team says no, that the interview is only for the individual, and at that stage it is pretty much a death knell for the candidate.

When I read Amy’s book, I could not help but wonder about the kinds of kids that go to the schools depicted in Amy’s book. While her story is fiction, the scenarios within have a basis in reality. Part of what makes SMALL ADMISSIONS so powerful is that you know that there really are parents and children out there just like that. Where will they end up after their years of private school? Will mommy and daddy over-protect and helicopter them on through high school, then college, then to adulthood, likely to their detriment?

Fortunately, SMALL ADMISSIONS has a whole slew of redeeming qualities within, including staff at the schools that care, students who outshine their horrible others, and love and a whole lot of laughter in between.

I’m SO pleased to have had the chance to read Amy’s wonderful novel, and to get to know the wonderful person that Amy herself is. SMALL ADMISSIONS is just the beginning for her and I cannot wait to see where she is going to go from here.

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Crystal King is a writer, culinary enthusiast and social media expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and an obsession with the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught writing, creativity and social media at Grub Street and several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University. Crystal received her masters in critical and creative thinking from University of Massachusetts Boston. She lives with her husband and their two cats in the Boston area.

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2 thoughts on “Small Admissions and Helicopter Parents

  1. Thank you Crystal for sharing with us, Amy Poeppel’s novel, SMALL ADMISSIONS. I love how you DEBS support one another! Talk about sisterhood! I love Amy’s novel, but as the same time I’m being amused, my stomach is twisting because I know these parents and entitled kids and I’m completely unsettled. Thanks to Amy for finding the humor in a whole generation of academic neurosis! Thank you too, Crystal. Happy New Year!

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