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Dr. Ken Haller talks about parental involvement in children's schooling.

ST. LOUIS – While parental involvement is key to a child's success in school, at what point does a participating parent become a smother mother (or father)?

Ken Haller, M.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and physician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, says that being an advocate for your child is a noble thing, but at a certain point, parents need to step back and let their children become advocates for themselves.

"That's the only way kids will be able to learn the skills they'll need to take care of themselves when they become adults," Haller said.

Everyone knows parents, or maybe even is a parent, who are overly involved in their children's lives. Popular culture has labeled them "helicopter parents," for their tendency to hover closely overhead. While the term is new, Haller says the phenomenon is not.

"There have always been parents who would fit the definition of helicopter parents. They used to be called 'overprotective parents,' but the idea of parents who hover over their children to shield them from possible distress is as old as parenting," Haller said.

Society pressures – from pregnancy to college graduation – to raise the perfect child contribute to the problem. Today's parents also feel more empowered to question the authority of other adults whom their child encounters, such as coaches and teachers, Haller explained.

"Questioning is not bad as long as parents are willing to listen and there is true dialogue," Haller says. "When it results in uncompromising demands, however, it can become a real barrier to the child's maturity and self-reliance."

So what's a parent to do? Haller says that the start of a new school year is a perfect time for parents to evaluate their role in their child's lives and make adjustments that will set their children up to succeed. Haller offers the following resolutions for helicopter parents:

  • Encourage your children to discuss their problems, but let them come up with their own solutions. Problem solving is a great way for children to learn and grow.

  • Steer clear of battles such as disputing your child's grade, discipline, placement on a team or squabbles with friends. Instead, enable your child to properly deal with his or her problems by asking him or her what should be done and offering possible solutions.

  • During homework time, be available to answer questions and clarify instructions. Avoid giving the answers or doing the work yourself, even if the assignment seems too difficult. Remember your job is to create a situation where your child can succeed. Provide the necessary supplies, create a quiet and well-lit study area and set aside time for homework.

  • Respect teachers' schedules by making appointments and using e-mail. Your child's teacher will be happy to meet with you, but he or she also needs time to teach and prepare for class. If you want to be involved, ask your child's teacher how you can contribute to the classroom.

  • Teach your child to respect the authority of teachers and coaches. While it's OK to question teachers and coaches, do not bad mouth them, break their rules or make excuses for your child.

  • Hold your children accountable and let them suffer the consequences of their actions. Especially by middle school, it is important to make your child responsible for studying, bringing homework home and turning assignments in.

  • If you're concerned that your child is the victim of bullies or peer pressure, discuss your concerns with your child. Brainstorm appropriate responses, but try not to interfere at school unless your child is in danger.

  • Remember that your job is to prepare your child to be a responsible and capable adult, so decrease your involvement over time and let your child live his or her own life.


Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.


Editor's Note: To arrange an interview, call Sara Savat, Saint Louis University Medical Center communications, at (314) 977-8018.


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