Launching our students: helping instead of hovering

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Kristin Gehring

Whrr-rr-rr ... That's the sound of helicopter parents hovering over their children. "Have you done your homework? Did you make the team? Are you being challenged?" Whrr-rr-rr ...

Well, what are we supposed to do? Take a well-deserved nap and leave the kiddos to their own devices?

Of course not. But we could all use a little help, especially as our cute little cherubs get older and start morphing into sarcastic teenagers. "Adolescent parenting is hard," says life coach Karin Grimes, "and your kids can make you feel like you're doing it all wrong. Maybe you can use some new ideas or just some support. The goal is to stay connected while constantly encouraging forward movement for your child."

Grimes is a high school social worker at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago. In her private practice as a life coach, she specializes in supporting families through the sometimes grueling process of weaning their high school students away from home and into a college setting.

Next Monday, April 13, at the Oak Park Public Library, she offers a workshop for parents called "Equipping Your Student for Success: Parenting Toward Responsible Independence." The workshop is designed to support parents of high school students through the college selection process and beyond - to the day they leave home.

So what can we do - aside from making sure we have plenty of friends with whom to commiserate - in order to make sure the process of launching our high school graduates out of the home and into the world is as constructive and friction-free as possible?

Grimes suggests focusing on the "Big Ten Attributes" identified by Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt in their book, The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life (Three Rivers Press, 2002), one of many sources included in a bibliography that Grimes shares with parents at her workshop.

Starting with number one, "Motivation and drive," the list includes such elements of character development as "Practical reasoning and judgment," "Moral attentiveness and character" and "Healthy habits." Yikes. Fellow helicopter pilots may start to squirm as we meditate on how best to steer our children down the righteous path when our own roads may still contain a few bumpy places.

Aside from offering strategies and resources at her upcoming workshop, Grimes will also provide plenty of interactive time for parent participants to share ideas and frustrations with each other. Her goal is to equip us with techniques for working together with our students to determine priorities, set realistic goals and improve time management skills, while still maintaining a balanced life.

Sound like a tall order? The consensus is that it's a lot harder than it used to be. Many parents reflect with mixed emotions on the days when they themselves were finishing high school - back when free time still existed and exhaustive college selection processes were not the norm.

But that was then. This is now. Whrr-rr-rr. Battle stations, parents! Grab your bibliographies and call in the professionals.

"I thought it would be helpful for parents to get together and think through where their children are along a continuum of where they'd want to see them be by the time they're ready to leave home," says Grimes.

"Equipping Your Student for Success: Parenting Toward Responsible Independence," with Karin Grimes, is offered Monday, April 13, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Oak Park's Main Library, 834 Lake St., in the second floor small meeting room. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, call Grimes at 708-383-5354 or e-mail

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