Cyndy Scheibe, professor in the Department of Psychology, said that when observing move-in day, it is always interesting for her to observe the relationships between parents and their kids. She said that, for the most part, she sees the child in charge while the parents good-naturedly help carry their things. She said there are also cases where parents set up the room and hang around for longer than they should, an action that may or may not be comforting to their child, who is just entering their college experience.
Even after move-in day has passed and classes begin to start, with the Ithaca College Parents Facebook page, parents can be involved in their children’s lives long after they unpack the last suitcase and drive away.
The parents Facebook group currently has 1,197 members. The group is a private page meant only for parents of students who attend the college to ask questions and get input from other parents about topics like transportation logistics, financial aid or recommendations for activities when visiting the area. But the page also allows more parents to ask about more personal issues like potential roommates, mental health concerns and internship opportunities. Carol Herb, Nancy O’Connor and Helene Smith are admins for the page. Smith created the page approximately five years ago. O’Connor’s son, Jake O’Connor, is a senior at the college and Herb’s son, Sean Herb, is a sophomore. Smith’s daughter transferred to Smith College and graduated in May 2018.
Smith said she created the page because the college her other child attended had pages for parents, and Ithaca College did not. Many other schools have parent Facebook pages, including Cornell University, SUNY Cortland and SUNY Albany. Smith said that even though the information parents share on the page can often be found online or by calling the college, it can be helpful to ask someone for help who has a similar parental perspective.
Smith said she doesn’t think it’s necessary that parents are a part of these conversations about their children’s lives, but she believes it is helpful. She said parents rely on other parents through the page for insight, information and advice.
“Sometimes, they just need to lean on one another,” she said.
She said she thinks the page allows parents to gather information rather than handle issues their students are facing for them.
The Facebook page has been used as an effective organizing tool in the past. Notably, parents on the page posted about a piece of moldy bread found in the college’s dining hall, which led to the creation of a petition that garnered more than 500 signatures and helped put pressure on the college to improve its dining services. The college canceled its contract with its widely criticized food provider, Sodexo, this past March. When news broke that druggings were being reported at downtown bars, parents used the page to warn others and their children about the potential risk.
“My vision was to give parents a place to get information from each other,” Smith said. “Not every parent makes it to orientation or sees emails. Sometimes they don’t understand everything, and it helps to talk to parents and … gives them a way to connect.”
O’Connor said it can also be used for support among parents.
“As parents, I feel like when the kids go to college, you’re not as involved,” she said. “Also, when you’re coming from other places and you don’t know Ithaca, it’s helpful to have people that have been through it or are going through it.”
Smith said parents often use the page to reassure other parents that their child can handle whatever situation is at hand by sharing how they dealt with similar situations.
However, the Facebook page can also allow for overparenting to take place. Scheibe said the page can help parents feel connected with their child’s experiences but could become problematic if the posts are being made and problems are being solved without input from the student. She said students should be looking for their own roommates and handling housing alone.
“Independence is the key for individuals being able to move into adult roles,” she said.
She said independence is what allows children to learn to be emotionally, financially and residentially self-reliant. Scheibe described helicopter parents as those who are overly involved in the lives of their children, trying to make decisions for them to protect them from any disappointment, long past the time when parents need to play that role.
“What comes into play is control and wanting to be in charge of every decision the child makes — in part of wanting their child to succeed and be happy,” she said. “It reflects that they are not willing to let their child be self-reliant.”
Scheibe said that a Facebook page for parents at the college is not necessarily indicative of helicopter parenting depending on the nature of the conversation. She said the page could also be helpful for parents to support each other in letting go and trusting children to be independent.
Freshman Bailey Becher said she has concerns that the page could also create dependency issues.
“I feel like it doesn’t allow children to be independent,” she said. “I feel like parents use it to complain when their child is struggling even though, at this age, they should be trying to figure it out themselves.”
Smith said that even though her children are now 23 and 26, she is very involved in their lives. She said that this does not concern her or her children and that she believes the level of involvement parents have in their children’s lives should be a personal choice. She said that though she likes to know what is going on in her children’s lives, she would not prevent her children from being independent adults.
“I had trouble letting go,” she said. “But I would never stand in the way.”
O’Connor said that she thinks parents need to be involved with health and safety issues, but for day to day discrepancies, their children should have the agency to figure out these issues.
“As a parent, I will never not be involved with my son’s life,” she said.
O’Connor said that even though students are legal adults, some do not have the ability to navigate all aspects of the world, and it is the parents’ job to help their children find their way.
All three admins said their children are aware of their positions on the Facebook page and do not mind that they are involved.
Sean Herb, Carol Herb’s son, said that he is happy his mother is part of the page and that it doesn’t affect him personally. He said that the level of involvement his parents have in his life works for him but that every student is different.
“We have a balance where they’ll offer me advice and check in on me just to see how I’m doing but largely leave me to my own devices when solving issues and always encourage me to try and correct issues myself instead of coming to them whenever I need help,” he said.
He said he would be comfortable with his parents posting about him on the page in generic terms if he really needed advice and his parents were at a loss for what to say. He said he would be upset, however, if they posted details about the situation without his permission.
Freshman Monica Hammerl said her parents are not part of the page. However, she added that if they were, she would not approve of her parents posting about personal issues.
“I feel like if they were gossiping or trying to control things, they’re not necessarily being helpful,” she said. “If they saw, for example, a post about an event and kept trying to get their child to go to it.”
Freshman Caroline Davenport said she believes parents should be involved in their children’s lives to an extent while still giving them room to make their own decisions.
She said the Facebook page could be potentially helpful for parents who want information, similar to student Facebook pages. However, she said that talking about private information regarding students in the group is not acceptable.
“I think having that leniency but still having communication is good,” she said.