In response to a growing number of correspondences from helicopter parents, Statebridge University has brought in an expert: The Parent Whisperer, also known as author and psychiatrist Dr. Mattie Helms.
“Despite the fact that many faculty and staff members are parents themselves, most parents refuse to believe that anyone who works on campus has any idea that Johnny is too sweet to be involved in a policy violation or that Suzie is, in fact, the actual problem in her ongoing roommate conflict,” said Dr. Joan Anderson, VP of Student Affairs at Statebridge. “Bringing in Dr. Helms has meant, hopefully, that parents will respond to this expert’s advice about their little snowflake’s latest ouchie—I mean, important life lesson.”
Helms has been a highly sought professional since publishing her bestseller, Eighteen Years Wasn’t Enough: A Guide for the Helicopter Parent, in 2007. Since then, she has spoken at over 40 parent orientations, been a guest on morning shows, and advised countless institutions on parent concerns.
Statebridge University, home to about 14,000 students, has seen a large drop-off in calls, complaints, and concerns since hiring Helms. “I used to get two, maybe three calls a day—more during move-in and midterms,” said Michael Campbell, director of the largest first-year residence hall on campus. “Now I just refer them to Helms. Then, no more calls—one parent even called back and apologized, saying she had gone overboard and everything would be fine. It was…creepy. Nice, but creepy.”
“By empathizing with the parent and condoning their behavior, she really seems to get results,” Anderson said. “Rather than trying to reason with these individuals or make them see their students as autonomous adults, she just whispers to them about how ‘they (the students) are starving without those oatmeal cookies they loved to eat after school’ and then I swear, they pass right out. I’ve seen it happen.”
Upon waking from the “spell,” parents are—according to Helms’s book—98% less likely to call the President’s Office asking why their student can’t get apple juice in the dining centers, and 92% less likely to drive to campus every Friday night to do their student’s laundry. Helms’s website also boasts an 85% decrease in calls to Public Safety because students did not return texts within four minutes.
“I just understand what they need,” Helms stated in a phone interview. “It’s a gift that I have, and one I am willing to share to make sure parents, administrators, and students have the best experience possible.”
Helms does ask for total privacy when meeting with parents, and will not assist them over the phone or via e-mail. “It has to be in person—just something about that face-to-face interaction really helps me get through to them,” Helms said. To keep up with the growing demand, Helms has trained a team of individuals also skilled in calming anxious parents. But Helms, administrators say, is the best.
“We just really appreciate the way she helps our families—and especially our students—let go of their anxieties and attachments. It’s really improved parent relations with faculty and staff. I just cannot get over how dozens of our staff will try to calm these parents—and just five minutes in a quiet room with Helms turns them into a completely different person,” Anderson said.
Helms’s book is available via her website, which also has links to her speaking tour and information for parents and administrators. Her other interests include a background in pharmaceuticals and chemistry, including her recent invention of a fast-acting animal tranquilizer.