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Swift: Even with today’s helicopter parents, not much has changed

It’s that time.

It’s that time of year when teary parents across the nation pack up their newly minted high school grads and bundle them off to school.

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It is very cool — and a little bizarre — that today’s parents are so deeply involved in this coming-of-age ritual. They help their children fill out college applications, drive with them to the dorms, help them unpack and even stand in line with them for books.

It is light-years from the sink-or-swim philosophy that parents had when I started college. We jammed my life’s possessions into my sister’s Pinto and trekked across the state. Once there, she helped me unpack and announced she needed to head to her campus across the river to get her own stuff unpacked, thank you.

And so I sat alone in a nearly empty room, waiting for a roommate who never showed up and feeling lonelier than I ever had before.

I like to joke that the students of today have helicopter parents, while the students of 30 years ago had drone parents. The former hover and buzz. The latter sent you unmanned into unknown territory, conducted all parenting from a distant location and hoped you didn’t crash.

You saw your parents on holidays, called them once a week on the phone and occasionally begged them for money. Otherwise, you depended on your still-developing brain, your class schedule and your erratic new friend who dressed like Boy George to guide you.

Of course, this “drop and roll” parenting style had certain advantages. You cut the apron strings much more hastily and became more independent in the process. But there were tons of bumps, scrapes and concussions along the way, and a lot of kids seemed to drop out after that first quarter of college.

But as much as I like to wave my fist in the air and yell that today’s kids should get off my lawn of old college memories, I have to admit something else. In many ways, college is exactly the same.

I was reminded of this last week after helping my godchild move into her new dorm. First off, she moved into the same dorm I had lived in during college. Secondly, we soon found out she had been assigned the exact same room that my sister Bertha had lived in 30 years ago.

Finally, the dorm had barely changed over the past three decades. It had the same wood paneling on the walls, the same avocado-green desktops, the same hand-lettered signs announcing a floor meeting that evening. A few boys stretched out on the furniture in the co-ed dorm’s shared lounge. They talked sports and music and school, while covertly checking out the girls. If they had worn Miami Vice jackets and Kirk Cameron haircuts, I might have thought they were the same guys who frequented the lounge when I was in school.

The place even smelled the same — a heady perfume of sweaty T-shirts, laundry detergent, new textbooks and microwaved ramen noodles.

And the players all acted the same. Dads harrumphing because they had to park 3 miles away. Freshmen trying to mask their feelings of excitement and anxiety. Resident assistants trying to politely tell that new student that she could not have a grand piano in her dorm room.

The whole scene carried a timeless quality. Yes, today’s students Google on iPhones rather than digging up books in the library. They pay more tuition in one year than I paid in all four. And the flash drives they carry contain way more memory than the most expensive super-computers from my era.

But the students really are the same.

And that is somehow reassuring.

Swift writes for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.