Article on College Parenting

This article was making the rounds this morning on my Facebook feed and among some of my friends in higher education. It’s The Ethos of the Overinvolved Parent, from The Atlantic. It is an interesting read and one about which many reasonable people might disagree. One of the parents in the article, Stacy, takes a very hands-on approach to her daughter’s college experience, often doing her own research into academics and other matters. The parent makes the point that by paying so much in tuition, she expects certain outcomes for her student and will do what she needs to get them. I’d argue that one of the outcomes of college should be self-sufficient, confident, resilient graduates, and part of what creates those outcomes is giving students the freedom to learn, try, do, choose – and yes, even fail – on their own.

For those of you who have been Daily Deac-ing a long time, you know that our recommended philosophy is the Stop, Drop, and Roll method. In other words, stop when you hear your student talking about a problem (or even just a particular course of action), drop any plans you might have about how you can get involved/try to fix the situation, and roll with whatever your student determines to be the path forward (even if it is not what you would have suggested). Why? Your students need to learn their own problem-solving skills and to chart their own course.

As an academic adviser (for my own advisees as well as other students), I have seen some tough situations that could be avoided. For instance, I have met with potential business school students whose families have told them to disregard the academic adviser’s advice and take Econ 150 and Math 111 (calculus) in the same semester just to get ahead of the prerequisites, when we would instead encourage a student to spread out those classes into different semesters; the result is the student has two low grades in the prereqs.  I have had students say their parents have drafted a 4 year course schedule for them – and it includes things the student doesn’t necessarily want to take, and he/she is afraid of telling his/her parents that for risk of disappointing them.

I have seen students tell me their parents want them to be an X or Y major, and the student hates the course material and is struggling, whereas he/she could be getting a much better GPA in courses he/she likes (families, would you rather see your struggling student graduate with a 2.0 in the major of your choice, or a 3.5 in the major of your student’s choice?)  One of my dear colleagues often says to families “the greatest gift you can give your students is the freedom to choose his or her own academic path” – this is excellent advice.

But I also recommend Stop, Drop, and Roll for other things too – roommate disagreements, housing selection, social situations, you name it.  I have the benefit of hearing from students themselves, and most of the time students tell me they want to do things on their own, without your help, much as they love you. Many a student has come to see me for guidance on a situation and they tell me “I am not worried about this, but my mom/dad/family member is, so…

This is not to say that I think all Wake Forest parents and families are overinvolved. Far from it. You all are the best in the nation, and we are grateful for your partnership. My belief is that we all love our kids and want the best for them, so family involvement is meant as an act of love and support and help. But it is a struggle sometimes to know when to jump in and when to back away with your kids, isn’t it?  Every day in parenting my Class of ’27, I have to check myself to see if my intent (to be helpful) has an unintended impact (of taking away a chance for ’27 to learn something).

And speaking of parental involvement, the Daily Deac will be dark all next week, as ’27 is having some minor, routine surgery and needs me at home (thanks in advance for any positive thoughts you can offer up silently on Monday morning.)  I hope to be back to blogging after Memorial Day.


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