A Subtle But Important Note on Word Choice

I am wrapping up my week plus of PTO, so this is another prepost – a refreshing of something from the archives.

I have been working in parent and family relations for almost 23 years, and among my counterparts at other schools, there has been an interesting shift in the language that college families use to talk about the college experience.

In the last 10 years or so, college families nationwide began to talk about their students’ college activities in the plural: “we are trying to figure out room size to see if a rug will fit,” “we are looking into which classes we should register for and have questions” or “we are wondering about a potential roommate switch” – as if the parent or family member was an equal actor in the process. As subtle as it may seem, if you use “we” language for what should be your student’s individual action, it potentially suggests that college should be a joint effort.

And since parents and family members are older and wiser, it makes it that much easier for students to look to you for answers instead of learning the answers themselves.

So a small but meaningful way you can support your student’s burgeoning independence is to be very clear in your use of language and try not to use “we” when discussing to do lists, action items, or your Deac’s college experience.

But go heavy on the “we” as in “we love you.” Your Deacs cannot hear that enough, because nothing feels quite so good as affirmation from your parents, family members, and loved ones.

Just a note that we will not post on Monday, as that is the University’s observation of Juneteenth. We’ll be back next Tuesday.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

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