Having a close relationship with your parents is a good thing. But for college students, how attached is too attached? When is it time to 'break up?'
We wanted to talk about "divorcing your parents" after reading Terry Castle's piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Don't pick up: Why kids need to separate from their parents."
In the piece, Castle recalls a conversation with college students where they start telling her how often they talk to their parents:
" Finally, one student--a delightful young woman whom I know to be smart and levelheaded--confesses that she talks to her mother on the cellphone at least five, maybe six, even seven times a day: We're like best friends, so I call her whenever I get out of class. She wants to know about my professors, what was the exam, so I tell her what's going on and give her, you know, updates. Sometimes my grandmother's there, and I talk to her too.
I'm stunned; I'm aghast; I'm going gaga. I must look fairly stricken too--Elektra keening over the corpse of Agamemnon--because now the whole class starts laughing at me, their strange unfathomable lady-professor, the one who doesn't own a television and obviously doesn't have any kids of her own. What a freak. 'But when I was in school,' I manage finally to gasp, 'All we wanted to do was get away from our parents!' 'We never called our parents!' 'We despised our parents!' 'In fact,' I splutter--and this is the showstopper--'we only had one telephone in our whole dorm--in the hallway--for 50 people! If your parents called, you'd yell from your room, Tell them I'm not here!'
Castle will join The Daily Circuit Monday to give us the case for breaking up with your parents. Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota, will also join the discussion.
"One of the critical developmental steps for eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds is to learn to make their own decisions," Savage wrote in 'You're On Your Own.' "Today's students know that thoughful decision making includes gathering solid information and seeking reliable advice. The youth of this generation realize that their mothers and fathers have helped them get this far, and they recognize that some of their decisions can impact the family finances. They will continue to turn to their parents while they are in college."
Parents have a hard time letting go because they have been managing their child's life so closely until they reach college. It's a confusing and scary time for parents and their children.
One of our guests, Terry Castle, wrote this article for Chronicle of Higher Education that inspired this chat.
Here's the excerpt that made Kerri Miller say, "We have to talk about this!":
"Finally, one student—a delightful young woman whom I know to be smart and levelheaded—confesses that she talks to her mother on the cellphone at least five, maybe six, even seven times a day: We're like best friends, so I call her whenever I get out of class. She wants to know about my professors, what was the exam, so I tell her what's going on and give her, you know, updates. Sometimes my grandmother's there, and I talk to her too."
"Snow Plow Parents" are ridiculous. My mom has always been fairly hands off. If I need guidance I can ask questions, but my mom will ultimately say, "what do you think you should do?...then do it." She's always gotten quesy at the idea that parents would do everything for their kids-cum-accessories. It's nice to have a mother who won't butt in where she doesn't feel she belongs.
This must be a very new phenomenon because I graduated from college in 2009 and this was definitely not my experience! I also can tell you it was not the experience of my friends. When did this start?
I am wondering if this is linked to the rise of the smart phone; which indeed has exploded since 2009.
Guest Terry Castle.
Do you know a young adult who is in constant contact with their parents? Do you have that kind of relationship with your kid or your parents?
@KerriMPR Yes but I am trying to get better about that. Never heard the term snowplow..just helicopter.
We call them lawnmower parents in #highered! RT @KerriMPR: Are you a snowplow parent? Clearing every obstacle from your kids path?
I taught law school where it is a rule that all work must be the student's own, not proofread by parents or others. It was shocking how incapable some students were. They could not even write coherent sentences, and these were high achievers who had made it into a good law school! Once the rules were changed and they had to be on their own, they were completely lost and spent SO much time complaining that it wasn't fair. Some learned and reformed, some flunked out.
Staying connected to my parents and talking to them a couple of times as week has kept me reminded of my values of discipline and hard work. I graduate in two weeks and were it not for staying connected to them I would have dropped out by this point.
There's a darker side to the "academic assistance" of snowplow parents. Over ten years of teaching writing at 4 universities I found cheating and plagiarism to be on the rise along with the over parenting. In several cases where students had cheated, their parents directly appealed to faculty and administrators -- sometimes in the form of early morning home calls to deans and department chairs. I had grades arbitrarily changed behind my back by higherups on several of these occasions, and I know this happened to others as well.
In response to Ms. Curtis' question, I'm going to be 24 in a couple weeks. I've been working to complete an A.S. degree since 2007, working full time the entire way. In helping my brothers out more than I should I've had a tough go, but my mom has never thought it was a good idea to make any of my decisions.
@Heather Terry Castle said "that's what I am talking about!" when I read your story on the air."
@KerriMPR how is this 'caring' is related to class? It seems this 'care' is all a return on investment for parents.
Well this is our family and we all love it.
My husband and I often say we are so happy that our children have such a different experience from ours. We just had 2 college graduations at our small college which was the most fabulous experience. The student who is not close to parents is the odd one now. The difference may be that parents often went to college and know the experience they had could have been much more supportive and enjoyable. To all of us this is not an issue. Iti s how to be a happy family.
Want a glimpse at the minute-to-minute schedule of a high-powered under grad? It does seem overwhelming.
@KerriMPR parents should advise & counsel, they should not intervene directly with proffesors, homework, or problems..personal responsibilty
I think in some instances parents are too involved in their children's lives through college and beyond.
In my case, my parents are there for me when I reach out to them, but for the most part I'm on my own.
It's vital that at this age, we learn to live our lives independently. I have a roommate who's father is way too involved in her life. He writes down directions for calling billing companies, takes over house searches etc. These types of life skills (paying bills, finding housing...even scheduling doctor's appointments on one's own) is important to function in society. If kids my age don't learn to function on their own in college, they will learn to depend on someone for the rest of their lives, whether it's their parents or a significant other...either way it's unhealthy and disfunctional.
Heather is right -- the snowplowing parent who interferes with academic standards, grades, and discipline is definitely part of the conversion of the 4 year college degree into the new high school diploma. I was so frustrated with this development in higher ed, it was a major factor in my decision to walk away from a dissertation and an academic career. Kids are paying more and coming out of college more in debt now for degrees of little value in many, many schools because they have been shielded from real standards, consequences, competition, and the opportunity to fail.
I am not overly involved in my son's college education and keep calls to every other week or so. I do however believe that it's not entirely fair to compare past generations lesser involvement with today's greater because of the great difference in cost of college education. As a stakeholder in and often as funder of their children's education it is in the parent's interest to smooth the way as much as possible.
I'd like to know if your guests can comment on how parents in the United States compare to parents in other cultures. Its my perception that families here are less enmeshed than families in most other places in the world.
I recently completed my doctoral dissertation, MOBILE TELEPHONE USE AND STUDENT DEVELOPMENT:
HOW COMMUNICATION WITH PARENTS IS RELATED
TO PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
IN COLLEGE STUDENTS 320-290-7094
@Dr. Sonja Gidlow Do you have a link to an excerpt? What did you find?
I believe academic programs should more closely reflect post-school life. High-stakes writing needs to be peer-reviewed. I'm surprised to learn that this process is discouraged.
Could the parental involvement be one reason college grads are having trouble finding jobs? Mom and dad have done all the "work" or "fighting" for them and suddenly can't be a t the job interview?
We have had to request that our 3 boys call us once a week while at college. All are high achievers and ask for advice now and then, but they prefer to figure things out on their own.
Try to be married to a man that snowplow more than describes his mother. She would visit him every weekend while in college, did his laundry until he was 27, and once we were engaged, tried to plan our wedding. She is now snowplowing our children. I grew up with parents who were completely opposite,almost to a fault. My question is now as a parent myself, how do we balance?
I think this models a sad picture of parenting for these kids. Why would you ever want to have your own family if it means you're uber parenting forever?
I am 24 and graduated from college 2 years ago. My parents and I have gone back and forth about the appropriate amount of involvement in my life.
I think they feel entitled to be a part of my schooling (and personal life!) given all the help I've received from them. However, I feel like they have ill-prepared be for the real world from their coddling. I see both point though--my fiance did not receive any help or coddling from his parents once he turned 18 and as a result never was able to complete college, and is still struggling at 26 to go back to school. We both have very strong support from our parents but with very different results.
While these personalized stories are important to tell, looking at the structural problems are just as important.
These parents are a classic example of privilege. Those students with parents helping them every step of the way is an example of those with resources getting ahead, while those without college educated parents or parents without financial resources are left to rely on themselves. This privilege is revealed in graduation disparities and grade distribution disparities between college students.
I'm going to defend the mom who's proofreading her son's papers. As a writer I appreciate the need for someone else to proof your work. Assuming it isn't an undue burden on her, Mom the English Prof seems a logical choice.
For some, the snow plow parent begins in the student's high school career. We advocate for parental involvement in their elementary and secondary experience. Understanding when and how to advocate in a post secondary environment is not much different than the high school years.
As a longtime college employee I have found the striking rise of parental involvement to be directly correlated to students having significant difficulty in dealing with challenges and decisions.
There needs to be more opportunities to fail in high school without huge consequences.
My kids tell me parents are doing their kids homework because there is no room for failing. Colleges are selective based on grades and test scores not on character and how many times you fail.
I refuse to do my kid's homework and they are frustrated because they see their peers getting better grades because their parents are doing their work. This even happens in Middle School!
I've had 3 children go through college. I've sat through the presentations about parents letting their children grow up. We did sit back and I'm glad we did. I would like to add that when our youngest child lost a friend to suicide and was going through that horror, the college administration was COMPLETELY supportive and helpful to us in helping our child through counseling, etc.
I can only hope that children that never learn independence will be less competitive than kids that do learn independence.
I looked at whether there was a relationship between frequency and content of college student communication with parents.
I found a statistically significant correlation between frequency and development, in that as frequency increased, scores in certain areas of development declined.
Also, there was a correlation between family income and frequency. Frequency of contact increased as family income increased. Also, females had more frequency contact with parents than did males. I considered several different variables as they related to psychosocial development of the student.
21st Century skills highlight systems thinking, interdependance and collaboration. Can parent's be part of the collaborative process?
My son is extremely introverted and I was a helicopter parent when he was in high school. I sincerely wanted him to reach out to his peers when he went off to UMD and took the draconian step of saying he couldn't come home for a visit until after Parents Weekend. When my husband and I went up for the weekend, his friends parents asked why we wouldn't let our son come home! It all ended well. Our son had a great college experience, studied abroad, and went on to get his masters.
We had an AFSer recently who had a snowplow mother. After two weeks of constant emails from her mother, I had to politely respond that she would hear from me in "a few weeks." This child was so delighted to be away from her mother's influence but in the end was still dependent upon her. During the school year here, she struggled with academics even tho she had already graduated from her European high school. This student didn't enjoy reading so her mother read assigned books and then told her about them. According to her, she had never completely read a book assignment. Needless to say, as her Host Parents we did not rescue her from academic or social occasions but really worked that year to help her become a more independent young woman. As soon as she returned to her home country, mother swept in and is still rescuing her as she attends university.
@Sarah My fiance is Mexican. In his family, it is very typical for kids to be what I perceive as overly watched-over throughout their whole lives and also very typical that they live with their parents through college.
However, I see his parents as being MUCH LESS overbearing than my own parents even though I like to think that I was raised with a much stronger sense of independence than my fiance.
Why should there be a black and white answer? BALANCE is my answer. Also, teaching moments on independence begin as early as toddler (age appropriate) but letting go a little at a time but keeping the lines of communication open letting them know you're there, even if its just for moral support...
Helicopter and Snowplow parents are resulting in insecure young adults who are afraid of failure. Do we really want adults who are afraid to take any risks in life?
I agree about balance, because sometimes your kids will lose out to those whose parents are over-involved and calling professors and bosses. I am constantly wondering whether my kids have missed opportunities because I was not one of those parents, and did, in fact, have a situation where my child lost an opportunity because the other parent got involved on behalf of their child, and, as they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
@Khatti - I completely agree about the opportunity for parents to proofread. There is very definitely a difference between proofreading and writing. Other opinions, and eyes that haven't been working on the paper for a long time, are important to turning in decent papers. Most of my teachers and professors have required papers to be proofread by at least one other person. That's just common good practice. Sometimes somebody who isn't invested in a paper will spot more errors and find things that don't work well.
@Margaret I agree; there is a cultural flavor here. We're talking a lot about the American value/myth of personal 'Independence' here. It's quite ethnocentric.
I started college in 2001, and when I called home for the first day my mom said, "You know you're paying for this, so you better hurry it up." I think she was trying to say, "you're an independent adult now, and you shouldn't be relying on me." But I felt abruptly cut from my parent's support. I was more independent than my peers, but when I got depressed at college I felt like I needed to deal with it all on my own, and that was very difficult.
I agree with the need for balance. As for proofreading, as a parent I would encourage my student to have another student or grad assistant help them. Students need to develop their own network of help, beyond their families. This is an important life skill!
When I attended college in the 70s I could afford to make stupid mistakes as I was going into debt at a reasonable rate ($1000 yr). College is such a huge investment now that parents are rightfully concerned that their students don't mess up as there may not be a second chance.
Where is the real root of this problem?
The lack of enough spots in the highest level colleges for students that are very qualified is part of the issue. With less than 6% acceptance rate at the top colleges, and mediocre middle level colleges being unable to provide what the students really need to succeed in their adult life, what other option do parents have but to help their children succeed. It use to be that good, long term job success was available to any college grad but now days it is very hard for a grad from an average college to even support themselves let alone a family. Thus, the current state of competition for good jobs, thus the economy, is part of the cause.
Many parents are investing big dollars into their young adults education, my theory is when you are taking my money I have a right to know what you are doing with it.
My parents did a great job balancing raising me and letting memake mistakes, but stepping in where they thought it was necessary. They made small steps away from me as I got older, and older, and really let me become independent in college. They financially supported me in college, but not totally, it was a shared endeavor. On the day I graduated from college they said "congrats and good luck!" and I was financially cut off. I made mistakes in the "real world" but I have never been upset about it. My parents are great, and I have great relationships with them, especially my mom. They continue to be supportive, being sounding boards, advice-givers, etc. They won't ever stop being my parents, but they trust that they raised me right and they allowed me the freedom to be independent.
I've had/seen friends with over involved parents, one dictated when he got haircuts. How does 1 learn with that much direction #dailycircuit
Shocked at number of callers who are educators and admit to snowplow parenting. Are they enabling more to do the same? #dailycircuit
For most of human history adult children and their parents have lived in the same communities, attended the same events, known the same people. The "college-aged" independence that so many of my peers (people with college aged children) recall occurred in the 1940s to the 1990s when American cross-generational mobility (and college attendance) greatly outpaced communications technology. I think that every student having their own phone in their pocket may be returning us to a more normal structure of social relationships in families. My experience (where the only phone on my dormitory floor was located in a public place and shared by all residents) may have been an exception, not a human norm.
The generation that didn't trust anyone over 30, has reversed itself, not trusting anyone under 30.
My son just finished one year at Emory University in Atlanta and as we were listening to this program, he asked me why I didn't call him more often during the first weeks of school.
He observed that all his friends were talking to their parents once a day or more.
I explained that when I worked for a program that sent older highschool kids to EUrope for a trip and family stay, a call from the parents often sent the child in a state of homesickness.
It was far better for the child to adjust on her/his own and invest themselves in their surroundings than constantly reminding them of what was going on back home.
I'm coming in on this conversation late but I think I might be a snow plow parent.
My kids are only in elementary and middle school but I have had to battle for my kids. Each time I have had to do so, it was always the case that my children were treated unfairly, sometimes to the point of psychological trauma.
Teachers saying my kids hadn't completed homework when in fact I knew they had because I do keep close tabs on my kid’s education. Even after I was able to go back and find the homework that was graded by the teacher did they continually punish my child and me emotionally.
It was never about doing the right thing for the child but about the adult teacher/administrator being “right”.
I just refuse to let my children experience the unnecessary abuse by adults who don’t have their stuff together.
Why does that make me a bad person?
I think our conversation is focusing on a small subset of students - from a particular cultural and economic background. What about 1st generation students? Students of immigrant parents? Students who take on responsibilities for younger siblings or interpreting for parents at medical appointments? We should be sure that we're acknowledging the vast range of student backgrounds and parent ability to "snowplow".
@Holly Look down at what Dr. Gidlow wrote. You are right on the mark.
My 6th grader has always excelled without us looking over his shoulder.
This school year he missed out on an advanced math class by 4 points on a facts test (mult., div time test sort of thing) We were disapointed but figured they have to cut the enrollment off somewhere & accepted it.
Then there was a front page article in the Mankato Free Press a few weeks ago regarding funding for gifted programs.
It centered on another 6th grader who also missed the cut off by a few points. His mother contacted the adv class instructor & school adm & got her son into the advanced class.
So frustrating for me.
I don't want to act like my kid deserves different treatment & I don't want to hover. But seems like if you take a hands off approach your kid will miss out on extra opportunities. I may not stand back & accept a test cut off next time.
Trying to find a healthy balance through the years is the challenge and opportunity. A complete break or ugly break up between parent and child in the college years can be a missed opportunity as well. These children may soon have their own children, thus a new dynamic with grandparent, parent, & child/grandchild. Grandparents can be a wonderful resource to a young family if trust exists between the generations. In later years the younger generations relationship with the senior generation can make those either fulfilling or lonely. Get family counseling if it gets intolerable. It can be greatly insightful for everyone.
The young can be smart and learn quickly, and the old have had experience and gained wisdom. There is a difference.
Like most things in life, this requires balance.
My parents would probably call once a week and that was plenty for me. If I felt the need to call them more, I did so. But honestly I wanted to cut the chord. I love my parents, but like most parents letting go was/is hard. I'm not 28 and live in MN while they're still in IA and we still talk about once a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. I think it's an appropriate level- my parents feel involved in the happenings in my life, yet I still feel independent. On the other hand, I've known people who can't/won't cut the chord (on the parent or child side) and it never seems to work out well. They can't seem to make decisions on their own and almost to a fault must consult their parents. It allows the parents to continue be controlling and the child to stave off full responsibility for their decisions. I once dated a guy who talked to his mom on the phone every day- he's probably about 31 now and I doubt the behavior has changed. Just seems sad.
I believe my parents had a good balance with how much they interfered with my life and education.
In high school, they always went to parent-teacher conferences and made an effort to know what I was learning and how I was doing. However, it was always up to me to talk with teachers about my grades and get extra help if I needed it. If I thought a teacher was being unfair, I had to handle it myself and ask them why I received a certain grade. This made me a much better student and definitely prepared me more for college than if I ran to mommy every time something didn't go my way.
In college, I would say they were interested in my education and progress, but, again, encouraged me to be more proactive in dealing with administration. When I really needed them to contact the school on my behalf because of a serious illness, they were quick to help.