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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Role of Parents in the Process

Once upon a time, there were just parents. Moms and dads were just moms and dads. Today, we have all these added titles for parents. People use helicopter, black hawk, and snow plow to describe the style of a parent.

In a recent conversation with some friends, the feeling was that there's a period in a childhood when parents are expected to be a constant advocate, intervening and managing all aspects of life. In those early years, if they aren't supervising every play date, soccer game, school assembly, and school project, they are bad parents. There's a point where the whole equation is flipped and if they do any of that stuff, they're smothering helicopter parents who are trying to control everything.


 In the education world, people tell stories about over-the-top parents who blow through boundaries with students, teachers, and counselors. We all have them. There are the calls from parents who say "we are thinking about taking the SAT one more time" (hm...a team-based SAT) or "we're going to be pre-med." I'm usually a little amused. Going away to college is a big transition for parents as well as students.The verbal slips are probably a sign that the parents are still adjusting to the idea of their teenager going away.

In my opinion, most parents are completely appropriate when it comes to their involvement in the process. There are some that go a bit overboard. Here are a few areas where parents might be tempted to overstep:

1. Curating the college list
It's definitely good to have a frank discussion with students about what college options are financially viable and they might not love what they hear. Hopefully, a mutually pleasing list of schools can be compiled. Making a student apply to a school they don't want to attend is probably a mistake. First of all, even if they have the best professor in the world in front of them, if the student isn't happy, they probably won't get the most out of the experience. Second, we might get an essay like this:

This was an actual essay we received.


2. Filling out the application
Most parents who do this will say they are helping because their teen is so busy. I would guess that if I had a look the student's text message archive or Facebook profile (but we aren't digging for that, remember), it would show that they have some time to fill out their own application.

The parents of our applicants don't seem to go to extremes, but we once got an email from a dad asking us to forgive the typos in his daughter's essays because the typos were his.


3. Following up on the application
Once an application is submitted, it's fine if a student wants to submit new information. Advocating for themselves is a good habit for students to learn, so it's always a little interesting when a parent grabs the wheel after the student submits their application. We prefer that the student email us if there is an update. They can email uvaapplicationinfo@virginia.edu to add a note to their file.

Several years ago, there was a parent whose emails were so numerous that I had to create a sub-folder and rule to funnel the messages away from my inbox. I just remembered the folder and went to look at it. There are over 75 messages in there, all from reading season. It's fine to call the Office of Admission. It's fine to email the Office of Admission. Doing that seventy-five times probably isn't necessary.

By the way, the applicant in that case was awesome and didn't need any special intervention to get our attention. The student was admitted and probably has no idea that that we were in such frequent touch with the parent.

CavDog knows how to advocate for himself  (especially if hotel receptionists have treats!)

One more time, most parents a have a totally appropriate amount of involvement in this process. I think people slap the "helicopter" label on others far more often than it's deserved. Let's stop shaming interested, involved parents with heavy equipment labels. The majority of them are doing just fine.

The parents who go over the top tend to do it in a spectacular way. They should let their students drive and take the role of a very supportive navigator on this journey.

Evidence that Mr. Jefferson was a bulldozer parent?

Feel free to use the comment section for questions about anything or to suggest a future blog topic.