Bridgewater State University Office of Residence Life and Housing is a featured program.
Ir may come as a newsflash, but parents are not the enemy. They have gotten a bad rap and the media, advances in technology, and college administrators are to blame. The perception among many university officials is that parental involvement in the lives of college students is increasing at an alarming rate. Popular media and university professionals have referred to the parents of the current generational cohort of students as “helicopter parents” in reference to their tendency to hover over their students, waiting to intervene on their behalf.
The term “helicopter parent” has become part of the everyday lexicon through the media. The mainstream media has provided us with numerous news stories focusing on the over involved parent; so much so that the common belief is that any type of parental involvement will have negative consequences.
University administrators need to rethink their relationship with parents. Parents can be an important part of the equation. K-12 literature supports the notion that parents who are involved in their students’ education, have students who are more likely to succeed both academically and socially. Additionally, there is research that states that parents who are involved have students who are less likely to participate in dangerous alcohol and drug behavior. Research on first-generation, low income and minority students suggests that parental involvement can increase the likelihood of students in these groups persisting to graduation. With this being said, perhaps we should embrace parents as partners, rather than fearing them as the enemy.
Here are four suggestions on how we should reframe our thinking about how we interact with parents.
University administrators should not characterize all parental involvement as “helicopter parenting”.
Some level of parental involvement in the college experience is appropriate and helpful to the academic and social success of students. Several research studies have indicated that a strong attachment to parents can result in better adjustment to university life.
The unflattering portrayal by the media and some college administrators of the helicopter parent hovering over their child and waiting to swoop in at every opportunity has clouded the issue of parental involvement. We need to broaden our definition of parental involvement to include those parents who are just showing a healthy interest in the lives of their students and who are trying to understand the process so they can help their students to navigate the college experience.
University administrators should be cautious about over-generalizing research on the Millennials.
The popularity and availability of generational research has made it very easy for college and university administrators to over-generalize the information about Millennials and their strong ties to their parents to the entire student population. We have all read how Millennial students embrace their close relationship to their parents and that they often encourage their parents to intervene with college officials on their behalf. However, the conclusions that have been popularized about Millennials are for the most part based on white, middle to upper-class students who have college educated parents.
Research indicates that first-generation college students have different experiences with their parents than those of the. While first-generation students may still report close relationships and frequent contact with their parents, it has been reported that their parents are far less likely to intervene with college administrators on their behalf.
University administrators should study the K-12 literature on parental involvement to inform practice at the collegiate level.
The literature for K-12 students indicates that at all levels of schooling, high levels of parental involvement result in social, personal, and academic growth. From kindergarten through grade 12, parents consistently hear the same message from school authorities: be involved and your student will be successful.
Higher education should pay closer attention to the messages that parents hear in the K-12 arena and acknowledgment must be given to the growing body of literature that links parental involvement and student success. Colleges and universities should recognize that for numerous reasons, parents are part of the college process. If administrators have a larger understanding of the parental experience in the K-12 environment leading up to college, perhaps institutions can alter their expectations and see parents as partners in the educational process rather than adversaries.
University administrators should evaluate the messages parents receive from campus offices and develop a clear institutional philosophy on the role of the parent within the educational process.
Colleges and Universities often provide parents with inconsistent messages about a parent’s place within the campus community. For many parents; their first contact with an institution is the admissions office and the financial aid office. The college admissions process has become increasingly competitive. As colleges become more deliberate in their recruitment efforts they are recognizing that parents have a strong influence on where their students go to school; as a result, admissions officers are heavily including parents in the process.
Additionally, financial aid awards are generally based on parents’ income, so parents are truly partners within the financial aid process.
If admissions and financial aid professionals are sending out a message to parents that they are an important part of the educational process, what expectations does this set for parents as they interact with other areas within the college or university? Generally the next experience is Orientation, where parents interact with several offices and generally hear conflicting messages that actively promote parental involvement, but also stress letting go, student privacy, and student independence. These conflicting messages can be sources of frustration and confusion for many parents, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds or those who have not attended college themselves.
It’s time to change our views on parental involvement. We must stop viewing parents as a hindrance and embrace them as partners. Parents ARE part of the educational process. University administrators can continue to find unique and special roles for parents within the institution to further foster student success.
Submitted by Beth Moriarty, Director of Residence Life & Housing, Bridgewater State University