Monday, October 25, 2010

Parents, Back Off -- More Tales from the Front Line Part 2

Who knows whether we're doing a good or could-be-better job in raising independent, college-ready teens? Are we all, even subtly, guilty of too much helicoptering? What are the other issues that get in the way?

Sometimes it takes a little perspective. Our pediatrician panelist observes the parent/child dynamics during routine visits to the doctor's office.

"From about the age of three to four, I will usually address the child/patient first when asking a question, to 'hear it in their own words'. This often sheds a lot of light on why a patient is in the exam room. I then turn to the parents to fill in the gaps and clarify the reason for the visit. Often a parent speaks over the child, and dismisses their answers, or continues to answer for them. I think that there are always small opportunities in life to enable kids and help them grow toward being independent adults.

"Fast forward 10 years and some of the parents may still dominate the visit, not allowing children to speak for themselves, a skill that fosters healthy mental development into an adult."

Someone who has been in tutoring for years sees the situation this way: "There is a college for everyone and no one right answer to the many questions that are raised in the admissions process." But there are obstacles. She thinks the cell phone and internet have changed the parent/child relationship dramatically. And she doesn't see it stopping once the children are admitted. The parents continue to edit their children's papers well into college and to offer advice. She also sees these patterns continuing; friends who are in constant contact with their children who are already in careers or marriage.

Our admission officer panelist says, "My own theory is that a generation ago only the privileged and very, very bright truly had access to the most selective colleges. Now that the doors have been opened (happily), the competition for the limited number of spaces has increased, resulting in parents feeling that they have to do whatever they can to help their students. I have no problem talking with parents throughout the process, but there are always the extreme cases where the parent is clearly taking over. Let’s just say that they’re not doing their kids any favors."

And one parent panelist says, "I think that lots of non-issues get in the way. Other than encouraging your children to keep their eye on the end result, and not lose their minds from the pressure (which I think is the most important thing that a parent can do for their kid during high school), I think a lot of the other stuff is just distracting noise."

Are true-life stories such as those in this blog distracting noise, perpetuating the same old issues? She doesn't think so: "I do think hearing about other people’s experiences and frustrations. It's helpful because it allows you to get a sense of how far off-base you might be drifting, or it might reinforce an idea or philosophy that you have that seems to be working."

That's good to hear.

Thanks to Dr. Jacquelyn Detweiler, Tina Squyres, Linda Auld and Kathy Phillips

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