What Would Your Parents Say?

by Sydney House | 9/24/15 6:30pm

helicopter-parents
Source: Alison Guh / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Alison Guh / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

While the transition to college isn’t easy for anyone, some students have a more difficult time adapting than others — some have trouble handling the college workload or spending their first few weeks away from friends and family, while others often struggle with meeting new people or making time for each commitment they take on.

We all adjust and grow at different rates, but it’s undeniable that each student’s unique upbringing plays a significant role in how they adapt to his or her new environment. After all, for many of us, our parents were the ones who spent 18 years grooming us to be responsible, trustworthy adults. Not all parents are created equally, however, and some will play much more active roles in the lives of their children than others.

Some experts see this overreaching or overbearing parental situation as a generational phenomenon. In an interview for an Aug. 31 article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, “An Epidemic of Anguish,” director of the counseling center at Appalachian State University Dan Jones criticizes students of our generation for being less resilient and more dependent on others.

“They haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles,” Jones said in the article.

Some say parents are now coddling their children more than ever, and many do so with the hope that their own son or daughter could win a coveted spot in an elite institution. Rather than letting their children fend for themselves and find the right path on their own, some parents want to carefully craft their children to be the absolute best. The media has even coined terms for these highly involved parents — tiger parents or helicopter parents.

While it may be difficult for current students to reflect on whether they’re being pampered more than their parents might have been as children, many students felt the difference that came with being a college student without a parent around to motivate and push them.

Pete Tran ’18 was one of those students who felt that tough transition when he first matriculated. In a similar vein to what Jones wrote, he said he was used to his parents helping him solve problems.

“When you’re used to always talking a decision process out, independence was overwhelming at first,” Tran said.

Tran’s sentiments were echoed by several students, who said that their parents had played a large role in motivating them to try new things and giving advice on how they should spend their time.

Mike Perkins ’18, for example, said he has felt the absence of his parents in both his academics and extracurricular activities.

“My mom was a big proponent of getting involved. We would take on projects like donating bagels to the homeless shelter,” Perkins said. “In college, I don’t have her around to push me.”

Sometimes parents are just there to motivate students, but some also act as a resource for bouncing ideas off and discussing ideas for new interests and ways to spend free time outside of the classroom. Alexa Green ’19 remembers brainstorming ideas of activities to get involved in with her parents at the dinner table.

“It’s definitely been overwhelming starting my freshman year juggling clubs and sports and deciding whether to try the new things versus doing the old activities,” Green said.

Finding themselves without parents or some other form of authority living in the same home, students found various ways to fill in the gap left behind in trying to find a new, independent life. Tran found friends that acted as mentors for him because he was used to discussing his decisions with others.

The lack of guidance and authority in a parental figure, however, can also lead to students feeling overwhelmed and isolated at times. Without something there to motivate them, students said they had to find the ability to make decisions and solve problems on their own.

“I went with the crowd a lot last year, but now I’m learning to make decisions for myself,” Tran said.

Perkins reiterated a similar point, and said he believes his freshman year forced him to learn to become intrinsically motivated. Not having someone there to motivate him, he said, was detrimental to his grade point average and overall academic performance.

This newfound independence that came with separating oneself from highly-involved parents wasn’t, however, limited to the classroom. Along with it came the responsibility and privilege of choosing how one spent their free-time and the ability to choose what activities they would be involved in.

Growing up, Tran was unable to participate in extracurriculars or athletics unless his parents gave him permission. He spent most of his afternoons taking care of his brother, who has autism. Tran looked forward to college as an opportunity to get involved in extracurricular activities during his own time.

“I joined Street Soul and followed my interests and passions,” Tran said. “I’ve learned to work my activities into my schedule.”

Each parenting style is different, though, and the idea of having parents who are involved in nearly every detail of their child’s life isn’t necessarily the norm for everyone. Many of those interviewed whose parents took a more hands-off approach or gave their children independence early on believe the transition was fairly smooth — they had already established the traits needed to be fairly autonomous.

In many ways, Oscar Friedman ‘16 became independent from his parents when he started high school. He said his parents let him decided how to budget his time and determine his own curfew. Coming into college, Friedman said, he already had many of the skills necessary to live on his own. Friedman’s parents worked full-time, and he didn’t see them often during the summer before entering college. As a skier, he often spent time away at ski camps and was accustomed to living with roommates and cooking for himself.

His parents actually saw skiing as a distraction from music and school— this drove him to prove them wrong.

“I resented them and took skiing very seriously to show them I could do it,” Freidman said. “My family is full of professors and scientists, and I became obsessed with exercise and athletics.”

While his parents may not have intervened in every aspect of his life, Friedman said he respects his parents for letting him decide how to manage his time early on because he feels that it prepared him for college.

Several students who described their parents as having a hands-on parenting style said they had to learn to develop independence after coming to college, but Jennifer Wray ’16, like Freidman, said she feels her parents helped shape her independent work ethic as well.

“They didn’t help me with my actual schoolwork. They definitely prepared me to be intrinsically motivated and independent,” Wray said.

Thomas Cornew ’18 also describes his parents as hands-off in terms of letting him make his own decisions.

“My parents always gave me a lot of space,” Cornrew said. “I grew up in a Mexican household, so they definitely commanded respect, but I never relied on them for help with my homework or activities.”

For many of us, both growing up more independent or having parents with a stronger influence on how we spend out time, at the end of the day, our parents were still at home when we came back from school. Even if they worked or spent time away from the house, we were almost guaranteed to see them at some point considering we shared the same house.

Abby Agwunobi ’18, however, had a different experience. She attended boarding school. She said spending her high school years living away from her parents prepared her for a smooth transition to college both academically and socially.

“My parents only saw my report cards. They were proud of me if I did well and asked questions if I didn’t,” Agwunobi said.

Yet, despite how independent some of us may feel, we are still young and learning how to be adults in this world. Even those of us who feel completely self-sufficient often need help from our parents at times, particularly in the competitive environment here on campus. Jack Kirsch ’17 was rejected from a campus organization his freshman winter.

“I had poured a large amount of energy as well as time into the organization. I felt alone, worthless and thoroughly down on Dartmouth,” Kirsch said. “My dad was the ear into which I poured many angry rants, and confessions.”

While Kirsch ultimately faced rejection, its is something that almost everyone at here experiences at some point. As part of the transition to college, Agwunobi highlights that as students we must learn to handle this independently.

“The truth is that each of us are alone when we get to college and we all have to figure out how to be self-reliant rather than relying on our parents,” Agwunobi said.