I wrote a much longer piece which I accidentally deleted a minute ago, so bear with me--it's after 2 and I'm going to be terse.
One of my non-teaching responsibilities is to advise students at the end of the semester as they plan for the next semester. It's a great opportunity to help the students and to learn about the other departments and curricula on campus, and I enjoy it.
However, this past week, I had two experiences where the mother brought her son in for advising, and I wonder if this doesn't portend more to come. Both parents were paying for their children's education, and both parents did most of the talking until I was able to swing the questions to the students to hear what they had to say about things. The first situation went pretty well in that we were respectful, and while I answered the mother's questions, I was able to also get the son to speak up and make a list of what he had to do. When they left, he took a college catalogue and plopped it in his book bag.
The second situation was not good. The mother took offence at my suggestion that I meet with her son instead of both of them, and she was pretty direct about my being the one who needed to adjust my attitude. She was paying for his education, and he was a beloved member of the family who would always have her support in college just as his siblings had. And that maybe the college needed to adjust its attitude. Although I'd explained FERPA to her, she stopped short of demanding that the U. S. Government change its attitude.
Usually, I'm pretty good about working with people who are being difficult. But this time, I was so tired that my brain went into Bob Newhart mode, meaning that I was so aghast at her behavior that all I could say is "well, uh, I ahh," which only supported her obvious (and well expressed) feeling that she was dealing with an idiot. They, like the earlier duo, left with their question answered (one that they could have found on the website, BTW), and later, I went home and had a big fight with my husband.
So now, I'm wondering. It's pretty clear that the mother's defensiveness was so strong that I'd hit a sore spot. I wondered if she and the other mother had been to college themselves, or if they were feeling like they (and their sons) were facing a labyrinthine challenge in coming to college. What can we do that would help them understand what college is about--in terms of maturation, education and, yes, money? I wonder if an online workshop and/or on campus workshop would help. Maybe an FAQ written especially for parents who have never been to college themselves, but who are sending thier children to school.
I want to make it possible for these parents to support without enabling. I want the boundaries to be clear and firm, but I don't want the parents to feel like they bad people just because they don't know. And, I especially don't want to condescend to them.
So, what do you all think? Can you give me some perspective here? How does your school deal with helicopter parents?