By Deb Coco, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor of New York
If you’ve watched a newscast within the last few years, you’ve probably heard some depressing news about the future of the next generation: they are categorized as “lazy,” “out of touch with reality,” or “unfocused.” As college admission coaches, each of us spends a great deal of time, 1:1, with teenagers and we can honestly say we’ve noticed a change in students over the years. Whether it’s the abundance of technology at their fingertips (the most common excuse) or the result of helicopter parenting, many students are missing the necessary skills to successfully communicate with adults (both in person and by email) and I can assure you that writing skills are at an all time low. The result is the inability to successfully navigate through the college admission process (and life beyond it) without their parents’ control.
It was after this year’s admission cycle that I fully realized the extent of this problem. For the most part, if parents had not dominated the process (answered my emails in place of their child, questioned me about essay topics, etc) their student would not have stayed on track.
However, we cannot entirely blame students. They are the products of OVER parenting – also known as ‘helicopter parenting,” or the new term, “snow plow parenting.” Evidence of this phenomenon abounds. A parent recently contacted us about his son who was applying to an MBA program. He didn’t call us for advice but rather for help with the application – because he, (the FATHER) was filling it out. You read that correctly. This is a generational phenomenon – – I can unequivocally guarantee that my parents (and parents in previous generations) would never have overstepped parenting bounds in such a way. And, if they had, they would have been called out on it.
To be clear, this isn’t a form of love (not that these parents don’t love their children), but rather a type of control. Instead of teaching our children, we are robbing them of the ability to face life with confidence. Imagine the subliminal message sent by these types of actions – “You cannot handle this so I will” is, in a nutshell, what children hear. The outcome of this behavior yields exactly the opposite of the intention, and we are now faced with a generation of children ill-equipped to face what life will throw their way – many are paralyzed when faced with responsibility. All one needs to do is Google “helicopter parents” and you will be inundated by articles from all types of sources (The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Child Times, NY Times) – the list goes on and on – very different publications that all agree on one thing – this type of parenting is hurting young people.
My youngest daughter is now a college sophomore, and she is horrified by the way many students treat professors. She validates that there is a breakdown in respect and courtesy that should be shown to authority and elder figures.
It is said that “to those whom much is given, much is expected” and the majority of students whom we work with are extremely fortunate in circumstance. We need to begin expecting more from our young people. And the only way to teach a child personal responsibility, is to give them some – and to let them struggle through problems until they resolve them – on their own. This begins in childhood – by the time students are in high school, it’s too late; the foundation has already been laid. Studies show that young children who are given chores around the house are more likely to grow up to remember to do their homework, hold down jobs outside the home and earn high grades. A fairly simple recipe. We need to get out of our children’s way. Expect them to reply to emails from their coaches and teachers, demand that they earn some of their own money, and teach them to look adults in the eye, shake hands and send thank you notes. These are all simple guidelines, yet we see fewer young people who exhibit them.
As an admissions coach, I am so thrilled when I do have a student who says “please” and “thank you” or who does reply to my email in a timely fashion (or at all). Our expectations of our youth are at an all time low and we need to regroup and ask ourselves what we are doing to enable this behavior. Like all good things, it starts at home, with the family – our children are our responsibility and a reflection of us as parents. Children need strong (yes strict) parenting, discipline and role models. We need young adults who are confident and achievement oriented, not cowering. Somewhere we went off the rails. It’s time to get back to basics. In my view we don’t need the village, just a hard look at ourselves, our values and our children.