Monday, August 23, 2010

Cutting the Cord

Colleges to Parents: Please Go Home.

As the latest wave of superinvolved parents delivers its children to college, institutions are building into the day, normally one of high emotion, activities meant to punctuate and speed the separation. It is part of an increasingly complex process, in the age of Skype and twice-daily texts home, in which colleges are urging “Velcro parents” to back off so students can develop independence.

Grinnell College here, like others, has found it necessary to be explicit about when parents really, truly must say goodbye. Move-in day for the 415 freshmen was Saturday. After computer printers and duffle bags had been carried to dorm rooms, everyone gathered in the gymnasium, students on one side of the bleachers, parents on the other.

The president welcoming the class of 2014 had his back to the parents — a symbolic staging meant to inspire “an aha! moment,” said Houston Dougharty, vice president of student affairs, “an epiphany where parents realize, ‘My student is feeling more comfortable sitting with 400 people they just met.’ ”

And perhaps reminding old Baby Boomer parents of Pink Floyd, when Roger Waters would play entire shows with his back to the audience.

Moving their students in usually takes a few hours. Moving on? Most deans can tell stories of parents who lingered around campus for days. At Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., a mother and father once went to their daughter’s classes on the first day of the semester and trouped to the registrar’s office to change her schedule, recalled Beverly Low, the dean of first-year students.

Formal “hit the road” departure ceremonies are unusual but growing in popularity, said Joyce Holl, head of the National Orientation Directors Association. A more common approach is for colleges to introduce blunt language into drop-off schedules specifying the hour for last hugs. As of 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, for example, the parents of Princeton freshmen learn from the move-in schedule, “subsequent orientation events are intended for students only.”

Some undergraduate officials see in parents’ separation anxieties evidence of the excesses of modern child-rearing. “A good deal of it has to do with the evolution of overinvolvement in our students’ lives,” said Mr. Dougharty of Grinnell. “These are the baby-on-board parents, highly invested in their students’ success. They do a lot of living vicariously, and this is one manifestation of that.”
Ah, the ubiquitous "baby on board" signs of the 80's and early 90's, which then spawned the dreaded "helicopter" or "velcro" parents of today. One wonders if the reaction of the students to this kind of meddling is anything like this guy's:

The pressure to let go had really begun a year earlier while touring colleges, said Leslie Nelson, who with his wife, Jill Hayman, had spent three days driving their son, Micah, from New York City.

Ms. Hayman corrected her husband: “I think the pressure starts when the umbilical cord falls off,” she said. “I’m not the only mom here who’s been dreading this since that day.”

As a comfort, she had read books about the stages of grief. “You have to just allow yourself to experience the loss and grieve over what’s gone,” she said.

But Micah was eager to get on with it. “I haven’t been thinking about anything they’ve been saying,” he said, as his parents looked on.

LOL. Wev, mom and dad.

I know this is a tough thing and something I'm years from experiencing with my hooligans, but I truly hope I'm not at Columbia or Princeton, hovering over them as they make their class schedules, grilling the Dean of Students on security issues, and spending extra nights "just in case they need me."

Although I may have to give their sociology departments a once over.

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