Beware of low flying parents

I’ve not been blogging the last few weeks as much as usual due to being busy dealing with Freshers. One of the problems is that some students these days don’t seem to have a lot of common sense. As I discussed in a previous post, we seem to be getting one to many more mummy’s boy’s, whose helicopter parents have gone around sweeping any obstacles out of their kids way, hence he/she has very little common sense.

The situation can be particularly acute with some foreign students in the UK, as some come from very privileged backgrounds and are used to having drivers and servants to call on. Hence it can be a bit of a shock to find themselves in a situation where people don’t run around wiping their ass on command. Where they have to wait in line with everyone else.

Let me give you example. I was on the train the other day and there was this young Asian fellow with bags (obviously a fresher on his way to uni). The announcer comes on and say’s we’re approaching his stop. Of course the train stops short of the station (as they often do on congested UK routes). He asks people on the train how to I get to the station. We tell him wait till we pull in, then push the button by the door. He immediately goes to the doors and pushes all the buttons, even the emergency one :no: (pissing off the driver though fortunately not to the stage where he decides to make a federal case out of it!).

Of course this sort of attitude means that we lecturers face all sorts of problems. For example getting students to pick up their various book and equipment packages (we give the stuff away for free to compensate for fees…and to avoid us having arguments with them over why they’ve not read such and such a book or brought along safety equipment to a lab). Some of the students still haven’t collected it, even thought they’ve had a good month to do so. Some seem to think we should bring it to them on a sliver tray!

Or getting students to showing up on time to class. If I say class starts at 9am. I do mean 9am, not 9:05 and certainly not 10! I might allow a few minutes grace for students to come in late, as some will take time to login or get their notebooks out (and again, I’m assuming they’ll have the good sense to bring notebooks, one student recently asked me if he could take home my notes to photocopy them!). If I’ve scheduled a lecture to take one hour, that’s hwo long it’s going to take, I can wait and I don’t want to be rushed into going faster (else they won’t be able to follow everything).

Similarly getting them to submit coursework on time can be a problem, as some don’t seem to understand that a deadline is a deadline. And some students these days seem unable to accept the possibility of failure. I’ll be marking the first few lab reports soon and I know from experience that they probably won’t be that good (inevitable, nobody gets it right the first time!) but I’ll be facing students used to getting +80% who are then told no, this is at best 50% because of XY and Z. Naturally the result is usually howls of protest. And that’s the ones who submit on time. The others who miss the deadline (and get zero!) are needless to say even less happy. I mean they had a busy weekend partying and playing X-box, why am I insisting that they hand in stuff at the agreed deadline! ;D

This, along with tuition fees, is all part of a trend that we seem to have imported from America. In America, parents can actually login to a website and check up on their kids progress in school (i.e. what assignments they’ve due, attendance record, marks, feedback, etc.) and often now in university. Here some parents have actually transcended “Helicopter parenting” and reached what’s now referred to as “snowplough” parenting, whereby parents seem to think it’s their job to push all obstacles out of their (now adult) offspring’s way.

I’ve heard horror stories about parents ringing up the President of an American university to complain about noisy/messy roommates in halls :crazy:. I’ve heard of more than a few cases of parents contacting senior staff members in the university to complain about marks and try to have pressure applied to lecturers to change them. Or even hiring lawyers to challenge marks. This of course reflects a lack of understanding of how marks are calculated, i.e. a marking criteria rather than opinion and multiple layers of mark moderation by other peers, including usually an external examiner.

Even here in the UK we’ve seen similar things happen. For example we catch a student committing plagiarism, only for the parents to show up at the resulting academic conduct hearing…and it very quickly becomes apparent that the cheating might well have been the parents idea to begin with.

Of course we have to blame fees and the defacto privatisation of universities in part for this. Many parents and students now seem to think that they are essentially buying a degree. Unfortunately, that doesn’t negate the need to work hard and study to achieve it, just because you’re paying fees.

This can be made worse in courses such as engineering or medicine, as you will occasionally get some students who’ve been pressured into taking up such courses by pushy parents who reckon it will be a good career move. Failing to understand that if the student simply isn’t capable or motivated to complete the course he/she isn’t going to do very well (or indeed drop out and fail) and would be far better off studying something they’re interested in, and likely to do better at.

But certainly this problem of over-parenting is another issue. What parents don’t seem to realise is that by constantly sweeping obstacles out of your child’s way all you’re doing is destroying their capacity to problem solve and function independently – all crucial skills in both university and the real world of work. Hence why some of the students I teach, despite being very bright, seem to have little capacity for independent thought or creativity. Shielding them from failure or hard work, means that when they have a reduced capacity to cope with such things in real life (wait till they start applying for jobs and get dozens of PFO’s in response!). Ironically this in of itself can lead to more stress and undue pressure on the student to perform. And of course students who feel themselves to be under pressure are more likely to try and take the short cut of plagiarism.

And students are also more likely to do what we usually associate with Fresher’s week, getting more drunk than an Irish saint on an all expenses paid pilgrimage to Munich in October :oops:. Inevitably students under pressure feel the need to let off a bit of steam. And free from the yoke of their parents, unfamiliar with how much is too much or used to dad’s taxi to bring them home, its no surprise some get themselves into trouble.

While I would encourage parents to be involved in supporting their siblings university education, but only up to a point. The stabilisers have to come off the bike and he/she must fight their own battles and learn to be independent. This is after all part of the whole point of going to college. By preventing this, a parent is destroying the whole college experience, not to mention jeopardising the very education they are paying for.


6 thoughts on “Beware of low flying parents

  1. I’dd add that the self esteem movement may have a role in what you depict here. Bringing up children year after year just by telling how unique and brilliant they are is not making them much better in studies and work.

    Psychologist Roy Baumeister has written a lot about this. Instead, focusing on developing students’ willpower since childhood is a much better bet overall. Willpower is measurable and trainable and actually has real life uses and benefits. Telling kids how great they are does not get them better grades, but only makes them feel better even when failing. Then they fail again. Thanks to self esteem religion, thank you.


    • Low confidence and self esteem issues go hand in hand with a lack of experience or authority to make major decisions. I think its called “learnt helplessness” or something like that.


  2. Fascinating insight into the reality of what I’ve noticed for a long time – over-parenting can harm your kids.

    I taught in Romania for a while where the education system is as corrupt as everything else, where plagiarism was rife (I read the riot act about it on the first day but some students just didn’t get it ever) and where who your Daddy was governed whether you passed your exams or not.


  3. Excellent post. Many of these students seem to be utterly lacking in self-discipline, an academic work ethic or a sense of integrity.
    You’re right not to give in to them. If young adults act like children, they should be treated as such.


    • “If young adults act like children, they should be treated as such”

      Are you suggesting I take away their i-pods or make them write out on the blackboard 100 times “I will not check my facebook status in class”



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