I work on the academics side of a division one athletics program. Part of my job is to run summer bridge programs for all incoming college freshmen athletes.
It’s an intense five week program that includes six credit hours of course work, study tables each evening, weekend activities, and physical conditioning. I’ve been running this bridge program for five years, and every year I get more emails, calls, and texts from parents.
Parents are calling, emailing, and texting about their college students more than ever.
They ask me for grades. They ask me about friendships, girlfriends, food, and allergies. This summer I had siblings in the session, and I must have received almost 20 emails from their mother.
And when I couldn’t give her the answers she wanted, she reached out to my coworkers.
Two years ago I had a student whose parents were in the middle of a divorce. I got text messages from both of them, asking the same questions. I stopped responding when the mother started asking me to relay information to the father because they weren’t talking.
Now keep in mind that when students enter our bridge program we recommend that the students sign a FERPA agreement so our staff can communicate with parents if needed, and most students do.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, once a student turns 18 they own their educational records, and it is against federal law for university staff to discuss a student openly with their parents unless the student has signed a FERPA agreement allowing them to do so.
Parents – your child is not in high school anymore
Calling the college to ask about grades, finances, or really anything to do with your child places the faculty at that institution on dangerous ground. And naturally, this is all set up to protect the student, and ultimately forces parents to take their hand off the wheel.
But I suppose what gives me the most pause in all of this as a university educator is trying to understand why parents are so ready to call me about concerns rather than their children.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have three kids and my oldest is 12. He is a pretty good kid, but I will admit, there are times that what he tells me about school, and what is actually happening at school, doesn’t line up.
It is helpful that my wife works at our children’s school, so we are pretty in the know. I’m able to call him out on his crap very quickly. But he’s 12.
He’s not 18, 19, or even 21, all ages of students whose parents have asked me questions about their children.
And I get it; parents want their children to be successful.
But there comes a time when you have to stop and allow them to be successful on their own, and frankly, college is that time. And don’t get me wrong, I work with college age students all day, and I can say with 100% confidence that not all of them are mature enough to manage their own obligations.
And yes, I have seen students fail out of college. I have watched them get kicked out for a number of boneheaded stunts that really shouldn’t have happened. But ultimately, those were their decisions and no amount of phone calls to teachers and administrators would have changed their actions.
Now, parents of college freshmen, if it causes you to sleep better at night, I will tell you this: I have seen far more students figure it out and succeed as college students than I have seen be asked to leave school.
I have seen more students grow up, and out, and become amazing humans and life long thinkers. I have watched students pull themselves out of a bad freshman year and become something more than they were before those bad grades. In my experience, the vast majority of students figure it out. And for the most part, they do it on their own.
I also will say that even with a FERPA agreement, I still send parents questions to the student. I am open with them. I let them know about their parents concern.
I discuss with them how much their parent obviously loves them, and then I give them my answer, and let them know that it is up to them to deliver it to their parents. I also tell the parent that I gave the information to the student.
And I’ll tell you why I do this.
I am in the business of educating students.
I am interested in turning young people into successful adults who contribute, and think critically. I am not in the business of going behind students and delivering private information to their parents.
Most college educators feel the exact same way I do.
So check it out, if you are sending your child off to college, I get it. Few things are more emotional. I sit across from parents each summer as they drop of their children and witnessed all the tears.
But realize that your child is an adult now. I know it seems crazy, but it’s true in a very legal sense.
As a college educator, I can’t help you get information on your child, but what I can do is support and care for your child. I can direct them, teach them, give them advice, and help them grow into a working adult. I’ve been at this for close to a decade, and frankly, I’m pretty good at it.
And there are a lot of other people on college campuses with the same skill set. So trust us. Trust your child. And go ahead and take your hand off the wheel.