Friday, April 20, 2007

I’m With You Mary

Long time readers may recall that our family is sending a son off to college next fall. Scott (and I) fell in love with Berry College in Rome, Georgia, when we visited last fall. This weekend he’s visiting Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, by himself, and it’s looking more and more like this will be the school for him next fall. Both of these colleges are small, private liberal arts schools. His dad and I would have liked to see Scott attend our Alma Mater, The University of Alabama, but it’s a large school and we thought he’d be more at home in a small college since he attended a small high school. Plus, he’s not so keen on football, the Greek system and Alabama in general.

With the Virginia Tech shootings so fresh on my mind, I tuned in this morning to MSNBC’s morning show with Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory hosting while the network figures out what it’s going to do with the Don Imus time slot. I don’t know if he’s pulling double duty, but so far I really like Gregory and the news-heavy focus. He has good guests and asks the questions I would be asking. Since it’s so early and his kids are younger, though, I could see him saying “no thanks” to a permanent assignment.

Anyway, I digress, dear gentle readers. I happened to catch a bit of Republican strategist Mary Matalin’s appearance this morning. She’s nearly always rubbed me the wrong way until today. The talk turned to how some colleges treat students as if they were begat by she-wolves instead of having parents who cared about what was happening to their sons and daughters. Now, they didn’t say that. That’s my take on it.

Here, you take first-year students who have mostly been concerned with downloading music for their i-pods and ask that they get themselves up for early class (you old-timers know all about the Sonic Boom alarm clock episode), wash their clothes, study, eat, get along with all kinds of people (including some scary ones), manage money when mom and dad are not around to dole it out and handle all the stress that this transition from dependency to adulthood brings with it.

The term ‘helicopter parent’ has been applied to parents who overly involve themselves in this process. Matalin said, “I’m going with them (meaning her kids when they go to college).” I think my case of helicopterism is a little less extreme compared to parents who have written college essays for their kids or who contact professors with pleas to change grades or who pick the college or courses for Junior.

Yet, as I read the Wall Street Journal article, “Colleges Ward Off Overinvolved Parents” published nearly two years ago, I thought maybe something is out of kilter here. Have we gone too far toward turning our young vulnerable sons and daughters loose on the world, while as parents failing to teach them these necessary life skills? Have we instead babied them along as my elder son seems to think, rewarding each accomplishment with a gold-plated trophy?

I can talk to Scott about the routine issues: you sort the dark clothes from the light clothes, you keep track of the bank balance so you don’t run out of money, you go to class or you get behind and flunk, if you eat high-calorie food you add pounds and you will likely add the “freshman 15” no matter what and so on. His dad and I, however, can’t be there to select friends, write assignments, choose to drink or not and hold his hand through this high-stress adventure nor do we want to be. I would, however, appreciate a call if someone notices my son is not handling college life well.

We may certainly be “. . . part of a cultural shift toward more involved parenting -- which many of today’s students welcome. There are some good reasons for it. The trend reflects societal fears about campus safety, amid growing media coverage of campus murders and deaths, mounting mental-health problems, and rising alcohol and drug arrests at colleges and universities.” Again recent events come to mind, and I wonder, what did the parents know?

A University of Georgia professor laid out one of the reasons that it’s just so darned easy to become overly involved. “The cellphone, he says, has become ‘the world's longest umbilical cord.’”

When I went away to college in 1970, there were telephones and mail. No E-mails or cell phones. My mom worked and was 90 miles away. As an only child, I relished my freedom and struggled through an incompatible roommate situation, dropped Spanish, dated strange guys, got drunk for the first time. It was a wonderful time of uncertainty and exploration. My mom stepped back and let go, hard as it was for her. I hope I can do that for my younger son.

But first, is there anyone in Conway, Arkansas, who can wake up my son for class next fall?


Don said...

You have mail on the way about Conway.

Sheila said...

Thanks, Don. Appreciate the links.

Dirty Butter said...

As an only child of hovering parents, I was determined to go to a school away from home. But then I fell in love and ended up coming home every weekend to date LOL! College was a great time to test the waters of being independent, and I'm glad I had that opportunity. We have friends whose daughter was homesick the whole four years, calling long distance daily for long talks, just to keep from dropping out. I never really understood that level of dependence, but I must admit she graduated. Our attempt to cut the apron strings with one of our DD ended in her dropping out of college. She just wasn't ready to be away from home yet, evidently, as she ended up moving back home several times over the next phase of her life.

I'm rambling, I see, but I think my point is that everybody handles independence differently, and some just need more hand holding than others.

Naomi said...

Going to college is all part of growing up Sheila. I'm sure Scotty will be fine, even if you will miss him a great deal. It's surprising how you cope doing things like the washing for yourself when you have to!

Sheila said...

DB, I even put out the idea to son that he could always go to school in the same town as us and live on campus. That went over like a lead balloon. Maybe this experience will teach him more than he'd learn living nearby.

Naomi, I know what you say is true. I just can't seem to help myself. I think I need to get another dog. If that sounds awful I don't mean it. I guess I'm the kind of person who is happiest looking after other creatures be they men or beasts.