Tuesday, 9 March 2010

she'll grow up when she's damn well ready, thank you

well comments to my previous post here certainly didn't go in a direction i intended or anticipated! i've been thinking about my response, and decided it would be too long for a comment so i've turned it into a blog post.

the common theme amongst commenters is their own autonomy at around 17 or 18, and the way they were brought up to be independent. maybe i'm reading too much in to it, but some of the comments imply that kids who aren't brought up this way aren't brought up well.

which brings to mind a piece of paper i got from a nz university, giving me tips about how to treat my child at university. all of the page and a half of bullet points boiled down to were "leave them alone". i didn't mind the stuff about the privacy act and not giving out information - that's the law & if i don't have a good enough relationship with my child to get the information i need, that's my own problem.

but the gratuitous advice about how i should treat or relate to my kid? not cool. for a start, it assumes a particular style of parenting that not everyone subscribes to. nor should they have to subscribe to it. all sorts of parenting styles can turn out wonderfully well-adjusted kids who do well in life.

i've seen parents who continue feed their kids (ie sit with them at the dinner table and put food in their mouths) up to age 7 or 8. said kids have grown up to be lovely people. one mother i know used to cook food for her kids when they were 2nd year students - she would cook enough for the whole week on sunday, pack it up into daily parcels and send it up for them. they never had to cook at all. again, said kids are now working as doctors, and really nice, sensitive and caring people that i'm proud to know. for other kids, that kind of care won't work and they'll turn into spoilt brats. the "leave them alone" method will suit them a lot better.

so basically, i don't take kindly to people (in institutions or at a personal level) giving me parenting advice with the underlying assumption that they know better than me how i should raise my child. and i was thinking that if anyone at said university dared to make any such comments to my face when i was there, my response would be this very simple one: "how about i don't tell you how to raise your kids, and you don't tell me how to raise mine; that way we'll both be happy". that's the politest version of f&*# off that i can think of in this context.

my view of the world is that i don't suddenly stop being a parent when my child turns 18 (or 21 or any other arbitrary). nor does she stop being my child. i know that my job as a parent is to bring her up to be a fully-functioning adult who achieves her full potential and is able to pursue her dreams. but it's up to me and her to determine how that relationship works; when and how i let go; when and how she lets go. the letting go will happen in stages, for some things it may not happen. like when i had my kids, my mum was my biggest support and i needed her to visit me every morning to look after my baby so that i could catch up on my sleep, because i had a baby that wouldn't sleep for more that one hour at a stretch. i need her still for various things, and she needs me for other things.

so if you happened to be very independent at 18 and were able to manage everything on your own with little parental support, good for you. that's an admirable thing (nope, not being snarky or sarcastic here, i really mean it). but it certainly doesn't give you the right to judge people who aren't at that level or don't want to be that way at that age. and i think that's what annoyed me most about a couple of the comments on that last post - they were just a little too judgemental for my liking.


Anonymous said...

Was it the university or the halls of residence? The halls often get caught between parents and their residents who are legally autonomous. One less parent haunting the grounds makes their jobs easier.
I shared a room with someone escaping abusive patents. The right to keep them off the property was well used.

stef said...

I'm not sure but I believe part of it is a clash of cultures and values.

I know that we've had problems with the Child's maternal family over what age independence kicks in. She's still getting food put in her mouth and having someone dress her at the age of six at the other house. To my partner and I it seems that the child is being 'babied' and puts way too much of a burden on her caregivers. But to her maternal family it is normal and we are the ones who are being cruel by insisting that she take care of herself.

However I do believe that this intensive type of parenting does put a heavy burden on mothers (something which you mentioned in your original post) which could be eliminated by passing more autonomy to the child.

stef said...

Argh scrub thing about culture, you mentioned in the OP that the people doing the complaining were all pakeha women.

stargazer said...

yeah stef, that's why in this post i steered clear of "culture" and talked about parenting styles. i've had conversations with pakeha males who are adamant that your kids don't stop needing you just because they've turned 18.

you're right that more autonomy for kids reduces the burden on mothers, but having both parents share the work better also reduces that burden.

Alison said...

Equally, I don't think leaving your children to do their own planning for university is necessarily about them not "needing" you, or about parents refusing to answer their needs. My parents were certainly always available to answer questions or discuss my study choices, but they still encouraged me to do the bulk of it myself. I lived at home throughout undergrad study, and had their constant support and interest, but was still fairly independent. I think my parents would probably be a bit put out to be painted as - well, almost neglectful.

In answer to the original post though, I do feel that a lot of women treat their male partners as inept when it comes to helping their children. I can't help thinking that both men and women are using such statements to justify their roles - there are still many men claiming ineptitude to justify lack of involvement, and women subscribing to it, because it's easier to subscribe to ineptitude than to accept that their husbands are essentially abusing their goodwill because they can't be bothered doing the work themselves. I know MANY men who would never do such a thing, and are greatly involved in their children's lives, but there are also many taking the biological essentialist line that women are naturally better at it, which ignores the fact that women, just like men, learn to parent their particular children on the job.

ms p said...

Didn't mean to sound like I was judging your parenting style, stargazer. I was trying to convey that while obviously 17, 18-year old kids need parental support, the form that this occasionally takes in some families can makes things difficult for workers in institutions because it clashes with processes that have to take into account privacy laws etc. I have had some really ugly encounters with parents so had a strong reaction to that aspect of parents filling out forms for kids etc:)

Having said that, notices advising 'this is how you should interact with your child now they're at uni' is terrible!

stargazer said...

I think my parents would probably be a bit put out to be painted as - well, almost neglectful.

i really hope i didn't give that impression in my post, because i don't see it as neglectful at all. just another way of doing things that works fine for some people.

and ms p, i should have responded to anon above to say, yes, it was from a halls of residence. and i can totally understand staff frustration at having to deal with pushy parents!! that's why i said i didn't mind at all about the privacy act stuff, it was the other that amounted to "advice" that annoyed me.

Alison said...

I think it's really just this line that rubs me up the wrong way, and from what you've said in your comment, it's misleading of your actual thoughts; "my view of the world is that i don't suddenly stop being a parent when my child turns 18 (or 21 or any other arbitrary)."

Because I absolutely agree with you that parents and children need to negotiate the change of responsibilities as the child is ready, and I think parents who hand over responsibility to a child earlier are not stopping parenting, they're simply adapting to a new stage in the relationship and a changing role in their child's life. It sounds like we're on the same page, just expressing it differently.

Azlemed said...

I am married to a guy who's parents actual parenting stopped when he was around 14, sure he had anything he wanted materially but the support only extended to things they wanted him to do,

sometimes as parents we make it hard for ourselves and our children, being there for our children to me never stops, but having a halls tell you what is acceptable might be pushing things a bit much for most of us.

McFlock said...

having worked in student support from the institution's perspective, in my experience one of the major difficulties facing many students is the period before they make friends.

If they are constantly on the phone to home it just reinforces the homesickness, and every minute they're on the phone they're not in the common areas getting to know people. Left unchecked some students drop out early in their first year.

I'm not saying that this particular bit of paper was very well written, but (as with most of the gunk given out at the beginning of the academic year) it's not aimed at individuals. It's aimed at a general problem. Blame the co-dependant parents for making the problem big enough to do something about.

stargazer said...

really, blame the parents? that's the best you can do? it could be that those parents know their kids a lot better than halls staff do, and that the kids were not the best suited/not ready at that point in time to be away from home. they could be really shy, not good at making new friends, and that parental support & daily contact is the only thing keeping them sane. sorry, but i see your comments as more of the same: projecting the way you think the world should run on to other people.

McFlock said...

Just blame the ones who reinforced their offspring's sense of isolation and homesickness, rather than helping the student grow.

Yes, there are kids who turn up before they're ready, while others are perfectly ready for the change. But there is also a large group in the middle who can (and do) go either way.

I can understand why someone who has seen a thousand students make (or fail) the transition might want to write a leaflet on how parents might help their kids.

Yes, parents know their kids best. But they're not always trained in telephone counselling. At the end of the day, it's just a piece of paper. Recycle it.

stargazer said...

no, it's more than a piece of paper, it's an attitude born out of a particular worldview. which means it will permeate the way support is given and how students are treated, which is going to be detrimental in many cases.

hungrymama said...

How is not being on the end of the telephone when your child needs you going to make them feel *less* homesick and isolated?

McFlock said...

Most first-years having a difficult adjustment have two options that are mutually exclusive: get support from home or take part in activities and social opportunities where they are. Time spent doing one takes away from time available to do the other. Multi-hour calls home most nights inhibit socialisation and means not participating in organised activities (most halls are activity-intensive in the first few weeks specficially as distraction from homesickness and to build community spirit), and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

FWIW it also goes the other way - I used to field occasional phone calls from parents who hadn't heard from their kid for 2 weeks and wanted to make sure they got in okay. What had generally happened is that the student had gotten off the plane and not looked back, they were having so much fun. Simple to track them down and suggest they call their parents.

Look, if this bit of paper contained advice that every parent in a thousand already knew (and had often discarded) because they knew so much better than people who had helped students manage the transition year after year after year, then lobby to get whoever wrote it fired (such a public information screw up is difficult to manage, and it's also probable that they have no experience in dealing with first-years).

If you as an individual know everything about helping your kid manage the transition, then great. Not all students are so lucky.

What I'm hearing is that parents have the monopoly on knowing how to provide the best support possible to the student. People who have seen thousands of students make the transition can therefore contribute no advice whatsoever, and are insulting you if they try.

Shame on them for giving a damn.

stargazer said...

um no, what i'm saying is that there are multiple approaches to raising kids, that each child is an individual, and that it is up to parents and children to determine how they are going to relate to each other. what you think may work best for "most" may not work for any individual, and i don't think a paternalistic "we know what's best for you" attitude is helpful to an institution (or individuals within that institution) is helpful. also, correlation does not mean causation, and preconceived notions of how parents or students should behave will lead to an assumption that certain things caused a particular outcome, when they didn't at all.

what i would object to is people providing support who might say things like "it's time to grow up", or "you should be doing xyz" without first examining their own biases and cultural background/upbringing to see if they are just projecting their own view of how they think things should be, rather than allowing that individual to interact in a way that's best for them.

there's no reason to push an individual to socialise in a context where he/she doesn't feel comfortable, so why take a blanket attitude about how they spend their evening time?

McFlock said...

There is a large amount of academic research on management of the student's transition to first-year study. Google something like "transition to first-year" or "first year experience". There are even annual conferences in Australasia. It seems to me that you have a "preconceived notion" on how and why the offending document was written.

However, assuming your quotes "it's time to grow up" and "you should be doing xyz" are taken from the document, it might be that somebody more used to writing for first-year students (who tend to prefer more explicit and categorical communication) has used the wrong tone for their parental audience.

One reason, off the top of my head, to "push an individual to socialise" (or rather "minimise obstruction of the integration process caused by isolation and possibly over-intensive tele-parenting") is the assumption that the student came to university to complete a degree to the best of their academic ability. Not drop $3k in course fees/loans (not to mention hall leases) while possibly screwing up their chances of admission to a restricted-entry programme.

stargazer said...

ok, did the google search and it'll take time to go through a lot of academic papers, but thought this bit from here
was interesting, and encapsulates some of what i'm trying to say:

Diversity was a central theme in this project, and is a critical issue in terms of transition
support. The increasing heterogeneity of the student population - including within
different learner groups, in terms of prior educational experience, personal and work
circumstances, attitudes to learning and motivation levels - requires a range of
approaches and a flexible system of support. The question of what is an effective
solution to problems associated with transition depends on the nature of a particular
student group, in a particular programme, in a particular institution.

Academic and support services staff designing and operating transition strategies clearly
must have an understanding of particular factors that are likely to have an impact on
different learner groups. Institutions need to track, analyse and understand patterns of
progression and retention, which will vary across the institution, across schools, faculties
and departments and across programmes, in order to develop appropriate responses
and approaches. Single solutions targeted at particular types of students are not
sufficient. This will become increasingly crucial as the student population becomes more

emphasis added. just as you have increasing heterogeneity in terms of learning, you also have the same in terms of their bringing up, level of autonomy etc so a single set of statements saying "as parents you should do xyz" isn't quite as helpful as the authors seem to think it is.

as for the $3,000 thing, as a parent that's the least of my worries. if my child was unhappy in that particular environment or found that they couldn't cope with or didn't enjoy the degree they had enrolled in, i'd be happy to pull them out of there that very day. i don't care if i've wasted $3,000 or $30,000 (and if she's at a halls, it's much closer to $30,000). her life and happiness are more important to me than any sum of money you would care to put up. sure, if there was something the institutions she engages with are doing wrong or could do better, i'd show her and encourage her how to advocate for change, and join her in that if and when required.

and no, those quotes weren't taking from the document, they were indicative of the attitude behind the document. as i said above, neither are very helpful.

stargazer said...

then there was this bit from here:

A feature of the 2004 study is a close analysis of the unique first year experiences of demographic subgroups, including students from equity groups. While there are several similarities between the experiences of these students and the broader sample, sufficient subgroup differences emerge to warrant consideration of
institutional support strategies designed to meet the specific needs of various groups of students.

McFlock said...

... and maybe, just maybe, one of the factors identified at that particular hall relating to student retention / transition to FY was the response of some parents upon being phoned by a homesick student.

Particularly as at larger institutions halls of residence tend to cater to different subgroups (e.g. sporting emphasis rather than academic support, or specific cultural support being more of an emphasis).

It's not about you. A lot of first years are on student loans from day one, as their parents can't afford to pay everything.

Failing first year courses that are competitive-entry to restricted courses (e.g. law or health) will and does impact on the future careers of students. Not so important for a BCom, but it kind've sucks if the student wanted to become a surgeon. It doesn't necessarily nuke the opportunity, but can make it more difficult. But because you found it insulting, obviously it will be of no help to anybody else.

stargazer said...

yes, i know it's not about me (patronising a little aren't we), and yes in our case, student loan fully applies. it would be one of the factors to be considered, but a loan can be paid off by working in another field, even one without a degree. i'd say that would be a much better option than staying in a miserable situation just because you've enrolled in a particular course, and then spending a working career in a profession you hate.

and maybe, just maybe, if you're going to give advice, you might say "we've had xyz problem with some students, we found that sometimes [insert strategies here] can work. but we fully recognise that in your particular case they may not. if you'd like to discuss further, feel free to contact [insert details here] and we can talk about what is best for you. however, we totally recognise that in the end, it is up to your child and you to decide what's best for your situation, and we will not pressure the student to act in any particular way."

wouldn't that be so much nicer than (and yes i'm paraphrasing, don't know where i put original document) "we're here to turn your student into an adult, so how about you back off, leave them alone, and let us handle it from here on in, because we're much better at this than you".

and it would be so nice if the first option was not just on a piece of paper but the ethos of the place as well? i'm really hoping it is the ethos of this particular institution, and to date their actions haven't matched the advice they sent out.

McFlock said...

The issue is not people who chose a course and found it to be inappropriate, or are at risk of ending up in a career they don't want. The issue is the borderline student who phones home for support and gets a parent who unintentionally makes the transition even more difficult, maybe to the point of being overwhelming. To then say "they dropped out, so they obviously weren't ready" is the easy way out. At least the hall is trying to identify and resolve a student retention issue.

Your "nice" version used up quite a lot of space without actually giving specific advice. I'm not saying that the less-nice version is better, but there is a trade-off. Not to mention that some people might find the "nice" style less palatable than something that's to the point. But that's a style:audience issue.

As I said before, it does sound like maybe the style was poorly chosen for the audience but that doesn't mean that the advice was not needed.

Although I definitely agree that it should have had a contact number - even just in a letterhead - if parents wanted more information (or to comment how it might be improved). As you rightly point out, leaflets are blunt tools that are not necessarily applicable to every situation (although the information might applicable to enough people to choose that medium, rather than say a letter or phone call to only the individuals concerned). It is generally good practise to bung in a "for further information..." line. Back in the day I had it set up in my blank leaflet template.

stargazer said...

"quite a lot of space"?? it would take about 3 more lines, so sorry, don't agree with you there. and the problem is not with a staff member making a personal suggestion to a particular student or parent - i have no problem with that, as long as it isn't done in an overbearing or arrogant way. the problem is with assuming that this is what works in every situation, so giving blanket advice to all parents or having the attitude that this is the strategy to be used in every situation. that to me is just wrong.

McFlock said...

"the problem is with assuming that this is what works in every situation, so giving blanket advice to all parents or having the attitude that this is the strategy to be used in every situation. that to me is just wrong."

Who says that assumption was made? All I'm suggesting is that maybe staff saw enough students (but with no clear indication as to which ones it will be) have similar enough experiences that they felt direct contact with specific parents after the fact was a) too late to actually help the student; and b) far too resource intensive because it's a common issue to greater or lesser degrees.

So they wrote a leaflet, for the same reason people write leaflets about additional learning support, leaflets on how to use different software for class, accessing facilities after hours, etc etc etc. There is no expectation that it applies to all (or even most) students. But hopefully enough of the target group get enough assistance from that bit of paper so that there are more resources available for 1:1 assistance where necessary.

Personally I would have thrown in a fair amount of gumpf on what signs(positive and negative) parents could look for when they are in contact with the student and who to contact in case of concerns (e.g. main office, hall chaplain, floor supervisor, etc). But that's as much a style thing as anything else.

stargazer said...

well i see it as more about substance than style. as i've said many times already, it's about the underlying attitude, the signal it sends to both student and parent. should we make all students feel guilty about having close contact with their parents just because it doesn't work for some? should we be telling all parents to back off when that won't be appropriate in some cases?

and i've already addressed the point in your second paragraph by showing you how it could have been dealt with in terms of wording in my comment of weds, 9.48pm. it's not hard really - just a simple act of acknowledging and valuing diversity.

your third paragraph is about the only thing you've said that i can agree with, except that it's not "just style" (see above).

McFlock said...

Frequently, when one causes offence via written communication, the received attitude is not the the one intended by the author. I regard this as a failure in style (and a failure to which I'm prone, as you might have noticed).

I also believe that the degree to which one qualifies one's statements when writing a leaflet is also largely stylistic, and does not necessarily imply a uniform response to specific situations that fall within that description.

The concept of "making all students feel guilty about having close contact with their parents just because it doesn't work for some" would be a problem if that was case in this instance. I'm not sure it is. It comes down to how big the problems potentially caused are compared to the problems potentially solved.

If the number of students who don't manage to successfully make the transition because of this leaflet is bigger than the number of students who do manage it because of this leaflet, it would be a bad piece of information. But I can certainly understand the motivation of the authors to write it, and I'm not sure that omitting references to diversity in parental style and student-home contact requirements makes it a counter-productive fail.

stargazer said...

Frequently, when one causes offence via written communication, the received attitude is not the the one intended by the author.

and the whole point of communication is to get your message across. how it is perceived is much more important that what you thought you meant to say. for the writer to say "it's all your fault, reader, for not getting what i meant to say" is a pretty useless position to take if you're trying to get a message across.

and does not necessarily imply a uniform response to specific situations that fall within that description.

but unless you specifically state that in your communication, the reader does not know and has to assumet that you will be taking that response in all situations. if that's the clear impression you give, then that will be the meaning taken. it's not so difficult to add the simple sentence you've mentioned into your communication.

if that was case in this instance. I'm not sure it is.

but you also can't be sure it's not. nor can you be sure that it's having any effect at all in improving the situation for the subset of students who require a particular strategy to deal with their particular situation. in fact, it's likely to be having a detrimental effect if it riles the target group (ie that subset of parents that you're actually aiming for).

McFlock said...

Yes, the author needs to try to make things as clear as possible. But the reader should realise that the medium is imprecise and limited, and that maybe a sin of ommission is not indicative of a harsh and unhealthy attitude that permeates the entire institution. It might just have been a mistake, if it's even that big a deal.

And no, depending on the source the reader does not have to assume a uniform response in absense of detailed qualifications. We aren't talking about legislation, we're talking about a leaflet. If a specific situation seems inappropriate for the suggested behaviour, you can take it under advisement and make your own decision, maybe with further advice from the supplier (which is why contact info is good for a leaflet - the leaflet gets folk at least thinking about an issue, and if they have queries they have somewhere to go).

Nope, I have no idea whether the document in question is successful. Neither do you. But the fear of making things worse to some unknown degree in some unknown way is not a good reason to avoid attempting to alleviate a known problem, and a single individual perspective does not amount to quantifiable data about the impact of a programme.

stargazer said...

maybe a sin of ommission is not indicative of a harsh and unhealthy attitude that permeates the entire institution.

and maybe it is. from the communication itself, it's impossible to tell.

depending on the source the reader does not have to assume a uniform response in absense of detailed qualifications.

but that's clearly the message that is being given and the tone of the document. and nowhere have i suggested "detailed qualifications": you're arguing against something that has never been said. i've suggested a few sentences, you actually managed to say it yourself very briefly at least two times now, yet find it to be some kind of onerous burden to include in a communication.

a single individual perspective does not amount to quantifiable data about the impact of a programme.

nope, and neither does the continued and unsubstantiated assertion that it's doing good or that it's better than nothing.

McFlock said...

and maybe it is. from the communication itself, it's impossible to tell.

Well, your comment of Wednesday at 0940 sounded to me pretty categorical that the ommission *was* indicative of a worldview that influences treatment of the students.

And my assertions as to the quality and effect of that particular document have been minimal. My basic point is that you should ease up on the staff who wrote it, because A)they were probably trying to address a problem faced by students; and B)you (and I'll go out on a limb here) are probably reading far more into simple stylistic habits than it deserves.

But ISTR student information leaflets in general need to be pretty explicitly and overtly bad to have negative outcomes greater than the intended positive outcome.

stargazer said...

well yes, from my reading of the thing, it seemed to give a really strong message as i've detailed in the original post. and i think that saying "the way you've done this isn't right and makes me worry about how my child is going to be treated" is actually helpful - i would have thought that if i did bring this to the attention to staff, they'd welcome the feedback and suggestions as to improvement. rather than continually saying "we're right, you've got it wrong, you're reading too much into this because you have problems, and we see absolutely no reason to change because we're right", which is pretty much the response that i seem to be getting from you here. yeah, i'm really hoping that the staff where my daughter is don't think that way, and don't have a contempt for parents who keep in close contact with their kids in the way that some of your earlier comments seemed to imply. but i really can't tell from the information they've sent. i have no reasons for concern as yet, which makes me reasonably hopeful that this is not the case.

McFlock said...

If you are still unsure as to whether the hall staff have an appropriate attitude, one option would be to send them an email explaining the issue with the leaflet and ask for further advice on a particular point (if no contact on the leaflet, send it to the generic email address of the hall). I suggest a couple of paragraphs, but still fairly diplomatic (i.e. not one I'm adept at writing - I think I've earned promotion to black belt in text/tone stupidity).

And wait for the response.

How quickly, and how politely / sufficiently, they make the response would be a good indicator of how much the leaflet reflects their actual attitudes and organisational skills (which are required to keep tabs on how their residents are doing). Especially as it's week 2 and they probably still have their hands relatively full with various minutae of the new year - but they should still have time to make a reasonable response. I suggested brief, because a long email at the end of a long day (depending on who picks it up) can mean that they miss the main point, and give an unsatisfactory response.

Halls are pretty diverse in what they offer (though most are pretty good, as I recall), so if a student has gone into a hall with the wrong emphasis they might be able to transfer to a more appropriate hall.

stargazer said...

ah, agreement. i really didn't think we'd manage it, but i have to really thank you for that last comment. and i may take you up on your suggestion, just in case there were other parents who felt uncomfortable in the way that i did.

yup, this is why i blog.