Parental Expectations at College (page 2)
In the 1960s and 1970s, sons and daughters openly rebelled against parental expectations. With peer support behind them, they had no trouble speaking out against their families' views of politics, religion, and moral values. But it seems to me that the children of the new millennium are not as outspoken about their own needs and goals and pay the price in increased stress.
Many in this college generation have been raised in a culture of conformity and high expectations. Parents have given their children every opportunity to enrich themselves, to excel, to become superkids. In highly structured and supervised environments, they give and give and give more than any generation before them. This is a positive situation in one sense: today's children have had far more exposure to after-school and Saturday morning classes in dance, art, science, politics, and computers and greater specialized focus and training in athletics and music. But as the bar continues to be raised higher and higher and the academics become more and more challenging, this culture of high expectations sets up a classic situation for stress and early burnout.
The situation can be particularly stressful in immigrant families. In these cases, some hopeful and ambitious parents push their kids hard to move up from just-off-the-boat working-class status to middle-class professionalism. This syndrome leaves no time or tolerance for exploring life or self.
It is with the best of intentions that parents raise the bar on minimum expectations. But a large number of sound studies have found that the results of this increased pressure from home have a part to play in the epidemic of mental health issues on campus.
Expecting Top Grades
You have a right to expect your child to get good grades in college. Parents who know their child is goofing off, partying too much, or dedicating far more time to perfecting video game skills than studying have good reasons to demand better. Although socializing is an important part of the college experience, the goal, after all, is to get an education.
Parental pressure for good grades becomes a problem when it is unrealistic. Some parents are convinced that a child who earned all A's in high school should do the same in college, but this often does not happen. The reality of a higher education finds students who earned all A's in high school quickly wracking up B's and C's in college even though they're working hard and giving full effort to their classes. They may find that the study skills and level of work that rewarded them in high school are inadequate for college studies. They need time to acclimate to the higher expectations. They need support from home that assures them that doing their best is all they can do"that sometimes the grade is not the most important thing.
But this message is hard to believe, never mind deliver, if your child has always been at the top of his or her class. And it's also hard for parents to judge if their children who are earning those B's and C's are really working hard:
Geta and her parents are caught in this argument over grades, and neither side is able to concede to the other. Geta had been in the top 5 percent of her high school class in Florida. When she entered an elite college in the Midwest, she says she was unprepared for the academic rigors she faced and ended her first year with a B" average. Geta's parents were angry and threatened to pull her out of the college if she did not raise her grades the following semester. They had come to this country from eastern India and worked hard seven days a week in their own restaurant so that their daughter could have a good life in a profession like computer engineering or medicine. They expected Geta to focus on her studies and graduate at the top in her college class. There were no excuses to do otherwise.
Geta, who had been having trouble adjusting to the academic demands of her school, found that adding her parents' demands to her stress load was more than she could handle. She failed out of school her sophomore year and returned home with an eating disorder that seemed to successfully divert her own and her parents' attention away from her academic failure and the underlying reason of unrealistic expectations.
Expecting to Share the Same Goals
At his graduation from Harvard Law School, my friend's joy was momentarily dimmed when his mom came up to him and said quite seriously, "It's still not too late to go to medical school." The paren tal expectation that children choose a certain career can be direct, as in this case, or more subtle, as in my own case. When I was in college, I became interested in Buddhism and religious studies. Although my parents didn't order me to drop those classes, I knew they didn't like the idea. My dad grew up quite poor in Chicago and worked hard to get to medical school and then send his own son to an Ivy League school. I'm sure that to him, the idea of spending time studying religions seemed like a waste of time and money. It could not possibly contribute to my ability to earn a living when I graduated.
Fortunately, my parents remained calm while I explored subjects that were nonmedical, but today many parents are more vocal in their plans for their children. On campus after campus, counselors tell of students doing poorly in courses required for medical or law school, for example, in a conscious or unconscious effort to escape from the career expectations of parents.
Some parents steer their sons and daughters toward certain careers and assume they will follow that lead without question. We all have heard the stories about the young adults who are disowned when they refuse to join the family business. We've heard about the families who pressure their children to choose occupations with social status in fields like law, medicine, or business. We all also know stories about young people who bend to the pressure to please their parents and then live with regret and personal disappointment for the rest of their lives. Some young adults do both: they earn the college degree their parents insist on and then turn away and follow their heart into another field. In many of these situations, the pressure on the young adults is more than they can handle, and soon they find themselves struggling with anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, or depression. It is very difficult to live knowing you must choose to please those who love you or please yourself.
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