Meet the Parents

By Ryan Manning — This weekend, I went camping with a majority of my extended family for the annual “Manningpalooza” camping expedition (my idea of “Man(ning) vs. Wild” got shot down) in the beautiful and historic Plymouth, Massachusetts. After a number of years in the Midwest, I was really excited to be able to see a lot of my cousins and get reacquainted with their now-adolescent children who had grown up significantly during my time away.

While most of my weekend was spent hiking, kayaking, and with other wilderness activities, in an attempt to relax and get my mind off of the realm of student affairs before the new school year really kicks into high gear, I couldn’t help but notice the unique nature between today’s teenagers and their parents and how relationship affects the work that I do with college students.

Now, to be fair, my relationship with my parents was pretty unique, so this phenomenon may be more fascinating to me than to others. However, I was especially intrigued by the amount of involvement parents have in their children’s lives. Today’s parents seem to have everything planned out for their children, from what sports they will play in high school to what career they will eventually take on. For me, this is neither wholly positive nor negative, but simply different from how it was back in the day. While I certainly gained so much from the freedom my parents gave me to pursue my own interests growing up, I’m sure I could have benefited from a bit more guidance and structure, especially as I explored options for colleges and majors.  I suppose the stark differences between my relationship with my parents during college and the connections I see with today’s students makes interacting with parents one of my favorite parts of working in residence life.

When a child moves away to college, whether it’s across town or across the country, it represents a major adjustment for both parent and student. No longer is a parent able to notice when their child is having a bad day, or make sure they are getting their homework done, and so an attempt to stay involved is to be expected. The transition can be equally jarring for the student, who is now expected to live almost entirely independently, which can seem scary and overwhelming. For student affairs educators, the need for student and parent to stay connected can certainly be frustrating and seem to impede upon their work in student development. How can students grow and mature if their parents don’t get out of the way?

I used to feel similarly about the college student/parent dynamic, until I really began to understand why parents act the way they act. It is important to remember that parents and student affairs staff are working toward the same thing: the safety and development of their students; so why try to work against each other? Also, for me, I pride myself on developing strong connections with students after only a year, imagine the connection between parent and student after 18. This philosophy can help as you try to understand where students and parents are coming from as you begin to incorporate them into your work. Instead of trying to immediately sever this connection the moment students step on campus, be mindful how major this transition is and be patient as both students and parents orient themselves to a new situation.

To sum it up, parents are an essential piece of why I love the work that I do. They’re primarily the ones responsible for me being able to work with such outstanding young people. While they can admittedly be too hands on at times, they’ve worked hard for their children, and expect them same from you. So always be sure to remind parents when you meet them, that their children are in different, but still very capable hands.

2 Responses to “Meet the Parents”

  1. 1 Amma August 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I called my parents several times while I was at Brown. Often to apologize for my own behavior as a high schooler, and to tell them I understood the nature of our relationship. Here’s hoping that our students will recognize the role of their parents in their development, even in the absence of the same…challenges, shall we say, that brought me to call my parents that summer.


  2. 2 billhenk August 13, 2011 at 1:30 am


    Thanks for a very fine post.

    For what it’s worth, as an educator, there were lots of things parents did with their kids that I couldn’t imagine until I became a parent myself.

    At the same time, some parents are FAR too overbearing and that can lead to serious negative consequences. It not only makes for a dysfunctional parent/child relationship, but it puts the offspring at a significant social risk with peers. In my experience, these students often make poor judgments because they haven’t learned how to make decisions. Unwittingly, the parents render their children helpless to deal with the world, and have an unhealthy reliance on them instead.

    Lastly, if your parents had been more intrusive, do you think they would have talked you out of your Latin major? 😉


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