September 11th, 2012

Barry Glassner, president of Lewis and Clark College, observes in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

When the presidents of colleges and universities talk privately at this time of year, a popular topic is how to handle “helicopter parents.” We muse over what to say during student orientation sessions to dissuade parents from hovering over their children for the next four years — interfering with the maturation their children need, while driving us a bit crazy in the process.

But he’s not asking parents to be totally disconnected:

We know that some parents make inappropriate demands on professors, student-services staff and college officials while failing to disconnect from their children sufficiently to allow them to grow up. But we also understand that total disengagement is not the solution. Our students would not be the inquisitive, disciplined and community-minded people they are without a history of parental involvement. So what sense does it make for parents to suspend those connections for four years once move-in day is over?

Many parents I have known who have sons and daughters in college do a decent job in disconnecting from the academic pressures these students face.  No parent is still bringing orange slices to their varsity, club, or intramural soccer games anymore!

But I think this is good advice:

To the parents of children who don’t like their roommates, teachers, academic advisers or grades, we urge empathy and calm. The social and survival skills young people develop in these situations will serve them well later in life.

It’s the social transition that our children go through, especially in the first year of college, that is really hard for parents to disengage from.  Most of us might tell our child who has a problem with his or her roommate to “deal with it,” because the risk of dealing with it badly is still pretty low.  But there are other issues college students may face in social settings that could lead to profound consequences if a mistake is made – and it’s more than just sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  We want our kids to be happy.  To have friends.  To feel included.  To be involved with life on campus.  And we want our kids to be healthy.

A college student’s health is the one area where parents need to stay engaged, especially if they have chronic medical needs.  Are they refilling their prescriptions without missing a dose?  Are they even taking their medicine when they are supposed to?  Most college students take something, whether it is the multivitamin we recommend to them, or other medications:  for allergies, asthma, acne, ADHD, birth control, and more.  And most new college students are still not ready to take complete responsibility for their health needs.  Most college campuses provide excellent student health services and easy access to pharmacies.  Parents still need to help their students find them and use them.

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  • MEET THE EDITOR

    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Dr. Ketyer has special interests in developmental pediatrics and preventative medicine, specifically how nutrition and the environment affect health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

    As one of the founding physicians of Pediatric Alliance, PC, Dr. Ketyer served as its president from 1997-2004. He has been practicing general pediatrics at Pediatric Alliance since 1990. Dr. Ketyer and his wife have three boys and live in Pittsburgh's South Hills. 



  • Note: The information included in these posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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