Doorknob #3

To be fair, the criticisms I’ve been spraying all over Tufts and other esteemed institutions of higher learning have their roots in issues that are out of their control. First and foremost among these is the over-parenting that so many of their students have endured for 18 years prior to their enrollment.

Two books that explore these issues in detail are A Nation of Wimps, by Hara Marano (Broadway Books) and The Parents We Mean To Be, by Richard Weissbourd (Houghton Mifflin). Both authors tip their hands with their subtitles: “The High Cost of Invasive Parenting” (Marano) and “How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development” (Weissbourd).

At one point, Marano refers to Harvard College’s Handbook for Parents. Such handbooks have become common as colleges strive to find ways to facilitate critical separation between parent and student. (Apparently the University of Vermont utilizes “bouncers” to get parents off campus after student orientation has begun!) The challenge is magnified, Marano notes, due to the fact that “the process of independence is supposed to be gradual, and it should have happened years before.” It’s really not the kind of thing that one can do overnight, and the evolution of the parental letting-go process “is in fact undergoing a gradual shift from natural event to traumatic experience” like today’s minor cavity turning into tomorrow’s root canal.

Weissbourd observes, “…. in some cases young people can’t separate [from their parents] because they have been infantilized by their parents from early ages and simply can’t function on their own.” He examines what we at Hyde call “The Cult of Self-Esteem” and what he calls the “Praise Craze.” His research has caused him to take a dim view of the “parent as friend” approach that many of today’s parents have attempted to utilize in raising their children. (If you’ve adopted that approach, be sure to read his chapter on it.)

True Confessions: There is one very common parental utterance that is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I’ll be conducting a Hyde admissions interview and a parent will say to a child, “My only hope is for you to be happy.” After I wince, I then explore that parent’s willingness to put that sentiment on hold for a bit in order for their child to do some “unhappy” things for a while so we can all work our way toward some happiness for all a little further on down the road. All the while, I know it’s a tall order, especially if the parent’s eyes lock with those of their child. After all, those eyes want unhappy things about as much as…..well….. a root canal.

Hey, we all want to be happy, but maybe George Orwell had it right: “Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.”

Onward, Malcolm Gauld