In previous generations, college professors had virtually no relationship with the parents of their students. All that has changed dramatically in recent years because of a variety of factors, and nearly forty percent of first year students say that they have had a parent intervene to solve a problem in college (Pope). Reasons for the change:
Instant communication. Many students communicate much more frequently with their parents through cellphones, e-mail, and instant messaging. Often, after a difficult conversation in your office, you will notice students reporting the results of the conversation on the cell phone to their parents as they walk down the hallway. 70% of students say they communicate with parents "very often."
Greater involvement of parents. Many parents, especially in affluent familes, feel much more empowered to intervene in their children's lives. As a recovering administrator, TΦ101 could tell some stories. Indeed, some of the larger corporations report that they have received so many telephone calls from the parents of new employees that they have set up special websites for parents, where the parents can inspect the benefit packages and other things that concern them.
A greater sense of entitlement. Meanwhile, students and parents have become more sensitive about their rights and privileges, and are more ready to complain if they feel they have received less than they think they deserve (or less than they paid for)
Pressures on Instructors:
Helping our students become adults. One of our primary jobs is to help our students learn independence, and we should gently encourage them toward self-management and self-direction rather than relying on their parents.
Respect for parents. At the same time, we need to be respectful toward parents and, in talking to our students, we should be respectiful of their parents. This is true everywhere but especially in private institutions which often justify their high tuitions by promising more service and support to parents and students.
Talking to parents:
In our section on confidentiality we give ground rules for talking to parents who telephone or come in person.
Pope, Justin. Survey Eyes Hovering College Parents, Associated Press. Nov. 4, 2007 (based on results from 2007 NSSE survey).
The Tomorrow's Professor series has a useful article on dealing with parents.
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: June 17, 2013