In the last of Anne Cochran’s 10 part series she asks us, the parents, a very important question:
What in the world happened to those well-meaning, principled folks who parented most of us?
After spending enough years in school leadership to intuit behavioral patterns, the one that is signaling a cultural shift as time passes is that parents generally appear to be afraid of their own teenagers. Also, they’ll give anything to garner their kids’ stamp of approval as a “cool person.”
As far as it goes in terms of drawing certain lines in the sand, well, the ickier parts of the job tend to be quickly passed over to others (like school officials?), as in a game of Hot Potato while the parents at once do a 180 on the targeted educators and join forces with their kids.
Curious Thing #10
A Curious and Deep-Seated Need To Be Your Kid’s Best Buddy and Partner in Crime Rather Than An Old-Fashioned Parent.
What does this societal change in mindset have to do with college? Everything. How can a kid make it through tough times that will surely present themselves in the higher-ed years if daily reality at home — which is each person’s key preparation ground no matter what they say about school — is one that seems to have little to do with responsibility, accountability, and yes, even that out-of-style attribute — morality? Schools are supposed to educate. Parents are supposed to parent kids.
insidewink’s monthly column about the college-planning process you and your teenager may be living through or planning to tackle in the foreseeable future.
You can read Part 1 of “Ten Curious Things Parents Do To Mess Up Their Kid’s College Journey” here.
5 Different Parent Stereotypes We Encounter
Parent Type #1: Creating a “Safe house”
As a high school administrator, I’ve encountered a few parents partnering up with their kids in the drugs/alcohol “arena” by providing a “safe house,” with a misguided explanation offered up that goes something along the lines of “Oh, they’re going to do drugs and drink, so they might as well do it here where they’re safely housed and they don’t endanger themselves out in the world at large.” That’s some fine logic for you and more frequently offered than you might know. Maybe that same kid would indeed learn a little something useful if the world at large delivers a tough lesson. It’s not going to happen in this parent’s party basement.
Parent Type #2: Making Excuses
From time to time, we’ll get a parent type who decides to fire off an impassioned-yet-illogical letter us about her charge’s lack of school attendance… or lack of good spirit and completed academic work that are both certainly our errant teachers’ fault… and these two things absolutely boil down to said teen’s general lack of participation in this common-to-our-society’s institution called school and its various types of subcultures as if it’s something new and bizarre. This parenting practice serves no purpose other than to further alienate the school’s various employees from her and her now-troublesome child. How does the cooking up of this scenario prepare that teen for life in college? It doesn’t, of course. Such kids usually don’t make it to the finish line.
Late Night Emailing
Several years back, we had one interesting mother who did a nightly Dr. Jekyll-to-Mr. Hyde transformation at some point between 9:00 pm and 3:00 am. She’d fire off nocturnal emails to us about how terrible she “knew” our program was. Mind you, we can certainly take criticism from someone who is in the game with us, so to speak, but the problem was that she never brought her kids to school, so how would she know? We barely knew her kids by way of chronic absenteeism.
Each morning I knew I’d open my email to be greeted with the previous night’s lengthy and deranged rantings, replete with run-on sentences in ALL-CAPS presentation and lots of !!!!!!!!!. My mind ran through the gamut of possible reasons why this thing was regularly occurring. Was she abusing alcohol with a vengeance? Was she full-on psychotic? Was she somehow eerily correct in her hateful assessment of us (that’s 11-year-old insecure Anne entertaining that one)?
After a period of absorbing her daily written attacks, it became clear to me that Jack Daniels-aided writing sessions or not — this lady’s bottom-line intention was to be loved and included by her own teenagers. They didn’t particularly want to “do school,” which is typical of a teenaged population segment, so Mom did everything under the sun to protect them from doing what was clearly correct and best for them by dodging our truancy-related actions via an oddly constructed smokescreen.
Parent Type #3: Asking For the Grade
There is a stereotypically well-intentioned parent type who materializes each year who gradually and constantly chips away at school administration to the point where it’s crystal clear he just wants his child to be passed all the way through high school in return for doing virtually nothing… with plenty of her final transcript reporting solid-A grades to boot! I always wonder what in the world this parent could be thinking. Does he think he’s going to drop off that kid at her college of choice’s doorstep next September and everything that’s wonderful will just fall into place for her? I guess so. To me, it’s a freakish thought process.
Parent Type #4: Encouraging Unrealistic Impossibilities
There are parents who encourage their kids to live in a fantasyland about the level of pif-dream school they can actually crack at admissions time. Hey, let’s pay no attention to those B/C/D grades! It should be pretty clear where general parameters fall, especially if some modicum of individual college counseling is periodically occurring along the way. Some parents just want to complacently sit on the sidelines and watch that egocentric (read young) kid go the whole nine yards and then…what? Fail? How does that outcome help the parent remain in good stead with the child via this cultivated brand of superficial friendship?
I know parents don’t want to stomp all over their kids’ dreams — no loving parent does and neither do I, the person playing the helping role. But if we continue traveling down that path by making ill-advised plays for those too-far-out-of-reach schools, the student’s young and fragile ego is going to get smashed to smithereens. It’s not fun to watch.
These parents can always be counted on to offer up a seemingly reasonable “Well, it couldn’t hurt to apply, right? I mean, you never know…” and I’ve lately taken to retorting “Oh yes, I certainly do know. I’m paid to know.” I attempt to tactfully drive home the guidance within meetings and emails. But without that parental joining me up here in the peanut gallery, I’m placed in danger of being cast in a centerstage supporting role in this family’s dull drama as the Devil In Shoes, the Bad Cop, the Adversary — which isn’t helpful to anyone and this “show” will certainly close.
Parent Type #5: Being the Best Buddy
I eventually conclude that the parent’s through-line is to live his day-to-day existence in his “Sally’s” life as her “bestest” buddy, thereby supporting every preposterous notion about college admissions that rolls out of the adolescent’s not-yet-arrived-on-planet-Earth mind and mouth.
This parent wants little more from me than my donning of a Mona Lisa smile while uttering “Well yes, Sally, go for it! You’re so gifted… you can DO it!” In this scenario, we’re each being set up for a sucker punch. Hmmm…now I can certainly choose to close the curtain on this bad play by hitting Sally right between the eyes with the truth, which in turn will bring forth an even larger river of more tears and resentment as well as further heat from the parent. You know what? Life’s too short. In this sort of drama, it’s more life-preserving to “just play the note,” as old jazzers say.
What’s galling about this parenting style is that I know those far-reach colleges require far too much hyper-focused work for any kid to not get her heart wrapped up in it via the process of creating and delivering what’s required. The sharp sting of an in-kind hyper-selective admission office’s denial is a far worse one next spring when decisions finally roll in the door than the one an upfront reality check would deliver right now.
This parent type doesn’t take such advice too well. Nevertheless it’s vital that he take his kid’s not-so-remarkable stats to heart as well as the icy nature of this particular chosen rite of passage called Selective College Admissions. I wish he could hear me in the best possible light when I tell him that ignorantly playing the numbers never delivers a hit in that highest-end category of schools if the basic game pieces aren’t there. I wish he could hear me when I tell him that kids who are light-years’ better qualified than his child are mercilessly shut out every admissions season. I tell him about the times I’ve held shaking hands of those denied sweet kids who have delivered everything under the sun to garner that desired offer yet didn’t make the cut.
But Dad’s current state of desired “friendship” with his own daughter wins. It’s them against the world and school administrators and teachers are the designated defenders of the adversarial world in that odd fight.
Why Do It At All?
You may be asking yourself why I care enough to do it on a daily basis. In fact, why do school administrators, counselors, and teachers across the nation put up with this sort of conduct? After all, there are so many other career options that wouldn’t deliver such aggravation. Here’s why. This morning I received the following email from one of my current seniors:
I just had a college meeting/interview with XXXX University and it went amazing!!!
I also submitted all of my early applications!
Just wanted to let you know. :).
Have a good day and thank you!”
That sort of innocent and joyful interaction reaffirms the higher reason why my feet hit the floor early every morning and I get to work. Kids are simply the best. They are all we have. Each of us who is cast in their adult mentor/helper roles tends to honor self-identified higher purposes thus resist the adolescent pull that lives within each of us to be “popular” in the kids’ realm. If we don’t make sound choices on their behalf, they won’t learn. They won’t thrive…and we need them down in the core of our beings.
Adults, let’s try our best to sometimes be adults of the old-fashioned sort when the occasion calls for it…and those occasions constantly present themselves. It’s one of the hardest things to do in life.
Anne Cochran is an award-winning leader of a small and passionate team of educators who opened Valley International Preparatory High School (VIPHS) in August 2018. — a new charter high school dedicated to providing 21st-Century-informed college options to grades 9-12. As a former marketing veteran within Hollywood’s film industry and small-business owner, Anne redirected her career interests nearly 12 years ago to addressing a need she observed within secondary public education, which is to bring optional college options to public school-educated teens who would otherwise be presented with very limited choices. Anne has been married for over 45 years to Chuck Cochran, creator and namesake of “Chuck Cochran’s Music Lab” at VIPHS, and they have two grown children.
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