University Professor Wishes Parents Weren’t so Involved in Kids’ Lives



  • I was a university professor for 13 years in Oklahoma.
  • In many ways, I felt like my students were not prepared for being away from their parents.
  • Kids should be making mistakes and learning through the process.

I was behind my podium doing paperwork and waiting for class to start when one of my students asked a question.

“Do you think we’re stupid?” she asked.

I looked up at the face of one of my best students. I had tried to make her an English major and often used her essays as examples of high-quality writing.

“Not at all,” I said, hoping to mask my concern. “Why do you ask?”

“Because we freak when it snows,” she said.

I relaxed. Teaching in Oklahoma, I quickly learned how ill-equipped my students were for snow and calmly explained how it’s hard to prepare for something that rarely happened. 

The truth is, snow was hardly the problem. My students were ill-equipped in much-more profound ways. My issue, however, was often with their parents.

For the bulk of my teaching career, I was not a mother. I have more empathy now that I am one, and the last thing I want is to be another chiding voice. I want caretakers to know that I am on their side, and I’m sharing my advice after I stood behind a university podium for 13 years. All I want is for all kids to succeed.

Don’t speak for your child

It was not uncommon for me to receive emails from parents asking how they could help their kids do better. I fantasized about responding with a single line: “Stop messaging their instructor.”

I had a reputation for being blunt. But when a parent is still involved at this stage, where does it end? Your kid is the one who should be talking to their instructor.

Yes, I know, some educators might not care about your child’s success, but your email will not change that. Consider it preparation. The world is full of people who don’t care. I understand how well intentioned each of those parents who messaged me were, but it’s your kid enrolled in college, not you.

Making mistakes is a good thing

I can’t tell you how many times I heard: “I wasn’t sure what to write about, so I asked my mom.” These students who sought parental help lacked confidence, independence, and curiosity.

The same can be said for the children of the parents who emailed me. I had plenty of other students who had dyslexia, ADHD, or anxiety disorders, and I worked with them, helped them get tutors, and encouraged them to go to the writing center or consult a research librarian. 

Universities are full of underused resources. Going to college for the first time is about learning, not knowing everything.

It’s OK not to go to college

When students were struggling, I pulled them into my office and asked why they were there. Nine times out of 10, they said, “Because my parents told me to.”

This is not a mistake I encourage. No one wins when your kid sleeps through class.

Some figure it out, but many don’t. I can tell you, though, that my nontraditional students often came with a fire in them that an 18-year-old did not.

“Go home,” I would tell the students in my office. “And when you come back, I’ll be here waiting for you.”

I wasn’t supposed to say this. Universities obsess over retention rates. I was supposed to work tirelessly to get every student to the finish line. Call it a sixth sense, but sometimes you know who isn’t ready. 

I love education and believe in its ability, but I won’t encourage my children to go to college. I will help them develop empathy, mindfulness, and creativity, and hope they decide to go on their own.



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