Monday, January 9, 2012

Helicopter attack, part 2

Regular readers might recall a post from about a year and a half ago about an encounter that I had with a  helicopter dad who came in to the advising office with his daughter, and the family drama that ensued.

Flash forward to today.  First day of spring semester, and I'm in my usual two-hour Monday afternoon shift doing advising.  It's very quiet--too quiet--for the first day, which probably should have been my first clue that some fresh hell was about to break loose.  I only had one scheduled appointment, at 3:30.

Around 3:15, a middle-aged guy sticks his head in the door, and asks if I can meet with him.  He looks familiar--I've met him before, I know he's been in the office before, but I can't place him until he says he's here to talk about his daughter's schedule.  But she's nowhere to be seen, and he has to call her several times before she finally answers and shows up in the office.  Oh yes: it's that family again.  And Mom's along this time, too. 

The student herself?  As soon as she plops into the chair, she whips out her phone and starts texting.  As the dad starts asking me questions about what classes she needs, I turn to her to get her input, and she's totally tuned out, texting away and clearly expecting mom and dad to do the heavy lifting.

The long and short of it is that the student is expecting to graduate this semester, but she's forgotten to enroll in the last class she needs, and got a D in another required course last semester, which means she'll have to repeat it and get a C or better. 

I could go on and on about the drama, part 2.  I'll spare you the details, and just say that it was very clear that the dad knew the requirements for the English major inside out, and the daughter not at all.  When the student bothered to put the phone down, it was to make snarky, petulant comments about how she didn't care what was required; she just wanted to finish and graduate. 

As before, I was mad at myself for not being more assertive--since, of course, this all took far longer than 15 minutes, leaving the poor guy who had actually scheduled an appointment sitting in the hallway. 

In my dream world, I would have channeled my maternal grandmother and said something snappy like "Young lady, this is your future we're discussing here, and you need to pay attention."  And maybe say something similar to the parents, like, "Tiffany Sue [not her real name] is the person who needs to make these decisions; why don't you wait outside?"

But of course, none of that happened. 

What really strikes me this time around is that this student is a graduating senior.  Presumably, she's on the brink of adulthood and independence.  But there's no evidence that that's even within the realm of possibility for her. 

Even more than feeling angry, the encounter left me feeling sad, and bewildered.  It seems like this child has been permanently damaged by her parents' concern.  And it strikes me as pathetic that any college senior could be OK with having her parents schedule her classes and generally organizing her life for her, much less seemingly expecting them to do it, and behaving as if she couldn't be bothered to worry about such trivial concerns.  Had it even crossed my mind to ask my parents for that kind of assistance, I would have been utterly humiliated to do so.

I just don't get it.

Is being a grown-up that unattractive to this young woman?  Or is it that it's just so, so much easier to keep doing the same old thing?  It just seems to me that by the time you were 21, you'd be tired of behaving like you're 16.  And that you'd want to feel like you were capable of managing your own life (whether you were or not). 

Damn, she didn't even show as much initiative as Veruca Salt.  At least Veruca always knew what she wanted, and asked for it by name.

Sigh.  And so begins another semester...


Erica Retrochef said...

A friend of mine is the admin in an engineering department, and encounters helicopter parents far more often than she'd like. She generally amuses herself by imagining how the students' future manager will react when his new employee's mommy or daddy shows up requesting special consideration...

Which, incidentally, was the topic in a very old family letter my uncle found recently: from my great-great-great-uncle to his mother, begging her not to write to his employer to request extra vacation because it wouldn't be granted, and it would make him look like a child. Apparently the habit of meddling is not easily left behind, so the fantasy of befuddled "real-world" bosses may not be too far off the mark!

Susan said...

I here stories like this and I find them hard to believe, except that you are an extremely trustworthy source.

I don't have any problems with parents accompanying students to meetings - they are usually paying after all, and in some cultures this is the norm. (I understand in India parents often want to visit their children on the first week on the job.) Also, some students may have emotional or cognitive problems that aren't obvious. But to let the child sit there and obviously pay no attention to the exchange - well, that shouldn't even happen in high school! If the student really can't even pay attention to a meeting that advises her on how she might be able to graduate on time, maybe another sort of program is what they need.

Maybe next time anyone comes into your office without an appointment and you have someone scheduled in the next hour, you can start the conversation with something like "I'm happy to talk with you for a few minutes, but I will need to cut you off at 3:15 because I have a scheduled appointment then. If we need to talk longer, we can schedule a time." Then it will be easier to cut them off.

Oh, and please don't tell me that she is in the teacher education program or I might spend the next few days crying my eyes out.

Rosemary said...

Erica, what a great discovery! I love coming across things like that letter--they say so much more about family history, and the mores of the time, than pretty much anything else could. And I guess that's exactly the response I would expect most college seniors to have, too--to be mortified at the prospect of having parents intervene for them.

And Susan, you raise an important point about there being cultural differences in how we think parents should be involved in their grown children's lives. Suffice to say, I don't think there was anything other than the very unique culture of this particular family coming into play in this situation!

I have good news and bad news for you: this student isn't in the teacher education program, though her father is really pushing her to become a teacher. She doesn't seem interested (I described their exchange about that in the previous post about them). And yet, when I met with them yesterday, she was inexplicably enrolled in two curriculum and instruction classes, and was trying to add a special education class. With all the other issues, there wasn't even time for me to ask about those things.

So, she's moving in that direction, though--as with most of her life, it would seem--only because it's what her parents want. I suspect she'll never actually become a teacher.

Or perhaps I should say that I *pray* she doesn't.

What really irritated me is that the dad seemed really concerned that his daughter enroll in classes with "good teachers," and yet he truly seems to subscribe to the theory that "those who can't, teach." Really? You think teaching is the fallback career for your slacker daughter, and yet you expect *her* teachers to be stellar?

Ah, well. It makes a good story, right?

Susan said...

Sorta good news, I suppose. I said I was going to cry because one of my husband's colleagues was doing research on education, and totally as a sideline discovered that education majors are among the lowest GPAs, SAT scores, GRE scores and so forth. I don't think you need to be a braniac to be a teacher - having struggled will give you more empathy for your students - but I would like to see at least middling grades among those who are training our kids, if only because it shows a willingness to work hard and learn new things.