In this blog, I am not going to give a ton of answers. Instead, I am going to ask a lot of questions. I believe these are questions that have remained unanswered, but have impacted our praxis as higher education professionals for a long period of time.
First question: When do human beings stop developing?
As higher education professionals, a lot of us (we are a little biased) believe the most critical junctures for human existence is the transformative experience of going to college. But when students graduate (or don’t) does their development end?
I believe the answer to this is that students never stop developing, even after the leave our colleges and universities. If this is true, that would mean that as adults, those who would be in the role of parent or guardian are ALSO developing.
Second question: What impact does the development of adults who have a parental/guardian relationship with our college students have in our praxis as higher education professionals?
(for space purposes I will move forward with the general term "parent" to mean any pre-existing adult relationship a student has before they get to college; this could technically mean a grandparent, uncle/aunt, older sibling, etc)
We focus a lot of research and theory into student development as field. I wonder whether one of the issues is looking at "the student" in a vacuum. This seems like a very flat model of research. When a student comes onto our campus, they are an independent human being, but they are ALSO influenced by the adults (and other students) in their lives. We spend resources to study the impact of our students being influenced by their peers.
Third question: How can our research into first generation college students help us navigate the question of parental development?
We understand this on a basic level. We know and believe there is a difference between first generation college students, and students who grow up in an environment where parents have been to college. This presumes a parent's role (or the role of other adults in a students life) makes a difference. But here are a list of questions I have in contextualizing the college student experience in the context of the other pre-existing relationships they have with adults outside academia and student affairs:
Why do some parents call the university constantly when their child gets into "trouble" or engage in conflicts where other parents allow their child to go through the consequences without much interference?
Why do some parents require their child call them every day, where others are ok with their child calling once a week or once a month?
How do we help students who don't have parents (or don't have opportunity to call parents) feel a part of a community in which their peers engage on this regularly
How do we help international students who can only talk to their parents at hours which might be a struggle for roommates (like in the middle of the night or extremely early in the morning?
Do parents go through "stages" or "processes" that impact their behavior and relationship with their child?
For example, does a parent sending their first kid to college engage differently than when they send their third?
What about students who have been on their own? What does the absent of parents do when considering parental development and the impact on college students?
Does a parent's development intersect with their student's development?
Does having 1 parent, 2 parents, 3 parents, or 4 parents (or more) intersect with the students development?
Does the intersectional identities and experiences of those parents impact the intersectional identities and experiences of that student?
Are there differences with our international students and their identities?
Finally. Probably the most important question; Should we as higher education professionals concern ourselves with this notion? Is this a reflection of privilege to be able to spend the time and energy focusing on parents to deepen our knowledge and support the students on our campuses?
My initial thought is that this is both/and. It does come from a place of privilege to spend time and energy focusing on how parents shape their students, and whether as higher education administrators we could use this to impact our praxis. At the same time, thinking about this could make me a better practitioner as I understand the uniqueness of the college student experience and understand the student sitting in my office has a story that likely involves OTHER pre-existing relationships with adults that may impact them. This provides context for the student and would be helpful as I navigate being a part of their developmental journey.
What are your thoughts? How does adding context for the adults in a students' life impact our praxis, at all?
For me, as I work with parents, I consider their development as well as the student’s. Our culture tells parents “the more involved you are, the more successful your student will be” in the K-12 system. 2 months after graduation, we jump in and tell parents “give your child some space.” The question for us remains; how do we help parents move from being protectors to being partners in their child’s education. Thank you to Cindy Morozumi, a former supervisor at Sonoma State who really pushed the notion of moving from “parent protector” to “parent educator.”