Snowplow Parents and Personalized Advising

snowplowI must admit, I might very well be a snowplow parent. I’ve seen a series of articles lately come across my computer screen that make me increasingly worried that I am. From the A Nation of Wimps post on Psychology Today  to the host of articles proclaiming the evils of snowplow parents (Google it, my friends- lots more out there to read), I see some of myself reflected.

Not two minutes ago, my 17 year old son popped his head in the door on his way out to an event, telling me he will text when he arrives and when he leaves. I see such behavior as respect, albeit in a 21st century manner. My parents asked the same of us, but we used a telephone connected to the wall. My retired parents even texted me yesterday to let me know they had arrived at a trip destination. Respect. And safety. I don’t see that as being a snow plow anything.  Nor do schools and communities, given the removal of any piece of playground equipment that might lead to an injury,  the legislation requiring teens to drive later and later with more and more restrictions, and the involvement of social services in the lives of families due to what would previously been considered good parenting. But these things may very well be contributing to a fundamental shift in development in our teens. If anything, we have a snowplow society. And I’m worried. How do I require responsibility when every other part of their world tells them to stay immature?

Obviously, my educational technology background has me twigging to the part technology plays in this arena. These articles seem to indicate that cell phones are an ‘umbilical cord’ that means students never truly get away from their parents. I must admit to feeling the same thing when hearing a friend discuss how her college age children text or call at least once a day to check-in. This parent believes that is a sign of respect towards the people who are footing the bill for expensive degrees.

And therein lies part of the problem. As higher education has increased in cost, so has parental involvement. Quite honestly, I understand that. We are looking at a minimum of 16 years of college for our four children…. and it’s an astounding amount of money. We teach our children personal fiscal responsibility with an emphasis on being debt-free. I personally view it as my job to decrease that amount as much as possible by advocating for my students at the high school level. There are many options available to students (and when I say that I should probably say ‘parents’) that can cut the cost of higher education in half. We now have one student enrolled concurrently in the public school system/community college and another enrolled in an early college model charter…. with the younger two planning to follow the latter path. Would they have sought out these options on their own? No. Will this impact their life for decades to come? Yes. Students can no longer work over the summer to pay for school- it would take my son roughly a full year of 60-hour work weeks at a greater than minimum wage job to pay for ONE year of college.

For my eldest, it took an adult sitting down to show him the cost of his modest educational path (in-state at a four year public university) to help him truly understand why I push and harp and press about his enrollment choices in high school. He can save a measly $38,000 by taking advantage of concurrent enrollment and credit-by-examination options. Does that matter to us? Yes! Does he totally get the impact of that money yet? No. But he will.

This video is a priceless satirical piece from The Onion entitled  “Man Doesn’t Know How Parents Are Going to Pay Off His Massive Student Loan Debt”.

In spite of this snowplow stigma, I won’t apologize for advocating for him and saving our family tens of thousands of dollars. I won’t apologize for making phone calls to verify that classes my high school student is taking at a junior college will transfer appropriately to his four year university of choice. I won’t apologize for reminding him of his options and helping him understand the ramifications of his choices.

Why not?

Because our current education system does not provide a clear path for students as higher education is getting pulled further and further back into secondary education. Students have often completed graduation requirements by junior year. Middle schoolers are taking courses that were once only available in high school. Kindergarteners are expected to read, rather than play and explore a social introduction to school.

High school students need an advocate. They need an advisor who is able to spend more than 5 minutes making sure the paperwork is completed for the following year. They need options explained to them in a personalized manner, not using formal terms in a mass student assembly.Families need involved in the process as well, given the economic ramifications of decisions made by students. They need to know about concurrent, gap year, credit by exam, internships, and personalized learning opportunities. High school advising needs to be truly personalized and tailored to each student, which takes time. Much more time than high school guidance counselors currently have available. College advising also needs to provide education in available options beyond the factory model of meeting diploma requirements. Prescriptive advising is not enough when the stakes are so high. Most importantly, there needs to be a bridge between high school and college advising for students.

If students had such an advocate, I think snowplow parents might just be able to relax. I know I could. For now, I’ll be the one acting as their advisor until I can pass that task on.