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Putting Parents In Their Place: Outside Class

"I imagine that parents who displayed those 'Baby on Board' signs are the ones who are now intruding themselves into the college experience of those poor babies 18 years later," he said.

"There are a lot of things I can't control," said one Bethesda mother who asked not to be identified because, she said, her daughter would be mortified. "Terrorists, the environment. But I can control how my daughter spends her day."

Teachers and principals in the early grades began noticing changes in parents in the 1990s. Parents began spending more time in classrooms. Then they began calling teachers frequently. Then came e-mails, text messages -- sometimes both at once. Today schools are trying to figure out how to take back a measure of control.

Some parents who once had unlimited access to classrooms or school hallways are being kicked out, principals say. Teachers are refusing to meet with parents they consider abusive, some say. A number of private schools have added language in their enrollment contracts and handbooks warning that a student can be asked to leave as a result of a parent's behavior. Some have tossed out children because their parents became too difficult to work with.

College officials say they, too, are trying to find ways to handle ubiquitous parents. Freshmen orientations incorporate lessons for parents on how to separate and let their children make their own hair appointments.

At Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., for example, administrators issue parents the university's philosophy on self-reliance when they drop off their children, spokeswoman Caroline Jenkins said.

Colgate administrators also send out a memo to department heads at the beginning of each semester reiterating that "we will not solve problems for students because it robs students of an opportunity to learn."

The Parent Program at Alma College in Michigan takes a comprehensive approach at orientation, complete with scripts that allow parents to role-play. A problem is presented and parents are asked, "Tell me what you've done already to solve this problem," said Patricia Chase, director of student development.

The answer often should be nothing, but inevitably parents offer lots of somethings.

"Our aim is not to tell parents to let go completely because, of course, parents want to be an integral part of their children's entire lives," said Walter of Seton Hall, where orientation includes sessions for parents and students -- both separately and together. "Rather, it is to discuss how to be involved in their children's lives, while allowing their children to learn the life skills they will need to succeed in college and beyond."


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