One day, when psychology professor Marlena Piercy answered the phone, an upset father was on the line.
For about 25 minutes, Piercy listened as the father complained that his daughter was getting a B+ in Piercy’s class. She said the father told her his daughter always gets A’s.
“I’m sorry I’m the one to introduce you to reality,” Piercy said she thought to herself, as she explained to the father that his daughter just didn’t do well enough in her class.
The father suggested granting his daughter extra credit. He questioned Piercy’s grading style. However, the semester was almost over. Every argument came to a dead end.
“That phone call was just the worst,” Piercy said.
The father threatened to call the chair of the Psychology Department, but Piercy never heard anything else from him after that call.
The question regarding when parents will let their children grow up probably lingers in the minds of many college students as they move closer to entering “the real world.” For CSUN students, parental involvement in their schooling ranges from being not at all involved, to somewhat involved, to very involved, and can reap both good and bad consequences.
Parents who are too involved in their children’s lives have “enmeshment,” which, in psychological terms, means that someone is too attached to another person’s life.
Last semester, Cara Keith, senior deaf studies major and Associated Students president, received the first D of her entire academic career.
Her mom was shocked, Keith said.
Keith’s mom became concerned, and began to get more involved. She started to call Keith more often.
“So, you have a test on Friday?” her mom would ask her. “Are you studying?”
Her mom would also ask Keith to call her right before the test so that she could wish her good luck.
In college, Keith wasn’t used to having a worried parent, since she has been an above-average student throughout her life. She said her parents, who live three hours away, are involved in her life only by supporting her with encouraging comments, such as asking how she’s doing in school, and paying for her health and car insurance.
“I think that when parents get too involved, it kind of pushes college students away, because they don’t want their parents checking up on them all the time,” Keith said. “But I think being involved and being curious about what’s going on in school is better, in my opinion.”
For Piercy, who has taught psychology at CSUN for four years, her encounter with the upset father was one of the few times she experienced parents involving themselves in their children’s academic lives.
“I don’t think I’m alone in this, but it’s not a big issue,” Piercy said.
From the experiences she has had, parents have accused her of doing something wrong rather than admitting that their children were not performing up to certain standards, she said.
“They don’t see that maybe they’re interfering,” Piercy said about the students’ parents.
For some parents, there is a psychological connection with their children that makes it hard for them to let their children be independent at the college level.
If parents get too involved, the effects could be negative, Piercy said.
“It’s certainly not very healthy,” she said. The children “will be in a suspended state of development.”
The children need an opportunity to establish themselves, Piercy said.
However, Piercy also said parents should not withdraw completely from their children’s college lives, and that they need to be involved somewhat.
“(Being) somewhat involved is what you want to shoot for,” Piercy said. “Parental involvement on some levels is actually helpful. It actually encourages people to stay in school.”
Lindsay O’Dell, sophomore deaf studies major, has parents who live in Houston, Texas. They’re not too involved in her academic life, she said, but they still check up on her.
“My dad will tell me (which) classes I shouldn’t take,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell said her parents don’t control her with an invisible hand from Houston.
“They don’t tell me to go to class,” she said.
But O’Dell said she thinks it’s important for parents to be involved in their children’s academic lives.
O’Dell works with kids who have special needs, and said she notices the difference in children whose parents are or are not very involved in their schooling.
Hank Schlinger, who has taught psychology at several different schools for 15 years, said he has experienced about five instances of parents showing concern over a child’s grade, but has never personally seen anything like that occur at CSUN.
He said he believes this is because most of CSUN’s student population is older, and CSUN students are therefore unlikely to have their parents intervene in their lives.
“I think it depends on the circumstances,” Schlinger said. “Different parents do different things.”
If children are not paying their own rent and tuition, parents should be involved in their schooling to a certain degree, Schlinger said.
“I think it’s healthy for the parent and child to have an open and honest relationship,” he said.
However, it’s unhealthy for parents to be too involved in their children’s lives, Schlinger said.
“I think it’s healthier and more mature if the student actually interacts with the professor at all levels,” he said. “It teaches the kid to be an independent person, and that is obviously the goal of parenting.”
Piercy said that when parents aren’t involved in their children’s schooling, it is harder for the children to succeed.
“They don’t feel they have a good support system,” Piercy said.
She has also noticed, however, that more students are independent at CSUN.
“I’m actually pleased to see that most students here are able to make their own decisions,” Piercy said.