Anxiety, Student Entitlement, and Over-Parenting

Note: This is the first in a series of entries on educational, generational, and cultural trends observed by our firm during this past year of client consulting engagements.  We will continue this series throughout the summer of 2014.

Three years ago, I wrote a white paper that later became a chapter in our iBook "Long Live Strategy".  The paper - "I Just Want Her to Be Happy" - was a commentary on parental attitudes about the well-being of their children as students in schools and colleges.  The basic thesis was simple: above all, parents just want their kids to be happy, often without the hard lessons of failure, disappointment, and hard work, creating a culture of both over-parenting and youth entitlement.

Fast forward to today.  During our research this past year, we still see this trend alive and flourishing.  We continue to see the residue of a culture of student entitlement and over-parenting in our work with independent schools and private colleges.  Some hallmarks of this in our research include the following.

Prepare the Path for the Child, Not for the Path.  Parents today have an absurdly high intervention rate with their students.  The tend to intervene when the going gets tough in order to make sure that their child does not encounter too much hardship, difficult life lessons, or uneven treatment, all of which they believe are tantamount to injustice.  They see no problem with intervening with an important life lesson from a coach or faculty member - whether it be about playing time or term paper grading - and make sure that their student has a parental advocate.  Students today seem to have parents that are full-time agents rather than full-time parents and educators, teaching their children about the unfairness of life.  I am all for advocating for my children, but where is the student in all of this? Parents today still seem overly concerned with preparing the path for their child, rather than ensuring that their children are ready for the path.  

Student Entitlement.  Students today seem more empowered to expect something for nothing.  Perhaps it is an outgrowth of their parents general strategy toward raising them, but student entitlement appears to be at an all-time high.  When we talk with long-time faculty members at distinguished colleges and prep schools, they continue to lament about the work ethic of this generation of students as unlike any generation they have seen.  They are disappointed in the general apathy from students on basic performance indicators such as readiness for class, attitude toward their future, effort in practice, and expectations of success regardless of effort. Students today seem to have an expectation that a successful tomorrow is not only a guarantee, but that it is owed to them.

Anxiety.  We might have to understand this generation of parents better to understand their parenting strategy.  After all, this generation of parents has witnessed first-hand the failure our financial system, terrorism on American soil, and general cultural shifts in living, such as the role of the church, family, and even government in their lives.  Collectively, these parents have seen major cultural shifts that have perhaps led them to the conclusion that nothing is guaranteed anymore in the world.  Their collective response may be about over-controlling for the future. 

I continue to believe that the deadly combination of student entitlement and over-parenting are the two most threatening values to success of American students in the future.  Collectively, they create anxiety and an expectation that is unreasonable and unhealthy for educational institutions.  More importantly, it creates a youth culture that is unproductive and unlikely to advance America into the competitive future that we all know is at our international doorstep. Most cultural pivot points result in the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction.  Is it possible that in ten years we will be writing about parents and their "school of hard knocks" approach?  We will find out together.