In the following articles, Sally Barton Dingee
(Monroe Community College) and Cynthia M. Fiedler
(Missouri State University) address the*Hot Topic*of working with the parents of today's 'Millennial Generation' students
Sally Barton Dingee, Monroe Community College
Today academic advisors, accustomed to the hectic pace of student advisement appointments, find that it is not just students who show up at their doors; increasingly students are accompanied by their parents. Howe and Strauss (2000) point to an increased level of parental involvement during the college years of the millennial students: traditional-aged students who are characterized as being “close to their parents.” Many advisors struggle to find effective strategies for working with parents who accompany students to advising sessions.
As coordinator of the undeclared major program at Monroe Community College, my summer is filled with advising sessions that involve students and their parents. Although I prefer to meet alone with students, I allow students to decide if parents should accompany them into advising sessions. To my surprise, a number of students want their parents in attendance. To advise effectively, advisors should develop strategies that are useful when faced with the parents invited into student advisement sessions.
One important strategy for working with parents and students involves the use of interpersonal communication skills. Advisors should acknowledge parental worry, distress, discomfort, or anxiety (Taylor, 2006); showing empathy can put parents at ease and help them relax. The nonverbal communication used by advisors when conducting an advising session is critical to success. Advisors should always maintain eye contact with the student. This keeps the focus of the conversation on the student and will often decrease parental interjections. While it may be obvious that an advisor should never talk to parents as if the student is not in the room, shy students may want their parents to speak for them. Advisors can easily find that they are answering parents’ questions without including the student in the conversation. When a parent asks the advisor a question, the answer should be rephrased to focus on what the student could do in the given situation.
Another useful strategy involves seemingly small details such as chair placement in an office. Advisors should have a chair directly across from them designated as the “front and center” chair. Place any additional chairs off to the side as “observer” chairs. This creates an environment that invites the student to become fully engaged in the advising session while parents can be observers. Office décor can also make a difference for parents and how they respond to the advisor. Some parents may notice college degrees hanging on the wall and ask advisors about their educational backgrounds. This type of conversation can reassure parents that the advisor is qualified and capable to assist their student.
Advisors may also find that parents comment on inspirational messages posted around the office. Parents seem to enjoy reading these messages; the messages can help parents realize that the advisor is someone who cares about student success. It is important that parents understand that they can work with the advisor toward the achievement of a common goal: the best college experience for their student.
Lastly, setting boundaries is an important strategy when working with parents. During the initial academic advisement appointment, advisors should always take the time to explain their role as an academic advisor. Many parents and new students believe that the advisor will serve in loco parentis (in place of the parent). It is critical that advisors set guidelines early so parents do not ask the advisor to provide wake-up calls or keep tabs on the student’s class attendance. Advisors should use a “one time rule” with parents who accompany students to the initial advisement appointment. At the end of the session, advisors can inform parents that while they enjoyed meeting them today and answering their questions, academic advisement is a process best accomplished with just the student and advisor. Parents need to understand that when the advisor meets with the student in the future that it will be alone, although parents can be encouraged to help their students prepare questions to bring to the advisor. When ending an advising session that included parents, the advisor should always strongly encourage students to contact the advisor for follow-up. Advisors can provide information to the student regarding academic or career planning research that can be completed prior to the next advising session. Finally, advisors should provide the student with the advisor’s business card or information about how they can be reached.
At Monroe Community College, we developed a parent letter that encourages them to allow their student to meet with the academic advisor alone. We also have developed a parents’ guide filled with answers to parents’ frequently asked questions. Parents can read this guide while waiting for their student during the advisement session. NACADA also provides a wealth of information on this subject. At our college, we make the NACADA Family Guide to Academic Advising available in our waiting room. Articles published in Academic Advising Today and the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Advisors-Parents.htm ) can aid advisors in developing strategies for working with parents as can attendance at NACADA conference presentations on this topic.
Sally Barton Dingee
Counseling & Advising Center
Monroe Community College
Howe, N. and Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage Books.
Taylor, M. (2006, November). Helicopters, Snowplows, and Bulldozers: Managing Students’ Parents. Association of College Unions International, 13-20. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.taylorprograms.org/images/BulletinNov200612-21a.pdf.
Cite this article using APA style as: Barton Dingee, S. (2007, June). Parents in the room. Academic Advising Today, 30(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]