Parents and Families Blog

 

Parents, We Have a Problem

By    |   Published on October 28, 2022

 

I have hesitated to write this, but I feel as though I must.

I am not a “the sky is falling” Henny Penny type. I don’t peddle in hysterics and panic. For those who know me well, they may say that while I may be passionate and animated at times, I approach challenges with measured steps and patience. And I am the definition of an eternal optimist, glass-half-full kind of gal.

But not today. I need to share with you that there is something going on (or more precisely not going on) in your college student’s life. And if you have kids in high school, listen up, too, as I don’t think this issue is going away any time soon.

First, let me share with you the facts and note that this is not limited to my institution or universities like mine. It is happening all over the country as evidenced by the blog posts, news stories, tweets, memes, listserv conversations, and faculty lounge rants.

  • Students are not turning in assignments. This is not just a few students who can’t seem to turn in assignments and it is not limited to first-time-in-college students. Multiple-step assignments that require in-depth reading and writing are failing to meet the minimum requirements. If they do turn in an assignment, chances are good that many of them will write on a topic that is not remotely what was provided in explicit, step-by-step instructions.
  • Students are not retaining information they learned the day before, the week before, the month before. When asked simple recall questions about a topic, say three types of note-taking strategies, that they read about beforehand, discussed and practiced in class, and took a quiz, they are unable to come up with the names of them. Is it because they are not interested? Maybe, but this is happening in all kinds of classes.
  • Students are not preparing adequately for class and not spending time after class reflecting on what they have learned. This, I’m afraid, is not new to first-year students, but it seems to be more widespread and makes their in-class work more difficult and their test grades excruciating to look at.

Now, if there is one thing that I like to do is to gather information about why students do what they do. It is not enough for me to guess what the issue is; I need some data to review. Of course, what students tell me doesn’t illuminate the entire picture, but it is a start. Here are a few things they have shared:

  • They have barely had to do any work the past two years. They know they have not been held accountable much in the recent past, so they are struggling with the recent demands of the work.
  • They were allowed to submit assignments whenever they wanted or not at all and still pass. This is understandable. The pandemic challenged school districts to provide equitable learning environments while families and communities were in financial, medical, and social chaos. However, these students didn’t develop self-management skills in the process.
  • They are more attuned to their mental health than ever before. This is a good thing, but it sometimes leaves them with few strategies for getting help with or developing coping strategies. I have had more students share this semester that they have attention issues (whether medically diagnosed or not), but they are often at a loss as to what they can or should do about that.
  • They want to be “entertained” at all times and when something has low entertainment value, they are not motivated to participate in it. Reading that chapter in biology? BO-RING. Studying for psychology? BO-RING. Listening to a professor share very important information that can help you be a better college student? BO-RING. They know that they are easily distracted by more engaging activities or by social networking, but they feel helpless (or not motivated?) to make significant changes.

Now, I am well aware that students who are 18- or 19-years-old still have some cognitive development to do before they can easily self-regulate their emotions and desires to do the “adulting” we want them to do. But this goes beyond the expected developmental issues for college students. It is something that we need to address even though I am not totally sure what needs to be done. To that end, I can share a few strategies that my students have said made a difference for them.

  • They need boundaries and consequences. This was a surprising confession by a student who was not doing her work at the beginning of the semester. She said that professors who move due dates actually make it harder for her to manage her time. As a researcher on first-year student issues, I would have to concur that one way to help students develop good self-regulation and time management habits is to provide opportunities for them to practice, including consequences for not completing work on time. As a parent, you can support them by helping them develop strategies for meeting deadlines, getting them to use a calendar, and not intervening to fix it when they miss deadlines, due dates, or appointments.
  • They need instructions on what to do when they are working on their own. Most of the work that happens in college is outside of class. While students can often focus during class time to take notes or work on an activitiy, they find getting started on their own, without the peer or professor pressure, difficult. More information about what they need to be doing or even required study groups can be immensely helpful. Case in point, I arranged groups in my class to complete a multi-step assignment. Students worked both in and out of class to help each other complete a collaborative project. The students that struggled with completing assignments correctly and on time were able to complete their work, in part, because they had three other people depending on them and checking on their progress. As a parent, you can support them by reminding them how to get started on a project, sharing with them your own strategies for getting work done, and sharing with them helpful content (short videos work nicely) on strategies or “hacks” for managing time and tasks.
  • They need to learn to limit distractions. If your student has difficulty putting their phone away and participating in a conversation or enjoying an event, then chances are good they are struggling in and out of class. A good first step is talk to them about why they are reaching for their phones (or computers) all the time and what they are getting out of it. Students tell me that they do so when they are “bored” in class even when the professor is lecturing or expecting them to participate in an activity. I have students who tell me they know that their distractions are making their learning more difficult, but they don’t have the tools to make a change. As a parent, you can support them by talking to them about their technology use, encouraging or incentivizing them to find pleasure in no-tech activities, and asking to reflect on how their use is affecting their relationships, academic success, and mental health.

While I may be an optimistic person, I am not sure that a few well-meaning conversations will make a significant change anytime soon. It will take much more effort from all of us to help students develop the skills that they need to succeed in college. And it will definitely take more patience as we learn more about why this is happening.

 

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 is the Senior Lecturer of Writing, Literacy, and Academic Success in Student Transitions at UCA. She and co-author Brian Tietje have a new book, A High School Parent’s Guide to College Success: 12 Essentialsavailable on Amazon. She is also the co-author with Brian Tietje and Paul Stoltz of The College ExperienceThe Community College Experience, and The College Experience Compact, all published by Pearson Education. She and her husband are parents of a college and a high school student.