Proctor Sees Benefits of Strong Adolescent/Parent Relationship

Balance between dependence and interdependence

By Scott Allenby
As educators, parents serve as a critical partner in helping grow kind, engaged, respectful young people. Here, Andover’s Heidi Murphy P’25, ’27 with her son Colin ’27 during Fall Family Weekend.  Photo: Lindsey Allenby

As educators, we at Proctor see real value in students learning to live and learn independently from their parents, as they navigate roommate conflict, independence around meals, homework, and laundry, and academic work. In fact, up until a few years ago we would kick off our new parent orientation with images and explanations of different “types” of parents — the helicopter parent, bulldozer parent, drone parent, etc. — in hopes of naming the inevitable challenges that we saw each year as parenting styles and teaching philosophies intersected.

Our intent in identifying the potential challenges of the helicopter parent was rooted in our belief that over-parenting inhibited the development of the independence core to boarding schools. New research shared in a recent NY Times article challenges this stance to a degree, as researchers have found a significant increase in the happiness of adolescents with regard to their relationship with their parents. 

The article notes, “Nine in 10 parents rate their relationships with their young adult children as good or excellent, and so do eight in 10 young adults, and this is consistent across income. Rather than feeling worried or disappointed about how things are going in their children’s lives, eight in 10 parents say they feel proud and hopeful.”

In a newscycle so often focused on how this generation of youth are struggling with mental health, substances, and overall well being, it is refreshing to read a different narrative about the amazing young people we see walking around our campus each day. Yes, students today may be more reliant on their parents for daily conversations, advice, and guidance, but is that a bad thing, if parents are appropriately supporting their children?

The article discusses the evolution in societal expectations of parents and children over the past fifty years: “When baby boomers were growing up, there was a belief, rooted in the American ideal of self-sufficiency, that children should be independent after age 18. But that was in some ways an aberration, social scientists said. Before then, and again now, it has been common for members of different generations to be more interdependent.”

Just as this interdependence among generations can be positive for young people, our interdependence with our Proctor parents is critical to the effective delivery of our mission. As advisors, teachers, coaches, and dorm parents, we seek to keep open dialogue with parents and we must, as an institution, do the same. 

We are partners in raising our students, and the success of our students is only possible when our work is in concert with the support and guidance of parents. If we can provide candid, regular updates with parents from our position as educators, share resources on the challenges adolescents face with our parents, and try to open the whole of the Proctor experience to our parents without compromising the growth of our students, we will ultimately help our students thrive.

Like any complex human relationship, our relationship with our students and parents will remain a work in progress. We will make mistakes, identify areas to do better, and, let’s hope, share plenty of hugs with parents in mutual appreciation for the other as we see our interdependent work play out in the graduation of good, honest, kind humans.