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Who’s in Charge?

Smiling Cadets

I recently participated in a discussion with some other Heads of private schools and the topic of enrollment came up as it so often does in such a group. One of the Heads made the comment that “parents aren’t making the decisions when it comes to where to send their children any more, the kids are.” While the idea was presented as it relates to marketing position shifts needed in admission offices, at its core it speaks to how people are actually parenting in society. Further, as the discussion was not just focused on U.S. students the concept seems to apply to parenting internationally.

Another Head agreed and added that the reasons for the shift in decision making seem to include:

• Parents who are willing to please their children at all costs;
• Parents who are afraid that they might lose their investment (tuition) if they place their child in a school they don’t like (because the student may sabotage the placement via behavior or poor performance); and
• Parents who are almost not engaged at all so the child(ren) make most of their own decisions anyway.

This set of ideas characterizes styles of parenting that while possibly encourage independence in children exposed to them (they have little other choice than become independent), they offer little in the way of guidance, mentoring, or well – parenting.

School placement decisions that do not necessarily support independent thinking and choice on the part of the student are those in which the parents make the decision on the basis of their own choice or desire with little or no input from the student. These include placements solely for the sake of parent “peace of mind,” legacy placements, and placements designed to punish or “straighten out” students.

Decisions based on this kind of reasoning remove what may be best for the student’s development, abilities, talent, and desires in favor of what makes the parent feel better or simply want. Students might still find a way to be successful at a school after this kind of placement, but neither the child nor the school are matched and performance may suffer as a result. The original statement that students are making more placement decisions than parents seems to indicate that parents making decisions for these kinds of reasons may be on the decline – a good thing if true.

There are cases where the student is sufficiently mature to “know their mind,” and can articulate rational reasons for their choice(s). When combined with parents who:

• Provide adequate oversite;
• Do their own vetting of the school(s) being considered, and
• Also assess other “family-centric” factors (e.g. ability to pay, distance from home, potential discounts, etc.).

This approach not only nurtures and supports student independence; it demonstrates an active and positive style of parenting. This may be one of the best processes for choosing a private school. It certainly increases the chance that the student and the school are compatible and opportunity for both to succeed.

* Dr. Skipper is the Head of School at Massanutten Military Academy.

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