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Parents and Grades – Keeping your sanity and setting boundaries

November 24, 2020

Sometimes I keep a watch on the group pages on Facebook. Yeah, I know, I’m old and old fashioned. It helps keep me sharp on what people are talking about when it comes to college, though. Some students are in the groups, but I follow one or two groups that are for parents too. One of the recurring themes in these forums is how COVID has impacted students’ relationships with professors and how they get their grades.

It seems as if everything normal, but especially the life of students going to college, has been totally shredded by the virus. It’s something nobody has asked for, but everyone is getting. As with all things, though, it is how we react that brings the best or worst out of the situation. I’d like to help people make the best out of it. But I don’t necessarily think it’s all COVID related.

I think this might just call for a massive shift in mindset about college and a transition into a new way of doing the whole college thing. And it starts with you the college student.

  1. First, and this is something that is really common this time of year… attitude about grades.

I saw a parent post that their student’s professors weren’t being as responsive to requests about their grades and the student said it was if the professors didn’t care if students passed or failed.


No, I don’t mean that your professors don’t care about you. No I don’t mean all professors are heartless and cruel people who lack any semblance of empathy. Professors are very empathetic. Some, I would go as far as to say, flat out LOVE their students… Each and every one. I’d like to think you can put me in that category. Every student that I dealt with in the labs while I was teaching was MY student and I absolutely felt a personal responsibility toward each one. That responsibility was to teach good lab technique and chemistry concepts, while keeping them safe in the lab. Every good grade was celebrated. I often had students end the class giving me hugs. It was near sacred to me.

What my responsibilities didn’t include? Making sure you passed the class.

This attitude seems to be a lingering hang over from your K-12 school days, where parent teacher conferences happened and the teacher’s job was made out to be making sure that every student moved on to the next grade level. The teacher is looked at as a magical fairy that taps the student on the head and says, “You pass!” Even among teachers themselves, at that grade level, there is pressure to see that students get certain scores on standardized tests and grades. This is really happening a lot at high schools and it seem to have warped your thinking.

This same mentality is slowly but surely sneaking on its belly to college campuses. I would argue that this doesn’t do you any good in high school but it certainly isn’t going to do you any good as you head into adulthood while in college.

Why? Because you, and no one else, need to be responsible for making the grade. Now that you are adults you need to start developing an adult mindset. That mindset includes, in part, “I am responsible for doing the work and learning the things that will allow me to successfully pass the class.”

I know that we new-agey types like to talk about pouring our knowledge into people… But we don’t mean that literally. I can show you in a million different ways and spend a ton of time giving you information, but if you’re not working on the studying, actively engaging in the learning, you’re not going to learn a darn thing! The proverbial horse being led to water has to drink in order to quench its thirst.

More than that, you have to proactively study the way in which you’re being judged. The professors set the standards that you’re being graded by in clear terms in the syllabus and in more detail by their feedback on exams and assignments. There’s no excuse – no reason, at all – for you to be saying, “I don’t have any idea what my grade is.” If you quite literally haven’t gotten any feedback on assignments – no grades, no comments, not anything – you have every right to take it up with the department, but that is a very rare occasion.

2. Parents don’t call the shots anymore…


I see a lot of well-meaning parents who still wanting to clutch on to any shred of the dependence their children have on them. That means wanting to know their grades and everything that’s going on in their lives while you’re away at college. They are doing what they think is best for you. They love you.

But this can be incredibly annoying and bordering on stalking behavior, or so it feels. It can make you feel even more anxious than you already are about the responsibilities that you have, but they’re not always thinking about that. They’re thinking that they have to love on and care for their child as long as they can.

It’s such a credit to the caring individuals who raised you that they want an incredible life for you, but at the college level, they’re no longer in the driver’s seat. I know they may be paying for the gas still, but you are the one behind the wheel.

You’re not always going to want to tell your parents, or the other people in your family everything. In the case of something like grades, I’m betting a lot of the time when you say, “I don’t know what my grade is,” what it really means is you don’t really want to talk about it.

Maybe it’s because you’re a little fearful of what it may mean to tell them and maybe it’s because it’s the first time you’ve had complete control and just feel like using it. Whatever the reason, be aware that you have the right to some privacy and can set some boundaries.

Why? Because you deserve that privacy. So now you say, “Renee, my parents say they’re the ones putting out the money, they say they have a right to know the money isn’t being wasted… to know what my grades are and what I am doing.” Here’s the harsh reality: no, they don’t.

FERPA laws in the US ensure the privacy of the grades and status of any student on a campus. By law, parents do not have any right to know anything about their sons and daughters on campus after the age of eighteen; not even their dorm room phone number – if they still have phones.  They’re going to have to trust that you’re doing the right thing with the opportunity they’re providing. Though they may not always see it that way.

Now, would it be good for you open up to your parents and let them into your world? Of course, it would. I pray, in fact, that you do. Good relationships with caring adults are the key to success in college, as well as, life. But whether or not you do open up and expose your thoughts in the most vulnerable ways, is up to you.

But it is important to realize it when you’re feeling a bit backed into a corner by your parents and to find good ways to express that feeling when it comes up. I was raised with a lot of cats and dogs and one of the things I was taught is that you never want to corner an already scared and anxious dog or cat. You wind up getting bitten every time.

Obviously, you are not dogs and cats, but, in some ways, the same idea applies. You’re already trying to do your best, working hard, tired, feeling bad about those things you feel you’re not doing well in, then your parents ask you, “How are your grades?”, “Did you talk to the professor?” or “How’d the last test go?”. When it feels like you’re constantly being asked uncomfortable questions or about things you just don’t want to open up about, it can be tempting to verbally “bite” back. Try your best not to. Your parents love you and want you to do well. Let them know in kind ways that you understand that they love you but they have to listen to your boundaries.

Open up to them when you feel it’s ok, and hopefully, it feels ok to tell them about all of the big things, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed or some out of this world anxiety. Trust me they would rather you told them so they can do whatever you’re comfortable with them doing to help you out, than for you to suffer in quiet of your dorm room.