The changing ideology of college students

Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School Psychologist

Parents of college age students eagerly welcomed them back into our ’empty nest’ households, home school, remote learning environment on the account of COVID-19. We found ourselves, however, perplexed by the political and economic ideologies adopted by our returning young adults. “What happened? Do I know you? Are we even related?” we find themselves thinking.

We are not alone in our confused musings. For instance, Manhattan Institute reported upon a survey conducted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which found that “a third of Americans and as many as 44% of Millennials would prefer to live under a socialist system than a capitalist one.”

Are the generational differences so profound that common ground no longer exists or that former and widely accepted cultural pretexts and norms of what it means to be American have been supplanted by something else right under our noses? Human service providers, educators, administrators, professors, social workers, school nurses, and school psychologists are not immune in succumbing to the pressures of life against our better judgment. In our haste for success, financial security and recognition, what role did we play, or fail to model as parents to hasten the demise of the American ideal?

Present circumstances aside, historical research shows that “students’ political beliefs did not change much during their college years. (Woessner, 2007). In this instance, the past research and statistical data may not be successfully applied to forecast or predict the future. According to many, the year 2020 as been a year of challenges, to say the least. Oft quoted mems on the internet taunt 2020 as a time when:

  1. “So far, 2020 is like looking both ways before you cross the street then getting hit by an airplane.”  ~ Unknown
  2. “My life feels like a test I didn’t study for.” ~ Unknown
  3. “The only thing I gained in 202 was weight.” ~ Unknown
  4. “2020 was like, ‘I know a place’ and took us to Hell.”  ~ Unknown
  5. “Can we uninstall 2020 and install it again? This version has a virus.” ~ Unknown

So, it looks like parents are the guilty culprit. The author postulates that we parents and loving caregivers are the reason for the changing ideologies of our young adults. Supposedly, it is suggested that while attending the university, our children, oops budding young adults look to professors and administrators to take over the parental role of protecting them from life’s challenges. According to research discussed by the Manhattan Institute and published by Leonore Skenazy in her book Free Range Kids, parents are to blame because they were overprotective during their child’s formative years. This helicopter parenting stunted socio-emotional, cognitive functioning, and intellectual development of our soon to be independent and fully functioning adults.

Similarly, Saba Harouni Lurie, a marriage and family therapist, coined other derivatives of dysfunctional parenting styles suspected of hindering the full-fledged development of children to healthy adulthood. They are:

  1. Lawnmower parenting, 
  2. Bulldozing parenting, and
  3. Snowplow parenting.

All of these terms were aptly defined as “when parents remove obstacles for their kids in hopes of setting them up to be successful. These academicians and experts argue that these dysfunctional parenting styles fostered an environment by which the child and now young adult finds him/herself unable to cope with and or tolerate differing opinions. Really? I find it hard to accept this as I review and write about the research. I am sure you do too, as you sit reading my article that I have painstakingly written.

What we may agree on though is the research of Kyle Dodson, cited by the Manhattan Institute. He found that, “the time [students] spent in academic pursuits has a moderating influence on students’ political views.” What he says in plain English is that the more involved your child is with structured academic pursuits, studying and completing class related assignments and homework while attending college and residing on campus, the less likely he/she will be to “engage in disruptive or illiberal activities on campus.”

This seems simple enough right? Its the same darn strategy of that resourceful parents residing in inner city or unsafe neighborhoods. Resourceful and situationally aware parents have always monitored the peer groups who associate with their children during out-of-school time and extracurricular activities. Research by NIH show that child “relationships with deviant peers and siblings are linked with increases in substance use, including both alcohol and drug use.” A separate NIH research study demonstrate that parental planning of highly organized and structured activities foster the necessary life skills and attitudes that may lead to lifelong success.

Back in 2014, the Heritage Foundation analyzed Department of Labor data and found that “college students are spending less and less time in classrooms and academic study.” 2020 supersized this trend. Its on steroids! The 2019-2020 COVID-19 crisis and lock downs led to an increasing reduction in in-person class time. Seems like a recipe for disaster. Now just as our kids, oops I meant young adults, are expanding their world views outside of those accepted under the training and tutelage of their coddling parents they are given the unrestrained time to experiment, explore, engage, converse and possibly protest and riot with their adrenalin fueled co-patriots. Eager to individuate and grow into man or womanhood.

So what is the moral to the story? Remain connected, vigilant and malleable. When your child realizes your tolerance for differing points of view and rational thinking and logic, his/her respect for your will grow. And, you might learn something new in the process.

All hope is not lost. Refrain from bickering, arguing about the life choices of your maturing young adult. All that is certain in life is death and taxes. Wait long enough, nothing good or bad lasts forever. “This too shall pass.”

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Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya dot ishareknowledge dot com