Posts Tagged ‘parents’

Descent of the Parental Units

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Excellent PhotoShopping? Really awkward memories? The world may never know.

Parents Weekend 2013 is upon us, and you know what that means… free food!

No, I kid, I kid*, it means that your parents may well be on campus, and if so they’ll be REALLY excited to see you, spend time with you, talk to you, hug you, dote on you, and otherwise keep you really, really busy… right in the midst of midterm season.  The timing, in a word, is inopportune.  Every year I gently remind my parents of how busy I am because I’m trying to make the most of my education.  Every year they not-so-gently remind me that they’re paying for that education.  Touché, parents.  Touché.

In the interest of keeping your parents happy while you keep your academic head above water, here’s a brief guide to parent-friendly resources and activities.

Stanford it up.

The Parents Weekend coordinators have put together a truly wondrous array of opportunities for your progenitors.  If you remember nothing else from this post


There are classes, receptions, tours, and fairs galore.  The whole calendar can be found here.

Don’t let your dad be that guy.

Teach ’em the lingo.

Stanford acronyms are really confusing to the uninitiated.  Help a brother… er, mother out and clarify the quirky verbiage that might otherwise lead them astray:

Go off the beaten path

Here are some quirky ideas for the parents who’ve been there, done that, and want to try something new on their 2nd, 3rd, …, nth Parents Weekend:

  • Cantor Arts Museum is one of the most underrated locations on campus, and The Thinker’s back!
  • Your hipster parents visited Hoover Tower before it was cool?  No worries!  If they’re active, a nice alternative (with breathtaking views) is the Dish walk.  It takes about 1.5 hours to walk, so can be a nice breather (literally) between classroom-based activities.
  • Sit in on an off-beat class.  There are lots of classes just for parents today, but Explore Courses has thousands.  One thing my parents like doing is visiting classes for what they majored in in college.  Also, courses like Psych 1 and CS 106A are both crowd-pleasers, and they’re both offered on Fridays!
  • Make sure they don’t miss Memorial Church.  A lot of my friends still haven’t gone, and it’s by far my favorite spot on campus.
  • Original student artwork is being showcased in the Cummings Art Building right now!  Check it out to support our budding artists.

*But seriously, work that free food angle.

Don’t make your parents fend for themselves while you’re in class.  Refer them to this list of on-campus eateries, or the full plethora of Stanford Dining’s offerings here.

When you’ve finally beasted the last midterm of the week, take advantage of Palo Alto’s diverse culinary fare!  Mom and Dad are lookin’ to treat (probably even your friends, so that they can start those criminal background checks), and there are lots of offerings.

I hope this is helpful, and happy Parents Weekend, everyone!

Are the French Better Parents Than Americans?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

According to a 2009 study by economists at Princeton, American moms considered it more than twice as unpleasant to deal with their kids as French moms.

Few things about the French are more irksome than their national superiority complex. Although I met a number of amicable Frenchmen and women while studying in Spain, their favorite topic was unfailingly how much they missed their native land, and they made no bones about telling me so.

However, in an essay published in the WSJ on Saturday, an American mom shows that the French may have some bragging rights when it comes to effective parenting, complete with an ex-Stanford professor to back up her claims.

The author, Pamela Druckerman, claims that French parents have figured out some parenting tricks that make their children much more peaceful and obedient than Americans, specifically by teaching their kids how to wait. One of her sources is Walter Mischel, who as a professor at Stanford in 1972 devised the famous “marshmallow test” to examine a child’s capacity for deferred gratification. According to Mischel, in the U.S., “certainly the impression one has is that self-control has gotten increasingly difficult for kids.”

Mischel would know. His marshmallow test offered 4- and 5-year-olds a marshmallow and said that they could have another if they waited for the experimenter to come back before eating the first. Only one in three resisted for the full 15 minutes that the experimenter was gone. The key, the researchers found, was that the good delayers were able to distract themselves. What is more, Mischel found in a follow-up study that these good delayers as adolescents were better at concentrating and reasoning, and they did not “tend to go to pieces under stress.”

So how do French parents make their kids more patient? One method is enforcing a tight eating schedule, instead of providing snacks all day. Another is teaching children to play by themselves so that they require less supervision and maintenance. These observations sound like cultural generalizations, but they are backed up by data. For example, as part of her supporting evidence, Druckerman cites a 2004 study on the parenting beliefs of college-educated mothers in the U.S. and France. The American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance, whereas the French moms said it was very important.

As a Stanford student, parenting is not the first thing on my mind (or the second, or the third!). However, this article inevitably invited me to compare how I was raised with the French parenting model. I found that I was unwittingly raised in a rather French style, with a bit of American disciplining. Even though my brother and I fought almost non-stop as kids, my mom has told me that she loved being with us and valued raising us herself very highly. My brother and I also ate on a consistent schedule, and we spent a lot of time playing outside by ourselves. However, if I misbehaved, privileges or prized possessions were taken away. The worst part about being punished was that it was often in front of other people, which made it humiliating and more memorable. As a result, the fear of being disciplined became as powerful a motivator to behave well as the forces of habit.

Granted, French society provides some big advantages to which this article only pays lip service, including significantly better social services and child care than in the U.S. Also, Druckerman probably did not get a very big sample size for her observations on France, meaning that her conclusions would only apply to a set of well-educated, well-to-do families that do not explain the behavior of the entire French population. She may want to look into a movie called The 400 Blows, which is about a French boy who becomes a juvenile delinquent thanks to bad parenting, before calling it a day.

That said, rightly or wrongly, American children are notorious amongst foreigners for being spoiled and lazy. With big budget cuts going into effect in areas like education, the U.S. government is unlikely to improve the situation in the short term. That leaves the bulk of the job with American parents.

Perhaps they could take a few cues from the French, even if the advice comes with a big dose of hauteur.