Today, early morning, I posted on my Facebook wall a message about how parents are asking all the questions and their wards keep quiet. The post has gained huge traction with almost 2000 likes and 350 shares in less than 24 hours. Several comments and lots of emails. And more than 100 new friends requests. One of those emails suggested that I post this as a blog, since blogs have a much longer shelf life. People can read it not just this year but next year and year after that, while facebook posts fade away within a couple of days. And hence this post, which is an edited and expanded version of the FB post.
In the counseling season (which starts on the day of JEE Advanced and continues till the options have to be frozen at the counseling site), I typically get about 10 emails a day, or about 400 emails overall, each seeking advice on what college/program should one prefer. Surprisingly, about 90% of those emails are from parents and not from the boy or girl who is seeking admission. From the language and email address, I have a strong suspicion that even some of the remaining 10 percent are actually from parents.
If you look at the comments on my various blog articles about choosing a college/program, a very large number of them are from parents.
I used to think that part of the reason is that students have their own sources of information. They would rather talk to their seniors from schools who are in college now, or ask questions on social media like quora and FB pages of various colleges, or ask their teachers at coaching places. Parents don't have as many sources, and they perhaps have more respect for an IIT professor.
But this thinking changed a couple of weeks ago. We were having an open house session at IIIT Delhi, and after my presentation, all the questions were from parents. Not even one question from any student. After a while, we said that we will only take questions from students. And something very strange happened. Parents writing questions on a paper, and asking their wards to ask those questions. I couldn't believe this.
Then yesterday, I was invited by IIT Gandhinagar to have a session in the open house that they were organizing. I gave a small talk on how to decide the college/program combination. I explained to them that the confusion is only partly because of lack of complete information, and is largely due to our inability to think logically. Before I invited the questions, I told the parents the following.
"If your son or daughter cannot ask a question even in such a
friendly environment where s/he is not competing, s/he is not being
judged, and it is about his/her life, then it shows how much freedom
they have at home. How much pressure you must have put on them to study
for JEE. How much stress must be building inside them. If tomorrow they
give up on studying after moving to a hostel or worse, cause self
injury, please blame yourself and not IIT."
I reminded them that most of the suicides in Kota as well as many suicides in various IITs have been attributed to pressure from well meaning parents who loved their kids but didn't realize when they crossed the line between advising and taking decisions on their behalf, particularly decisions that their wards did not like but had no courage to tell them so.
These students have achieved remarkable success. And if they are capable of being in the top 10,000 in a country of 1.25 billion they are certainly capable of taking their own decisions on the college/program they want to pursue. Why should parents be afraid that their wards will take a wrong decision. And what is a wrong decision
anyway. Will a different program or a different IIT be the end of the
world. NO. The only thing that will happen is that if they decide on a
less popular program, their bragging rights in their friends' circle may
reduce. This should be accepted as a legitimate cost of parenting.
is not to say that parents should have no role in this decision making. They most certainly do. They are an important stake holder. They have sacrificed many things to ensure success of their wards. So the parents should do their own research. They should ask questions in such forums and anywhere else. And they should advise their wards. But when it becomes so
lopsided that only parents ask questions and the ward is silent, that is a
strong indication of stress in their relationship. Parents should introspect and make sure that they listen to their wards and give them space to take decisions.
While I was giving this little speech, I was a bit afraid - I am taking this stand that students are not asking questions because they are afraid of their parents, what if they are not asking questions because this is not the forum that they trust for answers. But immediately after the speech, I was inundated with questions from students, and very incisive questions that showed that they had indeed thought a lot about what they want to do, much more than what their parents would give them credit for.