Friday, February 26, 2010

Harvard students' newfound inability to entertain themselves

Home life has changed in ways that would seem to undercut children’s development of autonomy. There was a time when children did their own homework. Now parents routinely “help” them with assignments, making teachers wonder whose work they are really grading. Youngsters formerly played sports and games with other children on a sandlot or pickup basis, not in leagues organized, coached, and officiated by adults; kids had to learn to settle disputes over rules and calls among themselves, not by referring them to grownup zebras. Once, college applicants typically wrote their own applications, including the essays; today, an army of high-paid consultants, coaches, and editors is available to orchestrate and massage the admissions effort.

Adults have taken charge even of recreation, as in play dates. “When birthdays come along, kids have been entertained by magicians,” says [Harvard freshman dean Tom] Dingman. “Or taken out to Chuck E. Cheese. They are the ‘Chuck E. Cheese generation.’” Having had their parents organize play and social activities, many young people now arrive at college expecting the institution to operate similarly, in loco parentis. “It’s very upsetting to read on [year-end freshman] surveys that people have been spending Friday and Saturday nights doing problem sets, finding it hard to escape from what they characterize as the ‘intense pressure’ of this place,” Dingman adds. “When they identify what they think is lacking, they say, ‘You haven’t organized other things for us’—things like ‘trips to bowling alleys.’ When I was in college, it never occurred to me that it was Harvard’s responsibility to entertain me.”
--Craig Lambert, Harvard Magazine, on Harvard's new in loco parentis role

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