Pressure from parents can hinder kids in college

It’s that time of year again when moms and dads in Puget Sound are sending their kids off to college, perhaps for the first time.

For all of you parents who are moving your sons and daughters into dorms, I have a true story for your brain to chew on.

When I was a freshman in college, my roommate, Mary, got to college with two big problems and their names were Mom and Dad.

It didn’t matter to Mary’s parents that she was a brilliant, creative young adult who was trying to find her own way in life; her parents wanted to be right there with her via the telephone.

Mary’s parents tried to plan out her classes, her major and her future life career. Computer science wasn’t good enough for them; Mary had to be a doctor.

Mary’s mom would call at 1 in the morning to see if Mary was in her room studying. They also had choice words for her boyfriend.

In retrospect, Mary was clearly the product of helicopter parents akin to Amy Chua’s controversial book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

As an 18-year-old, I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought it was annoying to have the phone ringing off the hook in the middle of the night and I was bugged with Mary for not knowing how to do laundry.

But I could tell that Mary’s parents deeply loved her, even though they were showing it in a way that caused Mary extreme stress. Then things went from bad to worse.

In the middle of winter quarter, Mary shaved her head and people in our dorm started getting concerned.

By spring, she had a nervous breakdown and was put under lock and key at the university’s mental hospital. Mary had to be heavily sedated and taken home to recover.

My worst college memory is of holding Mary’s hand when the police came to drive her to the airport. When Mary’s dad came to help me pack up Mary’s belongings and close down her side of the room, we realized that she had lofted her bunkbed without tightening the screws. It had been a miracle that Mary hadn’t been hurt because in spite of all of her academic knowledge, Mary didn’t understand “righty-tightly, lefty-loosely.”

Now that I’m a parent myself, I wonder how much of Mary’s drama was because of mental illness and how much was caused by the intense academic pressure her parents put her under.

I also wonder how I would react as a parent if my own daughter shaved her head in the middle of freshman year. Probably I would want call her every 10 minutes to see if she was OK, but I’m not certain that would be the right choice.

At least for Mary, her story had a happy ending. She came back to school and earned a doctorate in psychology. As I said before, Mary was brilliant.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at

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