Garrison, D. M. (2013). A phenomenological study of parental involvement and the undergraduate college student experience. (Order No. 3568254, Drexel University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 130. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1424830453?accountid=10051. (1424830453).

Available for free at the Drexel iDEA Archives


Parents highly involved in the academic lives of their college-going children have become increasingly common and yet the effect of such involvement on students is poorly understood by student services administrators and faculty. The purpose of this study was to better define the phenomenon of parental involvement in college through an investigation of the lived experiences of undergraduate students with high levels of parental involvement. The following questions guided this study: What are the common lived experiences of these students? How is the student’s ability to cope with stress affected by parental involvement? What meaning does parental involvement have on the ongoing academic and social experience of these students?

This study included six major findings, divided into three themes. The first theme – parents and academic pressure – yielded two findings: parental pressure on major choice can affect student academic choices and parent financial pressure can affect student academic choices. The second theme – parents, stress and coping – yielded two findings: student stress is closely related to their parental relationships and that not all students are prepared to cope without their parents. The third theme – parents as a part of the social whole – yielded two findings: the parental relationship is affected by siblings and the parental relationship is affected by friends. The results and interpretations were also discussed. The study concluded with an examination of the shared experiences of the participants in relation to the student-parent relationship, both in general and as it related to the students’ stress and coping. Recommendations are made both for action and for further study.

Keywords: parental involvement, college student, emerging adulthood


Excerpted from the Overall Summary (pp. 102-104)

When this research began, the intention was to study “overly” involved parents and the limiting effect such parents had on college students. What became apparent through this exploration was that the entire concept of being “overly” involved, or not involved enough, was based on outdated views of a parent-to-adult shift that did not involve the intermediary stage of emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000; Furstenburg, 2000). Furthermore, identifying parental involvement as a cause, in and of itself, was not necessarily the best way to understand how the involvement was related to the students and their situations.

It is necessary to understand how a parent’s involvement relates to what each student needs for their individual situation. The latent expectation that parents of college students need to be hands-off, even when their child is having a difficult time, is not wholly appropriate for today’s 18- to 25-year-old college student. Surely, promoting autonomy is a socio-academic aim that makes sense when preparing students for the post-college workforce, but it also can engender a dangerous prejudice with the potential of pressuring students into a place for which they are not ready – and not able to get the help that they need.

There exists a dissonance between those who would encourage parental involvement and those who would advocate against it. This is caused by a divergence between what is believed will happen to the student in the absence of the parental guiding hand. There is a concept in political philosophy called “the state of nature,” meaning the natural state of society without the guiding hand of government. Some think that in nature’s natural state, society will degenerate into chaos – that, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes (1997), life will be nasty, brutish, and short. Others believe government is needlessly restrictive and that in society’s natural state, people will thrive. Similarly, what is the “natural” state of a student, or, more specifically, the emerging adult? In the absence of parents, will they tend to thrive, or will their academic careers be nasty, brutish, and short?

It is tempting to get dogmatic on this question. A university administrator or instructor who works with students will undoubtedly be in contact at some point with a parent. Parents can be difficult to work with, and oftentimes seem to be the cause of a fragile student’s distress. And surely, there are some toxic and unhealthy relationships between parents and their college-going children. But it is essential to remember that there is no one “natural” student-state, as tempting as it would be to assign one. Some students are perfectly ready to function independently away from their parents, some are woefully unprepared, and a great number of students are somewhere in the middle. Over-simplifying this issue – naming the parents as “helicopter parents” and dismissing them – is counter-productive. Parental relationships are certainly important in the lives of college students, but the student-parent relationship dynamic is one part of the student’s broader academic and life experience that needs to be understood by university.

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