Praise parents for supporting their child in transition to university life

Amy Lai says universities should seek to ease anxieties as children transition to a new life

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 3:04am

Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, the vice-chancellor of Chinese University, recently advised parents who accompanied their children to campus on the first day of term to "let go" so they can learn to be independent. He also emphasised the importance for students to approach such issues as Occupy Central rationally and peacefully, and to make independent judgments.

The local media often tends to portray students in a negative light at the start of a new academic year, highlighting their apparent immaturity. In past years, they have been lambasted for the lewd games played during student orientation which, occasionally, resulted in sexual harassment complaints filed by new students coerced into participating. Interestingly, the focus has shifted this year, to descriptions of clingy students and their protective parents.

There is a big difference, however, between parents showing an interest in their children's school life and seeking to interfere with their education.

Take American culture, which values independence, as an example. In the past, some US parents have tried to prevent public elementary schools from exposing their children to curriculums that featured gay families as examples of diversity.

Amid strong protests, courts have ruled in favour of the schools, holding that parents can decide where to send their children, but school authorities should determine how those children are educated.

The Hong Kong media has also tended to overlook the big difference between parents showing support for their children and overprotection by refusing to "let go". It's not uncommon for schools and even colleges in the US to play an active role in acquainting parents with their environment to ease any worries.

Harvard, for instance, holds a "Freshman Parents Weekend" every October, a two-day programme to help parents learn about the college through campus visits, so they can better support their children in their adjustment to university life.

While such formal programmes usually end after the first year at college, it's not unheard of for successful applicants to bring along their parents to the finest American graduate schools. Some even sit in on classes. I remember at college there were times when I wished I could have brought my parents to campus without the fear of being criticised or appearing immature.

Hong Kong universities should seek to balance parents' desire to learn more about where their children are going with the need to avoid casting students in an unfavourable light. And, as long as Hong Kong's universities keep producing successful graduates, perhaps the media should turn their attention elsewhere.

Amy Lai, a lawyer who was educated at Cambridge and Boston, has written extensively on literature, culture and law