By Lee Yowell, Associate Dean of Student Development
I spoke with a parent the other day who asked, what could be done regarding their son's sleep and study habits. The general concern was that he wasn't going to bed until 3 a.m. most nights and was too tired to study effectively for class. As a university administrator, I get this question a lot. In the past, I've suggested that parents gently encourage better habits by way of severe beatings, verbal lashings, and the confiscation of the student's cell phone. While these persuasive techniques are often effective, I got the feeling that this particular parent was looking for an alternative strategy.
The best way to address these concerns is by requiring the student to be accountable and responsible for their own decisions. College students too often rely on excuses when faced with taking responsibility for their actions.
"My professor is awful."
"My roommate kept me up."
"The dorm is too loud at night."
"I didn't know about the test."
It seems to me, that we hear excuses too often and don't hear individuals taking responsibility for themselves and how their actions resulted in a given outcome. One way to shift the focus back on personal accountability would be to ask some follow-up questions whenever an excuse is offered.
Example: "I can't go to sleep at a decent hour because my roommate stays up late."
Suggested Follow-up Questions:
(1) Did you talk to your roommate and explain that their behavior was affecting your ability to study, focus in class, and academic performance?
(2) If the problem persisted, did you address the subject a second time with your roommate?
(3) Did you meet with the Resident Director to see if they could assist you in addressing this roommate issue?
In many cases I like to ask myself if the scenario being described is an accurate account, or if it is more likely that there is another side of the story that Iím not hearing.
Example: "Campus Safety is out to get me and thats why I have $500 in traffic tickets."
Which seems more likely?
(A) The campus safety officers wake up each morning with a list of students they are targeting in order to cause suffering and increased financial burden.
(B) The MVNU safety staff randomly assigns tickets to student in an effort in drum up revenue for the university.
(C) The student violated traffic and parking policies and was cited when they were in violation of these policies. (Yes--even if they were only parked in the Emergency Fire Lane for 20 minutes)
Of course it could be a combination of things, but I firmly believe that we need to ask students who are facing a struggle or issue "what are you going to do about that."
Then we can offer our assistance once they have determined a course of action, but being careful to make certain that the responsibility remain theirs. At the end of the day, students are held responsible for their actions. If they didn't prepare for their exam or waited until the night before a paper was due, then their grades may reflect that effort. Our hope as a university and as parents, is that they will not wait too long to learn these valuable lessons.