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Parents: Your Sons Need Your Help Getting Ready for Fraternity Life

Today, we hear from Andrew McPeak. Andrew is a next gen researcher, speaker, and author for Growing Leaders.

In 2011 George Desdunes, a 19-year-old sophomore student at Cornell University was awakened in the middle of the night—gagged, bound, and taken. As a pledging member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, he probably expected something like this to happen, but no one expected what happened next. Late into the morning, Desdunes was asked trivia questions and forced to do exercises and drink liquor when he answered incorrectly. After passing out from alcohol consumption, Desdunes was left on a couch to recover. He never did. He was pronounced dead the next day with a blood-alcohol level over five times the legal limit. I wish incidents like this were occasional. They aren’t.

In fact, things got so bad at SAE chapters across the country (10 deaths between 2008 and 2014), SAE has closed 15 chapters and banned the initiation process across the country. Recently released research has revealed that “there has been a USA school death every year from 1961-2017.” Part of this same research shows that hazing-related deaths are increasing, not decreasing.

At the same time as hazing problems are getting worse, parent reactions seem to be flailing. Parents often see parties, hazing, and substance abuse as “a part of the college experience.” Sadly, many parents don’t understand how mistaken they are until it is too late. Just in the last few weeks one of our Growing Leaders speakers was at a prominent university where a school administrator told him that parents were spending thousands of dollars each year, calling Uber and Lyft rides for their kids to get home from a drunken party. We aren’t preparing our kids for decision- making; we are bailing them out of the consequences—after they make bad decisions.

Of course, I am not saying it’s bad to call your child an Uber, I am just asking a question I think we should all ask: Are my actions as a parent enabling them, or empowering them? If we all really thought about it, I think we want to do less of the former, and more of the latter.

Enabling vs. Empowering

photo credit: Alan Light Iowa City, IA via photopin (license)

While my wife and I have no kids, I’ve been around students, speaking and leading for almost a decade. In that time, I’ve seen enough enabling to lead me to wonder how some kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves. I’ve heard about parents who bought alcohol for underage kids, so they would “keep it in the house.” I’ve even heard of parents who called their kids in a college class to talk to their teacher and yell at them for their kids’ bad grade (as if their kid didn’t earn the grade themselves). This is called “enabling.”

Enabling happens when someone acts to make it possible for another person to continue making poor decisions. If a kid knows Mom will pay for an Uber ride home from the party, they don’t have to worry about what they do at the party; they know they’ll make it home. Their bad decisions are enabled by a negligent parent.

What if we thought about this differently?

Our kids don’t need to be enabled, they need to be empowered. Empowered to make their own decisions. They need to feel like they have the ability and the wherewithal to handle the decision-making process on their own. There are several reasons most parents struggle to switch from enabling to empowering:

  • Your kids ask for help; and you feel bad saying no.
  • You believe they have enough to worry about; you’re just taking care of the “small stuff.”
  • Your teenager gets to age 18—unprepared; you feel guilty for not getting them ready.

Whatever the reason, enabling is never a successful long-term plan for raising kids. Why? Dr. Elmore has a famous saying, “You aren’t raising kids; you are raising future adults.” No part of enabling prepares kids for adulthood. That’s why parents have an opportunity to do better.

Empower your son to make his own decisions about things like joining a fraternity. Show him some of the articles I referenced above, and ask him what he thinks might be the healthiest way to make friends. Write out a budget for your daughter and walk through it with her. Tell her it will be up to her to figure out the best way to spend her money, no matter where it comes from. This way Uber rides come out of her pocket, not yours.

Our kids can be healthy—fully-functioning—adults who are ready to make tough decisions, but they can only get there if we get them ready. Have you started empowering them to handle their future?


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