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Navigating The Parents Facebook Group At Your Kid’s University

Who can relate?

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illustration of woman dealing with university parents forums on facebook
Delphine Lee
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Our oldest son started college in August 2018. With that transition came all of the trite “just wait untils” that you’ve heard about seemingly from the day you brought your newborn home from the hospital. The piles of dirty laundry they bring home on break, the complete lack of contact (not because they’ve fallen victim to some nightmarish scenario, but because they are just “too busy” to call or text), their first “real” sickness away from home … yep, we experienced it all.

What we weren’t prepared for was the beyond-anything-you’d-believe-if-it-weren’t-written-in-black-and-white-and-staring-up-at-you-from-your-phone level of insanity that is the Official College/University Parents/Family Facebook Group.

My son’s school created the forum, which is open only to family of students attending, with the goal of distributing information from the college/university and for members “to support each other, provide advice and help students.” At its best, it definitely does this. From announcements related to parents weekends, events on campus and exam schedules to tips — like using the giant blue Ikea bags to haul all of their junk into and out of the dorms — to parents of juniors and seniors soothing the overactive imaginations of a worried dad whose kid has to walk across campus late at night, the info is there and there’s almost always someone “listening.”

But at its worst? Take every decision you’ve ever made related to raising your child, every concern you’ve had about their education or socialization or eating habits and every stupid question you’ve ever asked, then put it all in a blender with equal parts judgment and contempt, set on puree, hit start and let it run for four years.

I was driven to go on a monthlong social media fast due to interactions on my son’s page last year. I had the audacity to question why the college was allowing a group of armed individuals to parade across campus (it’s a state school, they had to), contact the administration and post the answers I received for other concerned parents. The atmosphere became so toxic and political that people forgot why we were there to begin with: our kids. Every time I post – which is rare – I regret it.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to my son’s school. Friends who have kids at other colleges and universities have shared their experiences with me, with one telling me she left her daughter’s group early because she just couldn’t deal with the people on it anymore.

Every page has the same categories of posters:

Snowflakes: They will, no matter what you relate or ask about your child, call them a snowflake, tell you to slow your rotors and criticize you for raising a “soft” kid. Their response to every post is, “Make them figure it out for themselves.” Ironically, they are often the people who get most rattled by changes implemented by the institution that impact their own kids.

Bona Fide Helicopters: They are constantly complaining about professors, homework assignments, dining hall hours and subpar dorm furnishings. Every post begins, “FS (freshman son) is so upset, his …” Bona fide because we all have questions and concerns sometimes, and there’s a big difference.

Pinterest Fiends: You know them because every post is accompanied by a photo of the latest completely unnecessary project they found on Pinterest. They’re quick to tell you what they did for their FD (freshman daughter) or SS (sophomore son) to make their dorm room cozier, and they’re the ones asking for dimensions as soon as room assignments come out.

Oversharing Parents: They post details about their children (this is Facebook, so your name is not hidden) — including arrests, academic probation status, failing classes, mental health issues, dorm locations, fraternity/sorority affiliation — as they frame whatever question they have. If their kids knew what they were broadcasting about them, the students probably would never speak to their parents again … and in most cases, I completely understand why.

Constant-Commenters: Have a question about the equestrian program? These folks won’t know a damn thing about it (their kid studies computer science), but they feel the need to pipe up, anyway. Their greatest hits include: “Maybe check out the program web page” and “I don’t know the answer, but maybe a page administrator can help?”

Never-Lookers: These parents ask the same question that the five parents posted above them did, and swear they searched for the subject and couldn’t find the answer. Really, Susie? No one has EVER before asked for restaurant recommendations/places to stay/who can give rides from the airport? Come on!

Elder Statesparents: These folks are my favorites. Nothing rocks them: They’ve been there, done that, sometimes with more than one kid at the same damn school. They post things like, “Look, I know it seems like the end of the world that the headboard you custom-designed for your daughter’s bed clashes with the rug her roommate brought here from Hawaii, but I promise you this stuff won’t matter in two weeks.” They are my tribe.

It’s hard to have a child in college. There is so much we don’t know and even more that we can’t control. Universities create these spaces to make it easier for us to navigate the unknown and find strength in numbers. And you can — sometimes. But so often they become just another elementary school PTA, spoiled by the parents who shout the loudest and have the most aggressive agenda.

My advice to parents just stepping into this world is simple: Read the posts by site administrators and the occasional professor who pops in for the info; scroll through the Pinterest Fiends’ posts to see what very skilled people who have too much time on their hands do; text your kid screenshots of posts from Bona Fide Helicopters and Oversharing Parents to make them happy they have you as a parent (and for some tea to share over breaks); never — and I mean NEVER — engage a Snowflake; and over family weekend, take your kid and their friends out for a real meal and then spend the rest of the time barhopping with the Elders.