Generation X is a curious generation.  The need for instant gratification is a trait that many of these individuals share. They are apt to buy a product on credit, then pay for it over time – without the guarantee that they’ll be able to pay for it. This is a little different from delayed gratification, a trait of the Baby Boomer generation.  Boomers are more apt to save for a particular purchase.  If they utilize credit, what they have saved is used for a down payment, so to speak, so that payments are manageable or are for a limited time.  The Great and Silent Generation members were sacrificial, forgoing what they wanted in order to build a better life for their children, their family, their neighbors or members of their parish.

Generation X, “The ME Generation,” could be cited as the originators of the phrase, “What’s in it for me?”  While that could be viewed as a question which pervades today’s society in general, it’s quite easy for the rest of society to pick up on trait that is germane to a particular grouping of individuals.  Since the PK3-16 educational community spans 19 years, and a “generation” spans a period of about 20 years, there are always two generations affected by the traits of a third generation.  In this case, Baby Boomers were affected by Generation X when GenX started enrolling their children in schools settings, and the Millennials have been affected by Generation X as they continue to progress through the grade levels.

Several individuals who attended a presentation I gave several years ago questioned me about their school’s current parents and guardians.  While they realized that most of them are members of Generation X, want instant gratification and action taken in response to situations, and see their children as reflections of themselves, they were a little distressed at the comments I made regarding parents as customers.  Not so much that they were customers (since they’re paying the tuition for their children), but they questioned me about the parents desire to know “What’s in it for them?”  This explains the phenomenon known as “Helicopter Parents.”

As for Millennial parents, they’re not Helicopters; they’re Snowplows – pushing all the obstacles out of the way so that their children succeed, since, like Generation X, their children are reflections of themselves.  If a child is chided or makes a mistake, parents see that as a failure of parenting, rather than a part of the child’s process of learning.

Teachers and administrators wonder why some of today’s parents and guardians are so involved at the school, and why others aren’t and don’t seem to care.  I contend that the latter group would be involved if they could be.  They’re either working, involved in their own activities, transporting children to rehearsals or practices on the nights of PTA meetings, taking care of elderly family members, or, in some cases, are unable to be involved for legal reasons.

Similarly, school staff members are sometimes overwhelmed by the constant presence of some parents and guardians who feel they have a right to be involved precisely because they’re paying tuition, even though teachers sometimes wish these parents and guardians wouldn’t be so involved.  Actually, they don’t have a right to be involved because they pay tuition; they have a right to be involved because they are the parent, and parents are the primary educator of the child.  Parents and guardians are a very important part of the school community, and should be treated as such.

There are some schools that have examined this phenomenon, and have developed some strategies which encourage parents to be a vital part of the school community, but also allow teachers the space they need to provide the necessary classroom experience for children to achieve to their potential.  One school had a computer literacy program for parents several years back, offering courses in Microsoft Office programs on certain weekday evenings and on Saturday mornings.  Other schools have a parent library, full of text resources on parenting and child health and development.  A comfortable and quiet atmosphere is provided for the parent or guardian who, in pre-pandemic days, would like to stay and read for a while after bringing their child to school in the morning.

Another way to have your parents feel involved as well as to invite other parents to your school to let them experience it is to hold a “Parent Day” on a Saturday.  Start at 9 and end at 3, with four seminars during the day that parents can rotate to, or perhaps take some time to meet with a teacher or tour the school.  Sessions on finances, parenting, time management and productivity, and social media awareness could be scheduled, with lunch provided from 11:30 until 1. Parents could attend just the morning session, just the afternoon, or for the whole day.  Such an event makes your school more than just a school, positioning it as an asset to your local community.  As you plan for the 21-22 school year, try scheduling this at some point as an experiment.  If it takes off, it can be a signature activity of your school, contributing to your school’s “remarkability,” differentiating it from other educational offerings.  It might even be able to be sponsored, generating some development dollars!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110221)