Up Front by Emma Hart


The Up Front Guide to Parenting

Earlier this week I was reading the Parents’ Guide to Getting your Child into University, and while what it says is excellent, I think it’s missing a vital step.

Basically, with universities restricting entry to more courses, it’s getting much more difficult and complex for parents to get their children into their desired careers. The report by Auckland University researchers suggests that parents find out about university entrance standards for courses, then choose their children’s high school subjects accordingly – from year nine.

This is excellent advice. Two years ago, my son wanted to be a writer, but at year nine, he’d settled on a much more sensible career choice – high school science teacher – and he’s not likely to change his mind again at any point. Especially if we get him stitched into it nice and tightly at thirteen. In twenty years time, when he’s downing a bottle of whiskey over a pile of marking and throwing occasional maudlin glances at his unfinished novel, he’ll have the consolation of knowing he fulfilled his prospects just like his parents wanted him to.

Where this guide falls down for me is its single-minded concentration on what parents should do to get their child into the correct university courses. That’s just piking. Organic-wholegrain-bread middle-class parents are made of sterner stuff than that. We’re in it for the long haul.

I went to uni (slightly after they moved lectures out of caves) and we could always spot those kids, the ones who’d been pushed and shoved through high school without ever having to make their own decisions or take responsibility for their own study habits. Without anyone looking over their shoulders, they spent at least a year falling down, throwing up, and smashing letterboxes. Any course-work handed in would be done in a blaze of panic; a couple of hastily-typed pages thrown together and sprinted across campus to be flung in a submissions box seconds before the deadline.

Responsibility for this, like a child’s high school achievements, lies squarely with the parents. They piked. There’s no reason to take your foot off your child’s neck just because they’ve left school. Get them through university too.

Keep them at home. This is essential for keeping an eye on them. If, at year nine, your child has indicated a preference for a career like dentistry or architecture that would require them to go to a particular university, move. If those preferences would require your family to simultaneously live in more than one city, you really should have thought about that before you had more than one child. You may need to divorce so each child can be adequately supervised. Committed parents make these little sacrifices.

Keeping them at home will allow you to ensure that they do a regulation number of hours of coursework a day (Auckland Uni may have some suggestions), but it brings the added bonus of hampering their social life. This is a delicate balancing act: you want your child to make the sort of connections that will be useful to them in later life, but on the other hand you don’t want them getting distracted by enjoying themselves. It’s not called fun-iversity. Also, under no circumstances do you want them having sex. Both the good and bad parts of sexual relationships will get in the way of your child Achieving like nothing else. But if you’re keeping your child nice and close like a good parent, you’ll have no end of ways to deter potential sexual partners.

The other big danger of university, outside of sex and drugs and booze, is the Arts Faculty. Beware of your child showing an interest in doing ‘just one stage one philosophy paper’. PHIL 120 is a gateway drug. In no time, you’ll find your child staring blankly into space instead of working, and when you ask them what they’re doing, they’ll say, “Thinking.” Well, thinking ain’t going to buy them no investment properties. Knock that shit on the head sharpish. Let it go as ‘just a phase’ or ‘potentially useful I guess’, and five years down the track they’ll have a Masters in Unemployability.

You’ll still have to make some tough calls, of course. At what point does further study become pointless? When should they leave and get a job? How long should you keep them at home after they get a job, so that you can ensure they’re making the proper progress in their career? These are your decisions to make – you want to give your children a ‘fighting chance’, don’t you?

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