Parents are the heroes of their college-aged children

Rabbi Hershey Novack

By Rabbi Hershey Novack

After countless days of shopping trips, parents will deliver their children to college for the first time. Some families have made a road trip of the journey to campus, others have flown.

Over the years, I have participated in many move-in days. I have observed numerous tender moments as parents bid farewell to their children after spending most of the day schlepping and unpacking. I have also seen an occasional awkward moment, as parents or students grapple with the realization of their shifting roles, dynamics that they are unready or unwilling to recognize.

Fret not, parents. There is good news.

In their recent book “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student” (Jossey-Bass, 2012), Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean write that college students see their parents as heroes.

“When asked to name their heroes, [undergraduates] didn’t cite celebrities or corporate, government, or social leaders. Less than 1 percent named people like Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Al Gore, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, their teachers, or their professors. They dismissed cultural heroes,” they write.


“Instead, a majority (54 percent) of undergraduates with heroes named their parents. In total, two-thirds (66 percent) cited a family member.”

The high regard that college students have for their parents has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. When a similar study was administered in 1993, about the same proportion of students admitted to having heroes, yet only 29 percent of them cited their parents. In the more recent study, the proportion nearly doubles. 

There are many reasons for this shift. Simplest is an increase in technologies that allow parents to be a phone call or text message away. Indeed, 41 percent of students admit to communicating with their parents once a day.

This shift may also correlate to a broader cultural dynamic. We live in an age where matters that were once held secret are no longer hidden. Perhaps, when the sordid actions of some of our political leaders and sports stars confront us with their fallibility, we react with cynicism and devalue their perceived heroism. Who knows, it is possible that this increases the regard that young people have for their own parents!

Through my many interactions with Washington University students, it has become clear that many students truly adore, respect and idolize their parents. Your values, your experiences and, yes, even your occasional cringe-worthy humor, all provide a safe center around which your young adult orbits. You are their sense of balance and their strength, even if they may seem to chafe at your presence.

College is when children attempt to define themselves as emerging adults. Just as they are maturing, your relationships with your children will inevitably shift as well. The core values and beliefs you instilled in them do not disappear in college. Quite the contrary, we often find students coming to Chabad for a Friday night Shabbat dinner or Rosh Hashanah services, as that is what their family did back at home. Many others choose to attend as well, because they know it will make their parents — their heroes — proud.

As you depart campus on that quieter journey home, having delivered your child to student housing, rest assured that you have left them with more than extra-long twin sheets: You have left your children with core values, for them to appreciate, grow into and guide them for the rest of their lives.