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College students bristle at overbearing parents' WeChat groups

Prevalence of monitoring divides opinion, raises concerns over data privacy

By Zou Shuo | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-27 09:04
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Nineteen-year-old Yang Yucheng thought she had escaped the days when she would have to bring home her test papers for her parents to sign, after heading off to college.

But when her parents revealed to her that they had already seen her results, when she returned home for a visit, she was shocked.

Organized by a student counselor, a WeChat group was set up for teachers and parents of students studying at the university, so that the parents could keep track of how their children were getting on.

However, this practice has divided opinion and raised concerns about the data privacy of adult-age students.

"It just felt weird. I am an adult and still need to go through the unpleasant experience of discussing my academic performance with my parents," said Yang, who is a second-year undergraduate student at Xi'an Jiaotong University in Shaanxi province.

According to Yang, the WeChat groups are aimed at boosting communication between the school and parents, but she had not been informed or asked if she would agree to her information being shared with others.

With the COVID-19 pandemic making online teaching more ubiquitous among universities, teacher-parent chat groups, which are much more common among primary and secondary schools, have made their way to higher education institutions.

Many parents believe these chat groups offer them a good channel to learn about their children who are often far away from their homes, and teachers find them convenient to send notices, while students complain they are a source of anxiety and possibly a violation of their privacy.

Some of the chat groups have been set up by university teachers while others by parents themselves.

Apart from caring about their children's daily lives at school, such as finding the nearest supermarket and where to buy clothes, parents also discuss their academic performances, employment and finding suitable relationships, stretching into the realms of helicopter parenting.

Some parents might suffer from separation anxiety and use the chat groups as a way of connecting with their children without disturbing them, according to Peng Shaofeng, an associate professor at the Department of Sociology at Hunan Normal University in Changsha, Hunan province.

However, colleges are places for students to learn how to become independent, and too much care and "words of wisdom" from parents are not helpful for their progress, she said.

Student Yang said she doesn't understand the need for such chat groups as she is capable of handling her affairs herself and her parents should stop worrying about her.

Meanwhile, as she is not a part of the group herself, she just tries to not think about them and ignores what the parents are talking about behind her back.

Yang Jun, a senior undergraduate student at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, has a similar distaste for such chat groups, though acknowledges some upsides.

He learned about the existence of these chat groups in only his second year of college.

"My parents have learned from others how to get good grades, and which competitions I should participate in to get extra points and eventually gain admission to postgraduate studies without taking the entrance exam, something only reserved for top-ranking students," he said.

"They have carefully studied the rules and know them better than I do."

Yang Jun said he doesn't mind his parents offering him academic suggestions because he also wants to pursue postgraduate studies. However, it would be better if they could leave him alone as he is capable of doing it himself, he said.

"My parents have often told me that they only have one child and everything they have worked for, such as their small company and their money, will be left to me, but I would much prefer to rely on myself and earn my own stripes," he added.

Ren Ruixuan, 20, a second-year student at a Beijing university, is also being pondered over by parents in a WeChat group. The parents also share students' test scores among other things.

Ren said she does not discuss her test scores with her parents and would rather they didn't worry about them.

"If they want to know about how I'm doing in school they can just ask me, instead of learning them in the groups," she said.

Liu Ping, Ren's mother, said she can't help but worry about her daughter, who is an adult by age but is still not mature enough in her opinion.

"To worry is what parents do. Even if she is 80 years old, I will still worry about her," she said.

"I want her to be independent, so I limit how often I contact her. The chat groups have become a way to learn how she is doing at college."

Many of the parents claim their children are not able to fend for themselves when they go off to college, with the irony being that their overindulgent parenting may be the cause of a lack of resilience.

Children nowadays are not mature because they have spent most of their lives at school, with their parents and grandparents catering to their every need, she said.

Liu added that when she was 20, she had already started working and had learned how to do things by herself at an early age.

"Sometimes, my husband and I feel that there is nothing wrong with our daughter being a bit naive and living a simple life, and we are willing to help her however we can," she added.

Another aspect of helicopter parenting has reared its head in some of these WeChat groups, and that is, matchmaking.

Liu said some parents have sent pictures of their children in the chat groups and will try to contact the parents of other children that they think will be a match for theirs.

However, Xiao Lina, a mother of a second-year college student in Shenyang, Liaoning province, doesn't like such chat groups, even though she's joined one.

It's absurd for adult-age children to be controlled by their parents in this way, she said.

"I don't want to meddle in my daughter's life and she is capable of handling things by herself," she said. "If she wants my help or comes to me for advice or comfort, I'm always there for her. Otherwise, she needs to learn how to deal with things by herself."

Xiao said she doesn't have a high demand for her daughter in terms of academic performance as she believes she needs to learn other important life skills in college, such as how to socialize with people and to truly value herself.

Her only relationship advice for her daughter is to not find a "mommy's boy" because one cannot trust people who have been mollycoddled their whole lives, she said.

"Children born after the 2000s have much easier lives than we had, and they haven't encountered as many difficulties as we did," she said. "That's why parents need to give them some space and freedom, or even force them to be independent."

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