Can there ever be too much challenge and support?
Ever since I learned about Sanford’s theory of challenge and support it has been one of, if not the most frequently utilized concept in my arsenal of student development theories . The interesting thing is that until recently I had been looking at this theory through only one lens: a lens where there could never be too much challenge and support come from external sources whether they be student affairs professionals, faculty, parents, mentors, etc. and never from the student themselves. I think this way of thinking creates a large hole within this theory and something that deserves further investigation. While I am positive that this topic could take up an entire thesis, here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter:
Having read The Net Generation, I am aware that one of the patterns among incoming college students is that they have had gratuitous support in all their endeavors. These students have basically had a omnipresent cheerleader or in most cases multiple cheerleaders by their side throughout their adolescence. In my experience, it takes a lot more external support to accomplish something I am not motivated to do on my own or interested in doing myself, than when I’m internally motivated. I can only imagine that most other people are also this way. As such, the extreme amounts of support current students are getting may be a result of the extreme amounts of external challenges that were placed on them as children. After all, haven’t we all heard about children whose schedules are full of sport practices, music lessons, play dates, after-school activities and tutoring sessions?
Where do I see this playing out in student affairs?
First and foremost I think it is rather evident that some incoming students are primarily entering college because their parents want them there and provide copious amounts of support to get them enrolled. This is easily noticeable in the multitude of college applications that are filled out by parents every year, the number of first semester schedules that have parents’ hand prints all over them, and the number of students who admit that college wasn’t necessarily their choice, but just the next logical step in their lives. Personally I can see how this scenario could and in all likelihood does play out in several ways.
From a conduct standpoint, students who aren’t completely committed to being at college may be less likely to want to adhere to a college’s code of conduct. They aren’t quite sure what they are gaining by being part of the college community and therefore may not see the benefit of maintaining the communities standard of behavior. After all the code of conduct is part of a contract with students. The college provides the faculty, classrooms, and other facilities and programs necessary for students to get an education and in turn students conform to a behavioral standard. When a students doesn’t see the value in their education, they are hard-pressed to see value in the code. While, I haven’t personally had a lot of experience with this playing out in my conduct hearings, I would say that it is something that’s going to be on my radar.
I first came to see Stanford’s theory from this different angle while working orientation at San Jose State. To be honest, the first place I saw it was not in the incoming students, but among the student staff. It seemed as though many of them were not motivated by internal desires to help incoming students or to challenge themselves in new ways. Instead they had been motivated by mentors, other students, and sometimes parents to apply for the job. As a result, some found it hard to adapt to changes and challenges that they hadn’t been forewarned about and others were unmotivated to do more than the bare minimum to get by. In my mind this was a result of having a whole lot of support upfront, but very little support when the true challenges developed. These students couldn’t rely on the people who had got them into the position in the first place and they were hard-pressed to find an internal source of support to meet the new challenges.
Of course, I saw similar patterns among new students as well. Students who knew their parents would be helping them make schedules would pay little attention during advising. Students whose parents knew the campus would remain incredibly lost when on their own. The mere thought of not calling on external support to help them survive the one and a half day orientation was too much for most students as was evident by the sea of cell phone lights that dotted evening entertainment at the rec center.
I’m assuming that the full effect of students with lifelong cheerleaders will continue to have a huge influence on student affairs well into the future. I am quite sure that there is an extremely grey line between just enough and too much challenge and support from external sources. I hope to explore this topic more when I begin my internship with academic advising and find out how external support affects that area of student affairs. In the meantime, I am left with the question of how student affairs professionals can create programs and experience and ask the right questions to help student gain greater internal support and find ways to challenge themselves internally.