Dear Prudence

Help! My Parents Check My Grades and Read My Email Even Though I’m in College. Is That Normal?

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

Dear Prudence: I feel like they're babying me, and I don't know how to get them off my back.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. 

Q. College: My parents check my grades and email even though I’m in college. Is this normal? I’m not a great student, but I’m not failing anything. Nonetheless, when I come home on weekends the first thing they want to talk about is grades. I feel like they’re babying me, and I don’t know how to get them off my back.

A: It’s a little helicopter-y of them to check your grades and want to discuss them every weekend, although if your parents are paying for your education, I think it’s not unreasonable for them to want to know how you’re doing. It’s extremely inappropriate and unreasonable for them to check your email, and you should change your password so they can no longer do so.

Your parents won’t stop babying you of their own volition. My guess is that they will bridle at finding themselves locked out of your inbox, which is absolutely fine—you don’t need their permission to keep your emails private, and if they try to push the subject, you need to hold firm and say, “There’s no reason for you to be reading these and I need you to respect my privacy.” If you’re able to stay on campus or with friends during the weekends, it may also help to visit home a little less frequently.

Q. Unfriendly co-worker: I work with a small team of six women. Most of us have worked together for years, except “Page.” Page has made it explicit she does not want to be friends; she wants to do the minimum required of her and go home. She is not interested in having lunch together, celebrating milestones together, or helping anyone out (for example, in the wake of an unexpected family tragedy). We tend to work around Page given her work ethic and attitude. But recently our headquarters moved, which means a longer commute for us all. Four of us live within a similar area so it makes sense to carpool. Page lives in the far end of that area. She wants in on the carpool. I’d rather sleep in an extra 15 minutes than deal with Page. I am not inclined to go the extra mile for a co-worker who will not give an inch, but I still have to work with her. How do I tell her nicely there is no way in hell?

A: If anyone who works in a small office and has experience navigating carpool dynamics wants to chime in here with some tips, please do! My inclination would be to say something like, “That doesn’t work for us, since it’s so far out of our way,” and leave it at that. Hopefully she won’t try to convince you that it’s actually secretly convenient, but if she doesn’t drop it after being initially rebuffed, just stick to, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for us,” rather than getting drawn into an argument about back routes and leaving earlier.

Q. Re: College: I work at a university in a student-facing role, and this is surprisingly common.
Your university most likely has a policy against sharing passwords for student email accounts—especially if you have access to some sort of shared drive through your email account. Your parents should never have access to your email, particularly when that could give them access to shared group projects or other students’ work.

A: I’m sorry to hear this is a common problem! At least the letter writer isn’t alone, though, and if any other students are reading this and seeing their own parents’ behavior reflected therein, change your passwords now.

Q. The rich and famous: Growing up, I had a friend, “Becky.” We’ve always kept in touch, although we live in different cities now and aren’t as close as we used to be. Becky is a low-to-medium-famous person. She’s not a huge star, but most people would at least recognize her name. This summer, I’m getting married to my girlfriend, and we’re having a fairly big wedding. Becky was on the initial guest list, but I’m having second thoughts.

I worry my wife and I will be overshadowed at our own wedding because people will be so focused on the celebrity there. In fact, when I talked to my future mother- and sister-in-law about the guest list, the first question they asked was if my famous friend Becky could come. I love Becky, but I also know she loves attention, and wouldn’t be able to resist “stealing the show” if given the opportunity. Would it be OK not to invite her? And if I don’t, do I owe her an explanation?

A: It’s always fine not to invite people you’re not especially close with to your wedding, regardless of their low-grade celebrity status. Nor is it customary to send explanations to distant friends and acquaintances who don’t merit a wedding invite (and thank God for that, because I don’t think anyone wants to receive a written reminder that “We’re not especially close, you and I”).

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Q. How to quit graciously: I have been stuck in a job that I absolutely hate for the past year. The job is one of very few available in my small field, and on paper it looked great, but it’s been terrible for various reasons, to the point that it’s negatively impacting my mental health. So out I go!

In the past when I have quit jobs, it’s been to go somewhere else. This time, I have plans (and savings, and support from my wonderful husband) to start a business on my own, which is something I’ve wanted to do for the past several years. But since I’ve been so exhausted by the job I’m in now, I don’t have much of a visible start on my own project. It’s going to look to my boss and colleagues that I’m quitting without somewhere else to go, which will make it look like I really hate this job. To be fair, I do! But I also want to be diplomatic, especially since my field is small and social, and word gets around quickly. Any advice about how to word my (in-person) resignation would be very much appreciated.

A: If you’re quitting to start your own business or set up an independent project, you don’t have to show your former bosses a five-point plan and evidence of the progress you’ve already made in order to justify your decision. Give your notice, tell them that you’re going to go into business for yourself, and that you’ve appreciated getting the opportunity to work with them. (That last part isn’t exactly a lie, inasmuch as I’m sure you’ve appreciated getting to learn more about what you don’t want in a working environment.) And congratulations on the new project—I hope it goes well!

Q. Re: College: I’m a college instructor. It sounds to me like the letter writer’s parents are accessing their grades behind the student’s back, likely because they have the student’s password for the college’s online course management system. This is not just asking about grades too often. This is equally a violation of boundaries and privacy as checking email. Change your campus ID password, and don’t let your parents get access to the new one.

You are an adult and have a right to privacy. If you’re worried your parents will flip out or withdraw financial support, have a conversation with them about the new boundaries you are setting, and maybe offer to share regular progress reports or appease them in some way that doesn’t involve giving them full access to all of your private campus accounts.

A: There are so many different platforms overbearing parents can access in order to invade college students’ privacy! Change your passwords on all of them. Another commenter mentioned that if the letter writer is in the U.S., the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act dictates that once you’re 18 and in college, regardless of whether your parents are paying for school, your grades are private, and that you have the right to decide when and whether to share them. You can prevent your parents from seeing your grades if you want to. Whether you’re ready to have that conversation is another matter.

Q. Setting up daughter: My daughter is 14 and quietly confessed she is gay to me. She has not dated or kissed anyone yet, but I believe and want to support her. My problem is I have lived with my parents since my divorce and my mother had a stroke. My brothers and their families also live nearby. My family has a conservative bent, and while I believe they would support their niece, my daughter is terrified of coming out to them. She confessed to me that she hates how everyone talks about her dating and what boys like her, and that she feels “they want to breed her out.” I was shocked by this because it seemed normal to me to be set up with family friends growing up. It was how I met my daughter’s husband, and my daughter is the only girl out of a pack of boy cousins. How do I help my daughter without outing her?

A: I’m glad your daughter has your support! I’m not surprised that you’re “shocked” by the ways in which her experience with your family differs from yours. You thought it was normal to be set up by family friends as a child because it felt normal to you. It reflected your sexual orientation, made you feel seen, recognized, and comfortable, and did not exert an undue amount of pressure over your identity. Your daughter feels differently, and it makes sense that she’s anxious about coming out to a conservative family that’s already gone out of their way to communicate their heterosexual expectations of her.

Ask her what you can do in those moments to help her out. Does she want you to ask them to drop the subject of dating entirely? Would she rather you blandly run interference with something like, “Kate doesn’t want to be set up; let’s talk about something else”? Find out what would make her feel comfortable and do that.

Q. Re: Unfriendly co-worker: Reading the letter, it sounds like the writer might be in a bit of a clique, whether she realizes it or not. Sometimes, especially for newer folks, it’s easier to keep your head down and just do what’s required than to try to insert yourself into a social group that has its own established set of running jokes and private give-and-take. I mean, if Page is truly unhelpful and uninterested in anyone but herself, that’s one thing. However, it’s worth considering the possibility that Page doesn’t want to deal with a clique at work, and just stays in her lane. While the letter writer is certainly not obligated to share transportation with Page, it might be a good olive branch. I don’t know what’s keeping the letter writer from saying, “Hey, if you can make it to my house by x time, you’ve got a ride.”

A: One or two others have mentioned that it might be worth re-examining the situation in the interest of keeping things friendly in such a small office, and I think that’s probably right! We only have the letter writer’s description to go by, and it’s certainly possible that Page feels a little shut out at work. This compromise seems like a good one, because it offers Page the opportunity to join the carpool without putting an extra 15-minute drive on the letter writer’s shoulders—if she’s willing to join the group in time, you don’t have to go out of your way to help her, and if she’s not, you get to keep the carpool as it is.

Q. He’s not moving on, should I keep doing nothing?: I recently discovered the secret filtered message folder on Facebook, and it turns out an ex from five years ago has been sending sad/angry/desperate messages to me for years. I don’t know if he thinks I was seeing them or not. Various personal crises came and went unbeknownst to me: the death of his dog, a suicide attempt, psychiatric treatment including electroconvulsive therapy, all of his friends dropping him, the revelation that he lied about his dog dying, etc. I cut off all contact, not because of anything he did while we were together, but because of his terrible obsessive behavior after the breakup. At the time it seemed like maintaining my silence and letting him spin his wheels out once in a while was the best way to let him process his grief and move on, but he hasn’t moved on, and I am really tempted to contact him to let him know that there’s nothing he could have changed to keep us together, and there’s no way for us to ever have a friendship now. Should I keep giving him nothing to latch onto, or is there something I could do to give him closure?

A: No. There is nothing you can give this guy; he needs to find a way to manage his own obsessive tendencies by himself. Responding in any way to these messages would only encourage his attention. If he said anything that you found threatening or that led you to be concerned for your safety, keep a written record of the messages and tell someone you trust. If not, block him on Facebook and carry on with your life.

Q. One comment to rule them all: What college sends weekly updates on grades? You have no rights to Grandma’s middle name, none at all. If your co-worker wants to carpool and she lives the farthest away, see if she will drive. She might start being nicer if you quit treating her like she isn’t.

Mallory Ortberg: Thanks for chatting this week! Remember: read only your own emails, and wear only your own wedding dresses.

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.

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