Asked and Answered:

Managing the Transition to College

Many of the problems parents and students have with the college transition come from confusion about whose problems they really are. Get clear on ownership of both rights and responsibilities. Stepping in and taking over problems that are theirs, not ours, shields them from responsibility for living their own lives  and presents us with dilemmas we can’t and shouldn’t solve for them.  Ask yourself these questions:

. Are  you responsible for their grades, conduct, or life choices?

. Do you have a right to know how they’re doing academically?

. What can you do to make their college adjustment easier?

Q. Our freshman daughter is flunking two courses, living off-campus, and generally running wild. She won’t listen to our advice, ignores our letters and phone calls, and just pierced her nose! What can we do?

A .Unless you’ve tied your financial aid to her grade point average, her academic performance is between her and her college. You might insist that she move into a dorm or find a supervised living situation until her grades improve and suggest that she take fewer or less demanding courses until she’s adjusted to college life. And ask her to take out her nose ring for Thanksgiving at Grandmother’s.

Q. My son has been on academic probation since the first semester and will have to go to summer school to stay in college next year. Why didn’t we find this out earlier when we could have helped him? And who should pay for his make-up courses?

 A.In high school you had to sign his report card, but the Family Education and Privacy Act mandates that students, not parents, get their transcripts, regardless of who’s paying the bill. It’s his responsibility to pay for summer school, not yours, even if he has to take a semester off and get a job to accomplish this.

Q. Our daughter is so homesick she can’t eat, sleep or study. Should we suggest that she withdraw from college, come home and commute to a school closer to home?

 A.Most freshmen go through a siege of homesickness, and in most cases it’s not severe enough to take such drastic measures. Many kids don’t feel like college is “home” until after Christmas vacation. Meanwhile, stay in touch through letters, calls and e-mails. Familiarize yourself with the counseling facilities at her school and suggest that she take advantage of them.

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The recent wave of complaints on college campuses about the seeming insensitivity of faculty and administrators to students’ emotional needs shouldn’t surprise me – I’m a parenting coach, after all, and my clients have been worried about their kids’ feelings since they were born. In  fact, data indicate that the emotional adjustment of their emerging adults –  their happiness – is more important to today’s parents than anything else, including academic and career success.   And no one would disagree that students’ physical safety – including protection from sexual assault  and other violent crime – should be of paramount importance to college authorities.

But academia is not a safe place for those who would protect their children from the conflict of opposing ideas, the freedom to explore new aspects of their identity, the rigor of analyzing their beliefs and values, and even the opportunity to experience real diversity, which means people who may be biased,  bigoted,  intolerant, rude, and unfeeling. Because that’s the world they’ll be living in once they leave college, and trying to protect them from it is not only difficult, but does them a disservice.  In the real world there are no trigger warnings to shield them from unpleasant memories, ideas or associations, and in the classroom there shouldn’t be, either. Learning the difference   between discrimination and dissent, preference and prejudice, and especially, being marginalized and feeling marginalized, is an important life tool – often, the level of whining emanating from campuses across the country reminds me of Fran Lebowitz’s long-ago comment that “Your right to wear a mint green polyster leisure suit extends to where it reaches my line of sight.” And it’s particularly galling when voiced by privileged ivy leaguers whose idea of “checking their privilege” is apologizing for the acts of their founders, whose achievements and endowments should be examined in the same historical context as their faults and failings.


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