Paul W. Barada
This week’s column is more for the parents of kids about to head to college than unsolicited advice for students about to go. Why? Because kids going away from home, some for the very first time ever, can be an even more traumatic event for the parents than for their children!
One of the things we do very well in this community is nurture our children. We look after them; guide them; protect them; and, perhaps more than we should, we hover over them. The result is our children feel about as safe and secure as it’s possible for them to feel. That’s part of why going out on their own to college is a traumatic experience for both parents and children. The parents will no longer be there to make sure things go well for their children who are, for better or worse, out from under parental protection and security on a strange college campus fraught with all sorts of temptations, which is the view many parents have of college. Their children will discover, rather quickly, that the security of home and hearth are no longer there and that decision-making is, perhaps for the first time, totally up to them. That can be very traumatic, but it’s as it should be.
Those who have been down this road, parents and children alike, know the trepidation of going off to college. Will I find new friends? Will I like my roommate? Where can I do my laundry? What classes should I take? Where’s the bookstore? Will I like my instructors? Will I be homesick? These and a hundred other unspoken concerns impact every new college student. But the point is, questions like these have always plagued new college students, and most incoming freshmen manage to sort through the answers successfully and, assuming they’re prepared to study, easily survive the first few weeks.
The transition, however, isn’t the same for some parents, especially those who are used to the close supervision and careful nurturing of their children. That loss of control can be even more traumatic for parents than finding where classes are for their children. (I know where the football stadium is, but where on earth is Maxwell Hall?)
For every young person who just graduated from RCHS, regardless of what he or she chooses to do next, there is something of a “rite of passage,” through which all of them will go. The passage is really from childhood to being a responsible adult. Most go through it successfully, but there is an increasing number who fall by the wayside, usually because of the difficulty parents have letting go and the loss of the security and comfort the children experience. This is especially true for the overly nurtured child who suddenly finds himself “on his own” on a strange campus, even if that campus is only a few miles from home.
I think I can offer some useful advice, having been through this exercise three times and from listening to the experiences of others. First, leaving for college or trade school or whatever the new graduate plans to do should not be the first time away from home. There are all sorts of summer camps young people can attend, everything from day camps to one and two-week overnight camps (or longer) in the area. Making sure a son or daughter goes to a summer camp a few times will help pave the way for the larger step of going to college after high school. Sometimes it’s called “separation anxiety” and it’s totally understandable, but, realistically, no parent really wants their children to spend the rest of their lives living at home with Mom and Dad (unless the parents are unbelievably selfish). Early camping experiences are a very good way to get used to a child being away in small steps.
Second, it’s particularly important for nurturing parents to keep their trepidation to themselves. Letting a child know how upset they are at the thought of a son or daughter going out into the world will only make if more difficult for the child to start that “rite of passage.”
Third, and probably most importantly, parents should not encourage a child to come home every weekend just because they miss them. The more time a new college freshman spends at home, especially during that first semester, the more likely that student will be to drop out and move back in with mom and dad. By the same token, parents should insist that their new college student stay on campus until they’ve gotten used to being there and being part of campus life. The best advice I ever had was “don’t come home until Thanksgiving break.” Parents who allow their children to come home every weekend are simply being “enablers” and making it more likely their son or daughter will end up dropping out.
Nearly every new student is going to experience some homesickness, and parents can either help or hurt, depending on how they handle the plaintive calls from a son or daughter. The best approach is to take a firm stand and, while recognizing that feelings of homesickness are real, point out that they will pass in a few days, especially if the new student gets out of their dorm room and gets to know other students or signs up for an activity on campus.
Among the foregoing pieces of advice, the worst thing the parent of a new college freshman can do is fall back into over-nurturing mode and telling little Hubert or Mary Sue that “it’s perfectly fine to come on back home.” Doing so will all but guarantee that the new college student will end up as a permanent house guest of mom and dad for, possibly, years to come. Sometimes it’s tough for a parent to let go, but in the long run it’s absolutely the right thing to do.
That’s -30- for this week.