Off to College She Goes!
Going away to college is a watershed moment. After all, everything changes: friends, living situations, expectations, rules, academics and independence. Most schools now offer orientations not only for incoming freshmen but for their parents as well since the adjustment can be so great. In particular, the relationship between the college-bound child and her parents can change significantly in these years.
I recently listened in on a conversation between Annie Jaffe, a recent Nottingham High School graduate, and her parents, Lisa Goldberg and Mitch Jaffe. They discussed how their relationship might evolve as Annie, the youngest of two girls, heads to Boston University in the fall. From their talk, I came up with suggestions for how parents and new college students can handle this transition.
Communicate. Annie describes her parents as her “two best friends” and admits that she’s rare among her peers in how much she talks to and trusts her parents. So, for Annie, who describes herself as independent, the hardest thing will be missing out on sharing what happens in any given day. She vowed to teach her parents how to Skype.
Reciprocate. Annie declared she wouldn’t be the type of person who would call at some fixed time once a week but that she’d call whenever she wanted to talk. Her mom asked, “But what if it’s not once a week?” Annie exclaimed, “It’ll be more!” What if her mom wanted to talk with her? After some back and forth, they decided that it would be best to text first. A text to assuage parental anxiety might simply be, “Are you OK?” A text to begin a conversation might be “Is this a good time to talk?”
Get real. Parents and kids should discuss real-life scenarios. What happens when you’re a college student out drinking and your friends want to stay out and you want to go home? What happens when the bookstore runs out of your books but there’s a reading due the next day? Where is it safe to go on a first date? It’s important that teens know how to solve problems and feel confident in their ability to do so. As Goldberg said, “If there’s one thing you can rely on in college, it’s that things won’t go as planned.”
Set boundaries. Annie must maintain a 3.2 grade point average to keep her scholarship to BU. Goldberg and Jaffe have made it clear that their support is also dependent upon her keeping up that 3.2, although they don’t believe that will be difficult for Annie. Similarly, they will give Annie a set amount of money for each semester. The expectation is that she will spend that on books and supplies. As they see it, the money is hers when they write her the check. How she chooses to spend it is part of her growth as an independent adult. Still, because they’ve been clear about their commitment and expectations, she won’t get more money than what’s been budgeted.
Manage (parental) anxiety. Goldberg admitted, “I can’t think about her out at night walking around.” Jaffe and Goldberg can be honest about their worries with each other, but they don’t plan to burden their daughter with their fears. Everyone needs to open up with someone, whether it’s a spouse, friend or support group. A mother’s anxiety from a distance of 200 miles probably isn’t helpful to a young adult trying to feel comfortable in the new culture of college.
Prepare. As Goldberg said, “Going off to college doesn’t just happen. It’s a process.” When teens leave, they should know how to care for themselves: They need to be able to do laundry, manage a bank account, pay bills, make their beds, clean their toilets, advocate for themselves and call strangers on the phone (about anything from doctor’s appointments to reservations). Annie’s been doing her laundry since eighth grade. She also talked about how the experiences she’s had through her job and extracurricular activities have allowed her the opportunity to think on her feet and act with confidence.
Goldberg and Jaffe want Annie to grow and experience the world, but they also want her to know she can always come home. Goldberg said, “I feel this incredible gratitude that we all got to this point and that I get to launch her. She’s not leaving us. We’re not losing her. We’re launching her.”
Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade. Send comments about this article to email@example.com.
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