College Is Not Summer Camp

Time is running out. Summer vacation is almost over. Some of us are getting ready to send a son or daughter off to college for his or her first year. The chaos is outrageous.

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Time is running out. Summer vacation is almost over. Some of us are getting ready to send a son or daughter off to college for his or her first year. The chaos is outrageous.

In some families, you would think their college coed was going to Guam for a life sentence. Others make it sound like it will be a year away at summer camp. Still other parents are frightened. Unfortunately, that fright is legitimate.

College life is not what it once was. College students who go away to school no longer go away to an insulated, protected, supervised environment. The challenges that students face away at school are as troubling as those they would face at home. Two things are drastically different. First, there is little or no accountability. Short of the college or university being a military school, there is little supervision, no matter what the school officials tell you. Your seventeen or eighteen year old is pretty much on his or her own.

The second element that is missing is that there is not much human support. Don't misunderstand. There are caring staff and counselors available, if a student needs to reach out or shows signs of difficulty. However, few schools have faculty and staff who check on "John Doe Nobody" on a regular basis.

In the year 2001, most colleges and universities, both private and state, have impressive mission statements and excellent student handbooks. Too often, the problem is the tension caused by the difference between what is on paper and what is the lived experience.

Too many freshmen go away to school in search of freedom. That is not a bad or crazy thing to desire. However, few freshmen, no matter what their GPA, are equipped with the tools to handle this newfound freedom appropriately.

So what do you do to help prepare your first year college coed for this life changing experience? Simply call a spade a spade. Acknowledge that you, as a parent, know they will have limitless freedom with little or no accountability. Express your concerns. Don't try to control that which you can't. Ultimatums never work. Your best hope is to convince your son or daughter that college should be the greatest time in his or her life. Encourage them to have fun but also to learn and grow. Balance and moderation are key.

Every college freshman should go away to college with a very clear understanding of what is expected. College is not a free for all or one extended party with permission.

Before you make your journey, there should be a series of very focused conversations around academic responsibility, social responsibility and personal - family responsibility.

As parents, we should not sermonize or preach. That would be an exercise in futility. Try to talk in dialogue form about your concerns, your fears and your hopes, always returning back to responsible decision-making.

A college student's first responsibility should be successful academics. Thus, it is not unreasonable that your student be expected to pass all of his or her classes. A minimum grade of "C" which is average should be the standard. If a student begins the term with fifteen credits, he or she should successfully finish the term with fifteen credits. Dropping classes should not be the norm. It could jeopardize one's financial aid, depending on one's credit load. It could also become an easy out every time a class becomes difficult. (There are however some exceptions to this rule.)

The other area of major concern should be your son or daughter's deportment. I don't think any parent expects perfection or sanctity. However, reckless, irresponsible behavior should not be tolerated either. It is not unreasonable to expect your college freshman to obey the drug and alcohol laws of the place where they live. Most colleges and universities have become very sensitive to drug and alcohol misuse and abuse. Some schools have some very strict consequences for students who choose not to comply with their policies. Usually, non-compliance results in high fines, some form of treatment or even ultimate dismissal from the college community.

Taking care of one's health is another critical concern. Burning the candle at both ends is dangerous. Thus, encourage your college student to find a social rhythm that is relatively healthy. Pulling all nighters every weekend is a sure ticket to a very brief tenure away at school. Even Superman would have a tough time keeping that pace.

Diet is also important. College students are notorious for eating poorly. Most schools have meal plans that are reasonable. Eating healthy should be a priority.

If your son or daughter is feeling overwhelmed, you should urge him or her to reach out immediately to someone in the counseling center. Most colleges and universities have well staffed counseling centers available free of charge for students who just need to talk. Sometimes college students get overwhelmed with all the freedom, schoolwork and social work of college life. It can be helpful for them just to have a place to rant and possibly even reconfigure their personal schedule, so it is less stressful and more manageable.

Counseling should never be perceived as a stigma or a weakness. If anything, to seek such assistance before disaster strikes should be seen as a strength and a sign of developing maturity.

A college freshman's first semester away is not a walk in the park. It is challenging, at times threatening and depressing, but approached properly it can be empowering, exciting and a heck of a lot of fun.

As parents, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that our children going away for the first time are going to be free of struggle, even after we have had our series of conversations. They are still going to test their limits, pull their all nighters, skip class for long weekends and party on a Wednesday night instead of going to the library.

Hopefully, they will quickly find some balance, act relatively responsible, keep in touch and not lose sight that school is a priority.

As you hug and kiss good-bye, remind your college coed that you love them and will miss them and that you are there if they need you. However, if they fail out after the first term because of poor social choices, they will be held accountable, the party will be over and being a commuter student will be their only option.

Remember not to rescue or enable, but rather to encourage and empower. "If you give a person a fish, you feed that person for a day. If you teach a person to fish, you feed that person for a lifetime." Teach your college coed to fish!