College 101: A Parent's Guide
Yes, college has arrived. And with it, a whole slew of new parental dilemmas you never dreamed would sneak up on you so fast. Oh, for the diaper days.
As a recent graduate of Princeton University , it was a good thing that I learned a few of these lessons during college.
The independence that comes from being in college is crucial for the transition between the steadfast stewardship of the home and the caustic reality of the real world. Without it, so many grads like myself might never have mustered the courage to escape the nest and strike out on our own. Likewise, college is as much a learning experience for you, our parents, as it is for us. Let's begin your education.
Lesson 1: She is still a kid
While your child is away pumping her brain full of valuable knowledge and enjoying an endless stream of nighttime revelry, you will be getting an education of your own: one in responsible, hands-off parenting.
To begin, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you proud of the work you've done as a parent thus far?
- Do you trust your child to know right from wrong and to live her life the way you've brought her up to?
No matter how wonderful a job you did, your child is going to make stupid choices—lots of them! It's much better that she learns these lessons in common sense and maturity now rather than somewhere down to the road, when she's much too old to be excused. Even better, she might finally understand why you had all those rules in place!
Lesson 2: She still needs her parents
I think one of the hardest things for parents to do is to stay interested and involved without being overbearing. I remember getting phone calls from my parents while I was away at school. There would be weeks when I would get hourly checkups to see how my thesis was progressing, and I would snap at them to leave me alone! Get used to hearing things such as this, but please don't take it personally: It's not you, it's college. Then there would be weeks when I wouldn't hear from them at all, and these times were always very sad and lonely.
No matter how many friends you have around you, it is the most wonderful feeling to know that you have a loving family at home who cares for you unconditionally. Even though they might pretend they don't like it, everyone likes to get a phone call from home a few times a week so they know someone is there to listen.
- Call your child just to ask how she's doing, and see how she's feeling. A little sympathy goes a long way.
- Ask her if she needs help with anything. She might be too proud to ask for it, but you'll be surprised by the many things your child is struggling with if you just offer a helping hand.
- Remind her that you love her for who she is, but reward her with praise for things she have worked hard to achieve. It is important to know the value of perseverance and persistence and to be proud of excelling at something that didn't come naturally. There is no shame in outworking (rather than outsmarting) everybody else.
- Bond with your child by sharing stories from your college years. It is thrilling for us as children to hear what our parents were like long before we were even a twinkle in their eyes. Telling stories of your own misguided youth is also a great way to sneak in a few extra life lessons and spare your child the same humiliation you might have endured.
You may think college is all books and booze, but it is so much more. The next few years away at school are sure to be some of the most momentous in your child's life.
There will be nights when she doesn't sleep, days when she subsists on protein bars alone and weeks when she doesn't shower—during which time she can gladly stay well away from you. She will also have the joy that comes from years spent gaining life experience and personal knowledge that have nothing at all to do with classrooms or books…or parental guidance.
College is a contained free fall in many ways, and the things you pick up along the way can last you a lifetime. Whether it's bad eating habits or good study habits, her peers will be your child's greatest teachers and role models during their time at school. They will spend 24 hours a day together, eating, sleeping, studying and partying with one another.
Though it is the approval of these friends and peers that your child will be most eager to achieve at the outset, you may be surprised to find that it is your approval she ultimately wants. Give her the affirmation she needs to be confident in the woman she is becoming. Recognize, though, that who she thinks she wants to be will change 17 times before she graduates. Do not judge, but gently guide your child as she selects those habits that will serve her best in the future. Give your child space to grow and in time she will find her way back to you again, but only after she's found a bit of herself, too.
Daphne Oz is the author of the national best-seller The Dorm Room Diet and The Dorm Room Diet Planner and creator of the Dorm Room Diet Workout DVD . A 2008 graduate of Princeton University, she was a featured speaker at the 2009 Aspen Institute's Aspen Health Forum, as well as the 2008 California Governor's Women's Conference, hosted by Maria Shriver. Daphne is the daughter of Lisa and Dr. Mehmet Oz, co-author of the best-sellers You: The Owner’s Manual, You: The Smart Patient, You: On a Diet, You: Staying Young and You: Being Beautiful . She has three younger siblings: Arabella, Zoe and Oliver. Daphne lives in New York City, where she is creating a webisode series to help young people learn to cook for themselves and is working on her next book.