When College Isn't Working

I’ve always thought that parents and teenagers spend way too much time worrying about getting into college and not enough on being prepared for college.

I was thinking about that this weekend after I left a birthday party Saturday at a restaurant in downtown San Diego for an old friend. About 200 people attended the mega birthday celebration and I kept running into people who either had kids in college or in high school.

The guest list was heavy on attorneys and people with advanced degrees – the husband is a lawyer and the wife is a wealth manager – but the college experience of the students that I heard about were a mixed bag. Some students had washed out after a dreadful first year. One had only made it two weeks before he asked his parents to pick him up.  In contrast, other students were flourishing at schools scattered across the country.

Sending Your Children Off the College

In some respects, it’s a leap of faith when we send our children off to school. When my husband and I sent our son off to college in August we thought he would do well, but obviously we didn’t know for sure. We hoped when he encountered the inevitable adversity that he could handle it. And we had a chance to find out when he told us shortly after the semester started that he didn’t like one of his professors. He thought the teacher was disorganized and was doing a poor job of explaining scientific concepts. Since the subject could end up being Ben’s major this was a problem.

Finding a Solution

After commiserating with Ben, I ended up reminding him that complaining wasn’t a solution. He had to figure out a way to make this class work for him.

I shared a story with Ben about a hard time that I  had as a young reporter at the Los Angeles Times when an editor took a disliking to me. I always thought the editor was a lightweight and I probably telegraphed my opinion of her. Bad move on my part. She ended up yanking me from the state political beat. I was devastated.

I spent weeks bitching about her until I realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere. My editor wasn’t going to change. Since all I could control were my own actions, I had to change to turn things about. I forced myself to start asking the editor her opinion about stories I was working on. When I saw her head to the cafeteria for coffee I did too just so I could strike up a friendly conversation. Eventually, I turned the situation around and the editor became my advocate.

Ben ended up coming up with his own solution. He started studying with a friend who was one of the smartest kids in the class. Ben also made sure that he always attended the class’s study group. He barely eked out a “B” in the class, but he persevered and it said something about this ability to handle adversity.  I was proud of him.

Different Parenting Skills

While helping kids develop coping skills makes sense, I don’t think there is any right parenting style. (The only one that I strongly object to is that of the Chinese tiger mother.)  On Sunday I went to brunch with the women in my book club. Among the nine women in the club, five of us have college freshmen at Beloit College,  Mount Holyoke College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Yale University (2). All of our children are doing well in college — so far — and we ended up talking about how we were raised. I should mention that the women are all accomplished, well read and progressive. What we all found fascinating yesterday was discovering how vastly different the parenting skills of our own parents were when we took turns talking about how we were raised.

I was raised in a very strict Irish Catholic family. My siblings and I were put to bed at 8 p.m. and we were forbidden to watch nearly all television shows because they were too racy — even Bonanza! Any movies that the Legion of Decency didn’t consider appropriate for children — which was almost all of them except Disney productions — were off limits.  In contrast, the parents of my best friend in the book group ran a skid row hotel in San Diego and he would regale his five kids with tales of prostitution and other vices that regularly took place at the hotel.

Who knows really why we turn out the way we do?

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.

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3 Responses to When College Isn't Working

  1. Jun January 24, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Hi,
    I understand that you don’t think there is any right parenting style, however the only one that you strongly object to is that of the Chinese tiger mother. Would you mind telling me why?
    Thanks.

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