NEW YORK TIMES
One way to help avoid the dangers of college drinking is to choose a "substance free" dorm like this one at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Surveys have shown that students who live in substance-free housing don't indulge as much as others.
What really goes on when your child goes off to college
Hawaii parents can help college-bound kids prepare for their newfound freedom
» FIRST | SECOND OF TWO PARTS
HAWAII students headed for college on the mainland will experience freedom they've never had before when they leave the nest, but they'll also face troubling, even dangerous situations they probably don't anticipate.
Talking with your teenagers about nonacademic subjects like casual sex, depression and binge drinking might turn your hair gray, but ignoring them isn't going to help students handle these situations when they inevitably come up. Star-Bulletin contributor C. Richard Fassler can help you help your child negotiate the hazards of living far from home.
IT'S 6 P.M., Tuesday night, May 1, 2007. Students, parents and alumni gather at college-prep Iolani School to discuss The College Experience.
It's called "Life after Iolani," and I've participated in these panel sessions many times over the years. Seniors who have been bombarded with the dreaded "C-word" since their freshman year have, for one last time, come together to ask questions -- lots of questions -- about roommates and rice cookers, Asian sororities, snow and how to get the cheapest air fare to Boston. Occasionally, a girl will want to know if the "freshman 15" is for real.
It's rare to hear a single question about alcohol abuse, mental health problems or casual sex. Yet these are the three most important issues facing college kids today.
The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech has raised parents' anxiety level. The anxiety is particularly acute for Hawaii parents with kids in college on the mainland. I am convinced, from interacting with hundreds of Hawaii students who attended schools both here and overseas, that those who go abroad will enjoy a richer college experience that will better prepare them for their future. But their odyssey will include stress-producing challenges -- strange food, strange weather, strange people, strange situations. In today's world -- in today's college scene -- it often takes a tough kid to thrive and prosper outside of this state.
My last article in this series -- about calming pre-college jitters -- was for students. OK, kids -- out of the room! I want to talk to your folks.
Parents, I want to present you with some important considerations that you won't read about in the school's literature or in U.S. News; won't hear about from college counselors; and definitely won't learn from your child's friends at some university. The general attitude out there toward the negative aspects of college is "They'll learn ... surviving the bad stuff is all part of the growing-up process."
This is like teaching children how to swim by throwing them into the deep end of the pool ... with crocodiles.
Me? I would want to make sure my kid doesn't drown. Let's take a quick look at today's college scene, and then see if there are some things you can do. Remember, you should have a strong interest in your child's safety and happiness because: 1. it's your money and it's a lot of money; and 2. the safety and happiness of your child will determine that child's success in college.
COLLEGES AREN'T "PARENTS" ANYMORE
Parents must realize that times have changed -- drastically -- since they were in school. I attended Kenyon College -- a small, liberal arts, all-male institution in Ohio -- in the 1960s. The '60s were turbulent, but the war in Vietnam was far away. We could sail through "security" at the airport. We didn't have 9/11, Littleton or Blacksburg.
During my junior year, one cold and dreary winter day, my buddy Mike and I decided to cut out of school and hitchhike to warm and sunny Miami. When we returned two weeks later, we discovered that we had created a firestorm. The dean hauled us into his office, gave us a stern lecture and told us that we would be expelled if we ever did anything like that again. Of course, he told our parents, who were ready to disown us.
You see, in those days, parents entrusted their child to a college that acted "in loco parentis" -- in their place. Nowadays, students arriving on campus are swept away by the amount of freedom they have. Those who have turned 18 are legally independent from you! Cut out of school? You aren't going to find out. Failing grades? You aren't going to find out about those, either. Attempt suicide and end up in the hospital? You won't be told. I heard of one young man who dropped out of the University of Washington. The school didn't inform his folks and they continued paying his tuition.
All this comes at a time when college costs are skyrocketing, so that the nonresident expense at a public institution for the 2006-2007 school year was $26,304, and $33,301 at a private school. My wife and I paid $41,000 a year for our daughter at Williams College in Massachusetts. When she was recently accepted to grad school at Columbia, the tuition soared to $58,000!
Would you buy a Mercedes if there were no guarantee it would run? I doubt it. But few parents consider themselves "consumers" when it comes to paying for college. They simply accept what the school has to offer because they're so grateful their child got in.
But what did they get in to? And this is why I urge caution before saying a quick "yes" to that acceptance letter. You will most likely find that the school is spending millions on the latest Nautilus equipment, indoor rock climbing and a cafeteria with 20 flavors of Ben & Jerry's, but also reducing expenditures on preventing alcohol abuse, suicides or sexual assaults. Here are some things to check out.
The biggest shock your child will receive when entering college -- repeat, the biggest shock -- will be the drinking scene. He or she will be totally unprepared for the experience, and you will have no idea of what they are going through. Students might vow not to drink, but the peer pressure will be enormous. Most will not resist, and most will -- dare I say it? -- participate enthusiastically. It is, indeed, to many, many kids, one of the most fun things about college.
Drinking is so pervasive on college campuses today that it can best be described as a generally accepted "rite of passage," as much a part of the scene as all-nighters and football weekends. At Williams -- a fairly typical college -- roughly half of the students responding to a survey reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks, with many attempting to "black out" -- pass out. Indeed, 40 percent said the social scene encourages excessive drinking. One Williams student was quoted in the school newspaper as saying, "There is no way to socialize without being heavily intoxicated." And what are the consequences?
Roughly 1,400 students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, and 600,000 students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking. College medical directors say that alcohol abuse is the No. 1 health problem on campus, but don't expect your child to sleep it off at the infirmary. These have been mostly eliminated due to high costs and liability issues. And in another example of schools' backing away from "in loco parentis," medical records will not be released. What to do?
Check out the college's reputation as a "party school." Some universities, like the University of Colorado and the University of Wisconsin, are notorious for their drinking scene. Also, check out whether the college has "wellness" (nondrinking) dorms. UH does. And obtain your child's written consent to be informed of his or her medical condition. Also, explore what efforts the school is making to curb excessive drinking. Hey! It's your money! Yes, there's something to be said about exposing your child to alcohol before college. But don't worry too much about that. If they're the average high school student in Hawaii, this has already happened.
» Next week: Sex and suicide
ABOUT THIS SERIES
This is the sixth in a series of occasional articles about college for Hawaii students by C. Richard Fassler. Previous articles published in the Star-Bulletin were:
» Nov. 30, 2003: Choosing a college
» June 13, 2004: Hell Summer: The transition from high school to college
» Nov. 14, 2004: Whether to attend college on the mainland or stay home
» Feb. 20, 2005: The great scholarship hunt is on for Hawaii students.
» Aug. 21, 2005: Calming the pre-college jitters
» May 27, 2007 What really goes on when your child goes off to college
» June 3, 2007 Suicide, sex part of college experience
See these articles online at starbulletin.com