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If your child is starting life in college, there's a surprise around every corner...
But that doesn't mean you can't be prepared! The Naked Roommate: For Parents
Only is a witty and wise guide to everything you need to know about the college experience. Harlan Cohen, America's most trusted college life expert, delivers the best advice, facts, stats, tips, and stories from ...
If your child is starting life in college, there's a surprise around every corner...
But that doesn't mean you can't be prepared! The Naked Roommate: For Parents
Only is a witty and wise guide to everything you need to know about the college experience. Harlan Cohen, America's most trusted college life expert, delivers the best advice, facts, stats, tips, and stories from parents, students, and experts across the country to ensure that you and your child will have an incredible and meaningful college experience.
The Summer Before
Calling, Texting, and Facebooking
To A or Not to B
Paying the Bills
The First Few Months
Keeping Them Safe
HARLAN COHEN is the author of The Naked Roommate , the bestselling student guide to college life, and Dad's Pregnant
Too. His advice column "Help Me, Harlan!" is distributed by
King Features Syndicate. He is a speaker who has visited more than four hundred college campuses.
Visit Harlan at www.HelpMeHarlan.com
“No matter what happens, remember that we are proud of you.”
On a note my mom wrote to me when she dropped me off my freshman year—Gracie, junior, UC–San Diego
The New College Parent
Welcome, young parent. (I know you might feel old having a kid in college, so I used the word “young” in the first sentence of the book to help make this a happier experience.) Welcome to your child’s college experience. It’s so real you can see it all, hear it all, and sometimes, even smell it all. You are more connected, have access to more information, pay more, want to be more involved, and are more likely to email, call, text, tweet, Facebook, fix, force, solve, strong arm, and make sure your child is as comfortable as possible.
As your son or daughter walks through the college experience, you are literally in your child’s hand. You are with him or her in class, during exams, while eating in the dining halls, studying at night, going to parties, coming home in the early morning, and sleeping over at a “friend’s” room (just resting, nothing else). You are there on the very best days and the very worst ones too. All it takes is a push of a button and you can be there to comfort, guide, support, advise, elevate, empower, excite, motivate, love, and just listen. And more than ever, college students are calling, emailing, texting, and reaching out. You are more accessible, more present, and more a part of the college experience than any generation of parents before you. You are The New College Parent.
People look at me cross-eyed when I tell them that we talk to our son on average every other week. Other parents tell me they talk to their kids every day. That’s fine. Whatever works for you! He knows we’ll call if something is really important, and we know he’ll do the same. In between calls, I’ll send him a text from work once in a while just to tell him I miss him.
—Mom of college sophomore
Twenty years ago, parents were lucky to hear about a child’s problems during a weekly call; drama that unfolded on Monday was hardly important six days later on the following Sunday. Today a parent often hears about an issue as it unfolds in real time. Even worse, sometimes a student resolves the issue and forgets to tell the parent. So while the student has moved on to the next problem, he forgets to tell Mom or Dad. Meanwhile Mom and Dad are busy working to find a solution to the first problem, and the student has already moved on to the next problem. Drama unfolds quickly in college. Twenty-five years ago a child in college would talk to Mom or Dad once a week or less. Today some students are in contact with a parent several times a day.
A parent doesn’t just hear about a messy roommate; now you get to see a live video feed of your kid’s roommate’s dirty underwear on your child’s bed (yes, that’s the new bedding you just bought under that dirty underwear).
My roommate’s mom gives her a wake-up call every morning. And then there’s at least two more phone calls a day. But she doesn’t seem to mind it. Her mom will even text her while we are at parties and tell her not to drink too much, which I think is a little strange. My mom and I talk about once every two days for about thirty minutes. If I sound homesick or upset on the phone (even though I would never tell her), she figures it out and there is either a card or a small package in the mail for me two days later. I know my mom misses me, but we made a deal that I wouldn’t come home and she wouldn’t come here for the first month. I am so glad we decided to do that. It has made it so much easier to become adjusted, and I feel like I’m not as homesick, because I get to spend weekends meeting people and making new friends instead of spending time at home with my old friends.
Before you roll your eyes and think this is all crazy, it’s important to understand that students are willing participants in this relationship. Some children like having you as an active participant. Some will never tell you to stop. Some will ask you to call them in the morning with a wake-up call (and you better not). When something happens in the life of a first-year student, many times they want their parents to be involved.
When there’s good news to share, this is fantastic. When it’s not such good news, it’s not so fantastic. Sometimes they just want you to listen. Other times they want help working through the situation. Sometimes they want you to swoop in and solve the problem.
The amount of information, the kind of information, and the way you’re getting the information is something no parent before you has had to process. Whether you are hands-on or hands-off, you’re always close enough to lend a hand. Whether your student lives on campus or commutes, you risk seeing things and hearing things that will pull you into this experience. And students love that you love to solve problems, so if you let them, they might be willing to let you solve it all.
THE ROLE OF PARENTS ACCORDING TO ONE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT
The relationships parents have with the university can now be called in loco amicus, friends of the community and partnership.
—Dr. E. Gordon Gee, president, The Ohio State University
Being so involved and so accessible means that parents need to know more. They need to understand the college experience. They need to have a baseline of what’s normal and what’s not. They need to be informed and aware so they can alleviate problems, instead of elevating them. They need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable so they can guide, support, and help their children do the same. How a parent responds to the constant ticker tape of breaking news and emotions is a direct reflection of how much parents know and how comfortable parents can get with the uncomfortable.
My roommate had his girlfriend over for the night. I sent a text to my dad: “Should I go in to go to bed, or what?” He said, “Just do it.” I then noisily said good night to the rest of my suitemates and entered the bedroom. Turns out they were asleep; they weren’t doing anything. Phew.
College is 90 percent amazing and 10 percent difficult (or a bunch of BS). A new college parent who understands the 10 percent difficult can keep the 10 percent from taking up 100 percent of your time and your child’s time. That’s what this book is about. The tips, stories, and suggestions will help you develop a baseline so you can calm your fears, find answers, and help your child have the very best college experience.
My College Experience:
I Never Saw It Coming
Before I share the story of my first-year experience with you, I want to make it clear that my college experience was overwhelmingly amazing. It just so happens that my 10 percent BS came during the first few months of college life. I’m grateful to have experienced it and lucky I didn’t have a cell phone, email, or the ability to stay more connected to my family, friends, and long-distance girlfriend. If so, I don’t know if I would have been able to get to know myself so well and grow up so fast.
My college experience started when I was ten years old. I was in the backseat when we dropped my oldest brother off on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. As we drove back home, my mom said, “I’ll only cry to Indianapolis.” As she puts it, “I sobbed to Martinsville, I cried to Indianapolis. And I whimpered all the way to Chicago.” Three years later, my other brother went off to begin his college experience. He drove himself to campus and moved right into the fraternity house.
We had to call the police on two parents. One mom complained that the room was too small for a double. The other mother in the room told her to relax. That’s when the demanding mother slapped her.
—Sophomore, resident assistant
Five years later, my own college experience began. As the car rolled down the driveway, my stomach rolled too. I was anxious, excited, nervous, sad, and sick to my stomach. I knew this was the next step in my life, but to me it felt more like I was being pushed. Life was good at home. I had friends, a girlfriend, and people who liked me. When it came to researching my college decision, I didn’t do a lot of it. I knew I wanted a big school experience, but didn’t do enough research to know why. I decided to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison. UW–Madison had a great reputation, and I thought it might be a good fit (whatever a good fit is for someone who doesn’t know what it means to find a good fit).
What could go wrong?
After two and a half hours, we arrived on campus. My parents and brother stayed long enough to help move me in, not long enough to embarrass me. They said their goodbyes and drove back to Chicago.
I watched their car leave and felt so incredibly alone. I had no cell phone to call them. There was no email to write, no text to send. I was on my own.
I headed up to my room to hang out with my roommate for the first time. We had talked on the phone once or twice to discuss what each of us would bring. He was relaxed about everything. The fact that he was so relaxed made me even more anxious.
We talked for a few minutes. He said his number-one goal was to not go into rehab like his older brother. Minutes later, he reached into his backpack and pulled out some sort of shrubbery. I wasn’t familiar with this particular shrub. He offered me a hit. I told him I was full (I didn’t know what else to say). The next week, he moved out. He wanted to be with someone who partied (not that this would help his goal of not going into rehab).
This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be with my roommate. My roommate was supposed to be a best friend. He was supposed to be standing at my wedding. He wasn’t supposed to move out after one week in college.
Not knowing anyone on campus and not having many options in terms of friends, I was left to make the most of the people on my floor. The people in my hall became my “friends.” Even if they were the biggest a-holes in the world, they became new friends.
After a few weeks, I started hanging out with some of my new friends. When most of my friends decided to rush a fraternity, I decided to rush too. A few weeks later, rush ended and they all got bids (invitations to join)—everyone but me. The next day I was literally asked to leave the room when my “new friends” hung out, because I couldn’t be with them while they discussed pledge secrets. They had fraternity events, date parties, and rituals that put me on the outside looking in.
I called my parents once a week. Usually we talked on Sunday nights, but there wasn’t a firm time (my mom didn’t want there to be a firm time, because if I didn’t call she would think there was a problem). Occasionally we would talk more often, but mostly it was a weekly conversation. Long-distance calls were expensive. Finding privacy to talk was a challenge.
In academics I found relief from the constant social jockeying for position. In the classroom I knew my place. I knew my role. I didn’t have to worry about talking to people, because part of the classroom experience was talking. I managed to excel in the classroom. In fact, my education was the best part of my experience. It was everything outside the classroom that was uncomfortable.
But in college, class is just a few hours a day at most. Taking 15 hours of classes leaves 153 hours a week to kill. Subtract 7 hours of sleep a night and that’s 129 hours of time to fill. That’s a lot of time to be uncomfortable.
No one told me it would be lonely at times. No one told me it would be so emotional. I didn’t find my place at UW–Madison. In fact, I never felt more out of place. What was so frustrating was that all this was happening at a university where everyone was having the time of their lives. In my mind, I had to be defective, because the university was amazing and everyone else seemed so happy. It had to be me!
I had thought college was just supposed to be this magical, amazing experience. It was like being on a moving walkway—it was just supposed to be great. I expected college to be like high school, only with more freedom. I expected to magically find friends, find my place, feel happy, and feel at home. Here’s what no one told me:
If only I had known this was normal, I wouldn’t have spent so much time beating myself up emotionally. If only I knew to be more patient, I could have eased up the pressure on myself. If only I knew how to find my place, I could have taken action instead of being paralyzed with fear.
As my freshman experience got heavier, the only thing that lifted my spirits was my long-distance girlfriend. Her name was Alexis (still is Alexis). She was my high school sweetheart and she was still in high school. I loved her more than I loved myself (not hard considering I barely liked myself). I had no idea why she was so in love with me, but I didn’t want to ask, because I was afraid she might think about it and break up with me. It was first love for both of us, and it was intense as it could be.
She visited me on campus once. We talked several times a week, but not for too long (it was too expensive). As my first semester dragged on, my long-distance relationship became heavier and harder to maintain. She was having the time of her life as a senior in high school. I was a bummer. Our relationship couldn’t sustain the weight of my first-year transition. After a few months of us trying to make it work, Alexis’s dad had a heart-to-heart conversation with her. He compared our relationship to a dying puppy, urging Alexis to shoot the puppy. Listening to her father’s wise advice, Alexis called me on the phone. Then she shot the puppy. It was over.
After crying over this relationship, a weight lifted. I realized that my girlfriend wasn’t always going to be there to make me happy. The guys on my floor weren’t always going to be there to make me happy. My loving parents and older brothers weren’t always going to be there to make me happy. I was the only one who was always going to be there for me. I was the one who had to make me happy. It was the first time in college that I realized that I was in charge of me. And this is when I took charge and college life changed for me. And what happened next? I transferred.
For me, transferring wasn’t about giving up or quitting. It was about doing my first-year experience over again. Even though my second semester in college was far better than the first, I still had lingering feelings from the rough start. I wanted a “do over.”
Both of my brothers had attended Indiana University, and it was always a comfortable place (I didn’t even realize why it was so appealing at the time). I thought I knew what I could expect there, because I was familiar with the campus. My parents supported my decision (they had never seen me so sad and wanted me to be happy). The next fall, I drove myself to Indiana and moved myself in. I didn’t call this my sophomore year—I called it my second freshman year.
Amazingly, most of the problems I dealt with my first freshman year were waiting for me in my second freshman year in some form or another—only the second time around I knew the secret. I knew what was coming. Instead of letting the 10 percent take up 100 percent of my time like it had during my first freshman year, I got involved on campus. I gave my roommate permission to not be my best friend. I approached my professors and gave them permission to know that I didn’t know the answer. I was patient. I was kinder to myself. I put myself in rooms where I didn’t know people. I surrounded myself with the type of people I wanted to get to know. I put myself in the right places to do the things I wanted to do. I knew what college was about. I knew how to win.
The Naked Roommate has been my way of preparing students for all the things I wish someone had told me about before I started college. This book is a guide for you, so that you understand all the same issues. As a New College Parent, it’s vital that you get comfortable with the uncomfortable first. So you can help, support, and guide your child later.
About the Second Edition
A Very Naked Beginning
Introduction: The New College Parent
Your College Experience (and Theirs)
Tip #1 The Summer Before
Tip #2 Summer/Fall Orientation
Tip #3 Shopping, Packing, and Shipping
Tip #4 Community College
Tip #5 Move-In Day
Tip #6 Calling, Texting, and Chatting
Tip #7 Facebook
Tip #8 Residential Living
Tip #9 Roommates
Tip #10 The First Few Months
Tip #11 Homesickness
Tip #12 Visiting
Tip #13 Student Involvement
Tip #14 Greek Life
Tip #15 Academic Excellence
Tip #16 Major Decisions
Tip #17 Money, Money, Money
Tip #18 A Parent's Guide to College Dating
Tip #19 The Sex Talk
Tip #20 The Gay Talk
Tip #21 Drugs and Alcohol
Tip #22 Keepin' 'Em Safe
Tip #23 Keepin' 'Em Healthy
Tip #24 The Student Body Image
Tip #25 Transferring
A Very Naked Ending
About the Editorial Content
The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only Online
The Author Online
Author Speaking Events
Read "Help Me, Harlan!" in Your Local or College Newspaper
About the Author
Posted September 20, 2012