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Everything parents need to know

By Nina Conrad
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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You've been through the terror of college applications and campus visits and the kid has finally made a decision. The packing lists are made, and you've already been shopping for dorm-sized bed sheets and plastic storage drawers. It's a reality. Your child is about to head off to college, and you have absolutely no idea what to do. If you're like my mom, and thousands of other parents around the country, it's time to buy a self-help book.

There are almost as many college guides for parents as there are for students. I only had 10 minutes to pick one up between class and work, so I grabbed the first one I found at the UofA Bookstore - Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money, by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller. The mission: to find out if this Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years will actually help parents get a clue.

I have to admit I was a bit cynical from the moment I read the book's title, since I hate asking for money and I love talking to my mom. Seventeen dollars seemed a hefty price to pay for parents to learn that their students are ungrateful money vacuums. But I was soon pacified.

The first chapter of the book suggests parents develop a mentoring relationship with their children by building mutual trust, respect and communication skills. The idea is if a mom knows how to address her son with respect and trust, he'll be more likely to respond the same way. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the book seemed vaguely familiar, and I realized my mom uses similar conversation starters on me. Maybe she learned something from her parenting guide after all.

The book lays out hundreds of scenarios that students and their parents face during the college years, from roommate conflicts to time management issues. Samples of appropriate dialogue are included with just about every scenario. There are also sections on how to support a student through legal, financial and personal dilemmas including arrests, illness and rape.

Especially valuable was a chapter entitled "So, YOU always wanted to be a doctor," about defining career goals and changing majors. We have all heard that a high percentage of students change majors at least once during college, but it's natural to think your student is an exception to the rule. Think again. These statistics don't come from nowhere. I can't think of anyone I know who hasn't added a major, switched majors or dropped a major during his or her college career, myself included.

Another valuable read was the section about saying goodbye. In addition to the practical advice that the book offers, like not to prolong the visit by offering to unpack, not to cry in the roommate's presence and not to order your child to write home at least once a week, I'd like to add that the goodbye moment is a little late for sex education. As my parents left my dorm room, my dad handed me a package wrapped in a plastic Wal-Mart bag and told me it was "just in case."

After they were gone, my roommate asked, "Is that a box of condoms?" It was indeed. Even my dad's discreet wrapping had not disguised his embarrassing gift. I would recommend planning ahead such momentous occasions as the presentation of a young adult's first contraceptives.

Unfortunately, there was no suggestion as to what to do if your student doesn't just come out and tell you about every little thing he or she has been doing away from home. It's easy for a kid to tell mom she's going to chill at home for the night, then go out to hit the bars on a fake ID as soon as she hangs up. But imagine mom's shock if her little angel gets caught. My advice is to let your kids know that you won't judge them, but you want to know the truth. People change when they go to college, and it's better for parents to be informed even if they don't necessarily approve of the changes.

Overall, Don't Tell Me was an informative read. Although a lot of its advice is common sense, it will probably provide comfort to nervous parents who need to be reassured that sending a kid to college is not the end of the world. It's only the end of ever having money in your pocket.

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