Hissy Fit - September 2023 - College 101: For Parents

...because everyone needs one every once in awhile


September 2023 Issue
by Elizabeth Skenes Millen

Last month, Facebook was filled with happy pictures of parents dropping
their children off at college and setting up cute dorm rooms,
all of which is a wonderfully exciting time. Congratulations to you all!
You’ve worked many years to get your children to this point.

Some freshmen are filled with dreams and aspirations, while others are excited to be at college, but have no idea what they want to do career-wise, and that’s alright. While I had a great career in marketing, I didn’t find what I really wanted to do until I was 38 years old, but my years spent at college helped me get there. A college education expands far beyond academics. In fact, most graduates come out of college knowing more about how to persevere, how to get along with people, how to say no to a party in order to make it to graduation, and how to negotiate (or plead) with professors than understanding the ins and outs of business law or calculating odds in statistics.

I was not a disciplined student, and in hindsight, even though I graduated 36 years ago, I still regret it. There are parts of academic opportunities I was offered in college that I squandered, and I regret that, too. Maybe the old proverb that states “Youth is wasted on the young” has merit. I know for a fact, if I retook every college course I took during my four years to earn my BS in business administration, I would be more engaged and my grades would reflect it.

Now, with hindsight being 20/20, in addition to having sent my own children away to college, I have a few suggestions that I wish I would have adhered to in my own experiences.

My strict father told me I wasn’t allowed to go to college. College was something he nor any of his six siblings were ever given hope for. Nonetheless, I insisted I was going to college, and with the help of my mother, I made it to the College of Charleston, right on time—the fall after high school graduation. I was excited about two things: college and freedom, and freedom dictated my lifestyle for a while. Here’s where my father did me a huge favor: He told me I had four years, and that’s it. I knew he was as serious as a heart attack, and I was walking across that stage getting my degree four years later. Granted, I did it the hard way, but I did it—no excuses.

Parents! You must enforce the four-year rule unless your child’s degree requires more years. As parents, we did not sign up to pay and support children to stay in college for six or seven years, taking their sweet time, minimizing semesters to 9 or 12 hours, living on easy street. Seriously, frat boys should not be 25 or 26 years old. When you give them a deadline, you will help them succeed and require them to find and enforce good habits to achieve this goal. In addition, your child entering into the workforce at age 21 or 22, gives them a brilliant head start for promotions, raises and savings, while Mister or Miss “I’m on the 7-year-plan” is concerned about where the next beer pong game is. The students who graduate on time may well end up being the stragglers’ bosses by the time they are 25.

This next suggestion is tough but important, and it requires tough love: If your child bombs first semester—that is September through December of their first year—do not allow them to go back after Christmas. If you do, expect another bomb. Believe me, Santa can’t deliver over one Christmas break the kind of discipline, behavior modification and maturity needed to not bomb second semester. However, what can make those traits kick in real fast is taking away the privilege of going to college and letting them figure it out. Kids—and parents—need to remember attending college is a privilege, not a right…and especially not a free ride. Parents put real money into their children’s college education, and bombing out is a total waste of money—gone forever with not a thing to show for it. Did you realize, based on in-state tuition, every class missed is the equivalent of throwing away approximately $230. Every. Single. Class. College students never think of it in these terms. If there was a stack of bills totaling $230 in cash waiting for them at each class, do you think they would you show up? Of course they would—that’s serious beer money. Tell them how much they lose every time they skip a class.

Colleges love to leave parents out, except for the money part. You can’t call the school and get your children’s grades—they’re confidential. As such, my suggestion, is to set up and implement an accountability system between you and your child. I’m not suggesting babying them, walking them through every little thing, or solving their problems. And, for God’s sake don’t do their work for them! I’m telling you to hold them accountable. All people perform better when they are held responsible. In holding your child accountable, you are teaching life skills that will help them navigate life forever. It’s like almost switching from a parental role to more of a success coach role, and why not? Not only are you helping your child succeed, you are also protecting your investment. When else would you fork over more than $22,000 in a year and just leave it all to chance and not worry about it?

Finally, expect your child to succeed. Have a serious discussion and tell them what your expectations are. Explain how you are the silent partner in their educational endeavor of college. Tell them you, too, have skin in the game. Tell them other things you could do with that money and what you are sacrificing to set them up to excel in life. They need to know this stuff! Explain how important their success in college is to the trajectory of their career and life. Map out the expectations, and put them in writing. Send a copy to school with your child. When people know what is expected of them, they perform better and flounder less, which usually bolsters happiness and confidence.

Many college students deal with severe stress, depression and anxiety, and much of it is due to not staying on the right track. It’s hard to not feel stress when you know you have skipped classes, are behind on homework, have two papers that were due yesterday, and you’re too nervous to talk to the professor. College is hard. I never laid out expectations for my children or held them accountable. No one did that for me either. There’s another regret. It would have been such a gift.

All of this may sound harsh, especially in today’s childrearing environment, but your college student will thank you. It’s a game-plan to Go! Fight! Win! And, isn’t that what we all want for our children?