Posted by: sailingspirit | April 11, 2011

Saving You Strife: College Tips pt.4

#4  Teach them how to be effective loners, self-diagnose accurately, and form a support network you will be a part of.  If you’ve equipped them according to the items above, there will be many–probably most–times they will be the only one who doesn’t go along to get along.  Because today, the kids who aren’t getting into trouble…don’t exist.  College campuses today make Vegas look like Sesame Street.  In all honesty, looking back at what I experienced and hearing more of how much worse it is today, I wouldn’t send my kid to a college dorm/apartment/greek house until they’re at least in Grad School.  I know, the nostalgia of it all makes it real disappointing.  But it really is that bad, and delaying the experience is different from denying it altogether.  If having them live at home or with a trusted family member is not possible for you, please properly equip them to be successful loners.  Boy can I tell you, Satan performs no less expertly on the individual than via peer pressure.  Most of his tactics are to isolate the weak ones from the herd, so even if your child isolates by choice, for the right reasons, he or she is still vulnerable.  Prolonged periods of this, especially when aggravated by reactive shunning and taunting of the “in” crowd, are extremely challenging.  Depression, self-mutilation, self-medication (alcohol or other drugs), dramatic increase in sexual activity, reckless driving, suicide, violence against others, animal abuse, illegal activity such as theft and property damage, and many other things result from lonliness.  I’ve seen all of these and more; I’ve experienced at least three of the above in my own life.  Telling a judge–or another student’s family–the vehicular manslaughter was due to lonliness doesn’t go over well.  And I believe it accurate to say today’s kids are worse off than my generation, because they’re mega-connected via networking technology from their elementary years.  If one of them gets cut off, they really expeience a social death.  So it’s important to teach your kids about emotions and how to deal with them effectively; how to identify what the real need is below the surface symptoms, the signs of depression, etc.  I didn’t have any idea there was such a thing as spiritual hunger until I was 30.  Boy would that have saved me a lot of time, money, and heartache!  They need to know how much is too much, how much is too little, how long is okay to tolerate extremes and when it’s time to get help.  They need to be able to catch themselves and “zoom out” to the bigger picture of how short a period of their lives it really is, and what’s more important for long-term success.  Survive a crappy month, or lose their career aspirations?  Next: tackle support structure.  Don’t assume they’ll just make other friends; they probably won’t find any.  Even in a campus ministry group.  (They’re just as bad.)  Don’t assume they’ll actually call grownups at 4:18am when they’re suffering again, because they won’t.  Don’t assume teachers will notice or do anything; most students are well aware that their future success hinges on glowing letters of recommendation from their professors so they will not show a shread of weakness to any of them.  It is a global job market, you know; we must out-compete billions.  And don’t assume the campus clinics will be of any help, even on the rare chance your student goes.  There is a stigma about going there.  Moreover, do you really think the best and brightest medical minds would settle for a lousy campus clinic job?  Uh, no.  The stories I could tell you about clinicians and counselors who knew diddly squat and even made the situation worse!  Who does that leave?  You, for starters.  Do your part: visit every semester, and try to really get into their lives.  Stay where they stay, if at all possible, even if it’s uncomfortable.  Ask to see their classrooms, and walk the paths they take to class, see where they hang out and eat where they eat (even if you don’t like the food).  Meet their roommates or students down the hall, and try to remember their names.   Hang out where they hang out, shop where they shop, etc.  Page through their textbooks, listen to their current favorite music, even if you don’t like it.  And really engage with them–ask them what they do and don’t like, and why.  Tease out those worldviews and opinions that are being formed.  Let them teach you things, and don’t assume you always know more.  Send care packages monthly, full of their favorite stuff, and cards of encouragement.  Treat them in little ways as your over-worked self would like to be treated.  Remember, they don’t have 20 years’ experience working hard like you do, they’re just starting out.  I know all this takes a lot of time, effort, and money, and isn’t what you’d consider a vacation, but it is critical.  These actions validate your child’s existence outside your family home, validate his or her personal worth, validate his or her experiences, validate his or her thought processes, validate his or her opinions, validate his or her concerns, validate his or her goals, etc.  Though I can understand the logistical and cost arguements for simply bringing the child back home to visit a couple times a year, that isn’t enough.  Over time, that sends an implicit message that his or her life isn’t good enough for you to step into, and that’s very hurtful.  Sweatshirt and bumper sticker displays will not make up for that.  Inbetween, when you can’t be there, erect support with others; ask a nearby church if there are any bored grannies that love to make cookies and squeeze on students.  You know how grannies love to cook for people, and students never get enough to eat.  They both benefit!  Find a salon willing to send a stylist or two over to the campus to treat the girls to hair and makeup experimentation.  Find somewhat-recent alumni like me who can be good listeners and mentors, but don’t seem quite as ancient as their parents.  Find brave people willing to go over there once a month and clean.  Generally speaking, recruit people who are willing to reach out to your child on a regularly scheduled basis to love on them and support them.  Even if the student rolls his eyes and never returns the messages, someone calling to ask how they’re doing every week really does make a difference.  In a dire situation, that’s the person likely to get notified.


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