college

Have You Talked to Your Kids About Hannah Graham?

Written on October 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm , by

 

As an 8-year-old thrilled to be in the beautiful, green outdoors of Michigan for summer camp, I learned a lifelong lesson. While splashing in the cool water, I heard a whistle blow. It was a “buddy check.” The piercing sound meant that you had to quickly find your assigned buddy. Panic ensued when it was determined that a camper—my assigned buddy—was missing.

Thankfully, I had been told in advance that this would happen. The camp counselors had planned the exercise to keep the head swim counselor on his toes and teach the campers the importance of looking out for your buddy. Their scheme worked. I have never forgotten the emotion and chaos of that afternoon, as well as the relief when the camper turned up on the sandy shores of the beach.

With my own daughters, I’ve tried to pass along the importance of simply staying in contact with and keeping an eye on friends in social situations, especially late at night. I still say it, tolerating the rolled eyes or silence as they saunter out my door.

Hannah Graham

A few weekends ago I went to visit my youngest daughter, who is now in her fourth year at the University of Virginia. It was the same weekend that first-year student Hannah Graham went missing. Like most of you, I have watched the news coverage hoping that Hannah will be found safe, and feeling heartbroken at the sight of the anguish etched into the faces of her loving parents.

Tragedies have a way of generating what-ifs and identifying ways to prevent them from happening again. One of the more touching tips came from Hannah’s devastated parents, John and Sue Graham, who stated: ”For those students planning to unwind this weekend, please be extra vigilant when you are out and walk with a buddy.”

We can also remind our teenagers to keep their cell phones charged, to let their friends know where they are going, to never leave a party or event with someone they don’t know, to keep their eyes on their cups at all times, and to choose someone to buddy up with and call the police immediately if they can’t locate them. It’s better to raise a false alarm then to lose time in a search.

My prayers and thoughts are with the Graham family and any other families with missing loved ones. May they all return safely.

 

 

 

 

Have you talked to your child about buddying up whether they’re at the beach or on a college campus? Post a comment and tell me what you suggested.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

When Your Kid Isn’t Ready for College

Written on June 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm , by

Pressure to get into the right college peaks in junior year. SATs are taken and retaken, colleges are visited, applications are filed and the waiting begins.

Except when your kid, like mine, isn’t ready for college.

We knew before she did that she wasn’t ready. When people hear your kid isn’t going to college right away, they want to believe her grades are bad or that she’s a troublemaker. They don’t want to know she made honor roll every single marking period, that she was captain of the volleyball team and has several AP classes on her transcript. There’s a stigma to not going to college immediately upon graduation, and if your well-qualified student isn’t going, it’s possible that theirs might not either.

The fact is that many high school seniors are entering college blindly. It’s expected of them, and their parents are paying for it. The students take out loans to make up the difference in what their parents can’t pay. Many of them have no idea what they want to major in, or else they want to major in something that will not get them a job that will enable them to pay back that student loan.

I took an informal survey of the newer people showing up in my work circles and found that it was not unusual to have $100,000 in student loan debt. I don’t work in a cutting-edge hospital where you might expect high med-school loans; I work in a theater.

My husband and I are in the midst of paying off a debt that size that has nothing to do with student loans and everything to do with getting custody of these (his) kids. I know exactly how hard it is for us to work through this mess with two incomes. People right out of school are still getting their foot in the door in our business; I have no idea how they’re making loan payments.

With our current debt, we can’t take on loans, nor do we have much of anything to contribute. Our kids know that before any college decisions are made, they need to have a plan.

If you could reduce our parenting to one motto, it would be: Take responsibility for your life. We are willing to suggest, help, guide, even cajole, but it must be the child’s plan because it’s his or her life.

In effect, each of them must answer the question, What do you want to do with your life? The plan can always change, but what is it for now?

It takes a certain level of maturity to answer that question, which is where everything broke down with kid number 2. It wasn’t just about the finances, it was emotional. She’d gone through a lot before she came to live with us; it takes time to process that. We suggested she apply to college but defer for a year. Take any job and explore some options for what she might like to do. She could take flying lessons, EMT training in the Rockies—cool experiences that could translate into marketable skills. Everything we suggested she immediately shot down. She remained frozen in a state of panic.

Finally she took to heart the idea of deferring. The emotional weight visibly lifted from her. But then she went too far the other way. By November of senior year, she still hadn’t applied anywhere. We reminded her that she wasn’t going to sit in the basement and play video games after graduation.

Midway through December we had to threaten to take away Christmas to get her to finish the Common App. At a time when most kids in her school had their acceptances, she was just beginning the process.

But as she got more wins, she gained confidence. She was accepted everywhere she applied. She received some academic awards, a couple of scholarships and consistently the highest grade in her physics class.

We continued to talk about her plan. She continued to clam up. My husband and I worried about how we could possibly get her moving. One morning in the car, I chanced bringing it up. The car is usually a good place for uncomfortable conversations (just make sure your teen isn’t the one driving). She didn’t realize she had a plan until she spoke it out loud. She had picked a school, worked out living arrangements and decided that she would work and save every dime possible until a year from September. We had no idea.

“That’s a good plan,” I said.

“It is?”

“Well, yeah, don’t you think so?”

“I didn’t think it was a plan, really. Because I don’t know where I’ll work and I’m not positive what I want to study yet.”

“You don’t have to have it all figured out to start moving in that direction. Once you take a step, the next steps get clearer to you. That’s how it works.”

I snuck a glance at her and was treated to the rare sight of a smile.

“So now you just need to defer officially,” I said.

“Oh, I did that last week.”

We had been expecting to have to force that action by threatening to take away graduation. As she shared her plan with others, she found only support. Many adults chimed in about how much more valuable she will be to employers after taking this year to work and gain life experience.

I would love it if all my kids ended up graduating from college with zero debt and marketable skills that are so in demand they’re writing their own ticket in a career they are passionate about. Wouldn’t we all?

But what is absolutely essential for them to understand is that they must go into this whole college thing with their eyes open. No parent wants their kids graduating from college with $100,000 in debt, a worthless degree and no earthly idea what they want to do with their lives. Sadly, blindly going for the college experience without putting mindful thought into it will lead to exactly that.

Most likely my kids will end up somewhere between those two extremes. Wherever they go, they’re going to own the decisions that led them there. That already puts them ahead on the path of taking responsibility for their own lives.

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

Jane Lynch Urges Students: Don’t Major in Debt

Written on July 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm , by

It’s never too early to start thinking about financing your kids’ educations. Even if your teens aren’t packing up their belongings to head off to college this fall, paying for school is always on the horizon. And with more and more horror stories about growing student debt and crippling loan interests, it’s imperative to make smart finance decisions.

Yesterday, actress Jane Lynch, best known for her role on Glee, along with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), unveiled a new resource to help parents and students find the best way to finance a college degree. The new National College Finance Center website, collegefinancecenter.org, along with a “Don’t Major in Debt” PSA were revealed. The free and unbiased website will help students and parents find the right loan and understand the terms, and help young adults manage their debt. State-specific information about available grants and scholarships will also be provided to help customize the right path to your teen’s college education.

Jane Lynch became involved with the campaign after seeing her own nieces and nephews struggle with debt during college and after graduating. Knowing her 10-year-old daughter will be looking at universities in the not too distant future made helping the organization even more important to Jane.

College debt is now the number two reason people file for bankruptcy, a statistic the National College Finance Center hopes to change soon. Whether your teen is heading to college in the next few years, or even if a university education is far off in the future, you can start educating yourself on the best way to make that degree a reality without being saddled with debt.

Bridget Mallon is an articles intern at Family Circle.

How Important Are College Rankings?

Written on September 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm , by


Today U.S. News and World Report released their 2012 college rankings. Recently retooled, they’re based on a number of factors, including the schools’ undergraduate academic reputations and student selectivity.  I’m currently a graduate student at NYU. As I read the rankings, my thoughts were, in rapid succession:

  1. Oh, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are in the top 3 slots? Who could have seen that coming? (Please note the sarcasm.)
  2. Sweet – my undergrad and graduate schools got really respectable rankings!
  3. Um…bragging rights aside, I’m not sure this means anything

The way I see it, the rankings are a good place to start your kid’s college search, but they can’t be the only – or the most important – selection criteria. Instead, use them as a jumping off point. Note what they say about academics, class size, diversity, prevalence of Greek life and school setting, but understand that no collection of statistics can really capture the college experience.  Rather than relying on a ranking, have your kid talk to a current student or a recent alum. (College admissions offices will be happy to help you out with that.) Take your teen to the campus and see what vibe she gets.

I knew I wanted to go to Tufts University, my undergrad alma mater, when I first visited and saw the pathways covered in chalk. Amidst landscaped lawns and brick buildings, the colorful chalk announced club meetings, advertised events or just displayed pictures. I figured that a school that was academically respected and yet able to not take itself too seriously was the place I wanted to be. The ice cream in the cafeteria and the five-hour train ride that stood between there and home were draws, too. To this day, I’m not sure the percentage of women vs. men on campus or my average class size, but I remember eating pizza in the library foyer at 3 a.m. during finals week with some friends. My school isn’t in the U.S News top 5 (or 20), but I could not imagine having a better experience anywhere else.

Another reason not to rely on ratings too much? Your kid’s college experience will largely be shaped by what he puts into it—and therefore, what he gets from it. If he works with inspiring professors, tries new things, makes friends and comes away having grown and changed, it may not matter whether he went to an ivy league institution or the University of What’s-It-Called. College is about finding the right fit, then making the most of it.

Readers, what do you think? Are you and your kid combing over the ratings or ignoring them all together? Do you find them useful in your college search? Share your thoughts below.

Is College Worth It?

Written on June 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm , by

A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that 57% of Americans say our higher education system fails to provide a good value for the money students and their families spend. And only 22% believe that people can afford to pay for a college education—that’s less than one in four people!

Among students who leave college with debt, about half (48%) say paying off loans made it harder to pay other bills, while 25% say educational debt has made it harder to buy a home.

We examine some of these issues—and whether college is the right choice for every student—in our story Do Kids Need College?

Photo via flickr.com/kevindooley