College kids should know you love them…no matter what.

My column in today’s Greenville News.  Love on your kids when they’re in college!

Two of our sons began university classes last week; one a freshman, one a junior. After spending a wonderful Summer with them, Jan and I always find this a difficult time. It requires that we adjust to walking past empty rooms and accept the fact that they aren’t coming back home at the end of each day to scavenge food and tell us stories. Even their high-school junior sister misses them, although she is under the delusion that the house will be neater with brothers away. (Guess what, papa still lives here!)
Of course, we’re hardly alone. All over the state, nation and world, families send their daughters and sons off to be educated. And what a great thing! Broken parents everywhere have lost children to disease, accident, starvation or war and would love to simply have them alive, much less getting an education. I try to keep that in perspective when I feel sorry for myself.
However, as grand as college is, it’s a time of significant stress for our young people. Many are leaving home for the first time. This means great fun and adventure. But it also means a separation from those who have, for at least 18 years, been their constant supports and care-takers. It means leaving the comfort of the known for new places and new people. It exposes the kids, appropriately, to opinions that challenge their own. It introduces them to other kids from different backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles.
In addition, their sudden unsupervised state opens them up to all sorts of opportunities for bad habits and bad decisions. All of this added together can be very difficult. This is especially true in a time when, for a variety of reasons, some young people seem to be maturing later than in previous generations.
Perhaps this is why colleges are reporting more and more students struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. University mental health clinics are always busy. And many kids end up dropping out or transferring to schools closer to home.
However, there’s one stressor we forget. When we send our kids to college we have high hopes and expectations for them. For years we’ve encouraged them, talked about college and even talked to our friends and family members about our kids’ academics. ‘Oh yeah, Joan here is going to Clemson and then med school; she’s going to be a surgeon! Aren’t you baby?’ (She nods her head nervously…) ‘Rick is planning to be an architect, right dear?’ Or a lawyer or an artist. We think that at 16, 17 (or even in their 20’s) they can plan their entire lives and it will all play out as scripted. That they’ll go to university, get that planned degree, go to professional school or grad school, get that awesome job and then we can tell everyone how great they did.
And yet, what if they don’t? What if they’re frightened? What if they’re tempted? What if they feel outcast? What if they get addicted? What if they get pregnant? Perhaps harder for parents (and kids) to accept, what if they aren’t ready, or just don’t enjoy the academic environment and find that they really just want a job and a family? What if, like all humans, they simply miss home and the places and people they love?
The thing is, we parents (and grands) must never let our children’s identities be completely tied to education or career. Because if is, and if it goes wrong, then the whole structure of their precious lives is shaken. I think this may be one of the biggest stressors of all. That is, their desperate fear of disappointing the ones who worked for them and encouraged them to move forward. It must be absolutely paralyzing.
Our children are valuable because they’re our children. That’s the most important and foundational truth they need to hear. Not because of their grades, scholarships, IQ’s, career goals, awards or anything else. And it needs to be followed by this truth: ‘My precious child, if you are unhappy, if school doesn’t work for you, if you change majors or change life-goals, it’s OK. You are not defined by any of it. I love you no matter what; you can always tell me the truth. And home is always here for you.’
So send them off to school with tears and joy! But always anchor their worth to the love of family, not the success or failure of their educational adventures.

Enjoy college! Prepare for life to quiz you.

This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Hey college kids!  Have fun, but pay attention.  Life will quiz you…

Welcome to college, young people! It’s an amazing time in your lives. These years will impact your life dramatically if you use them well. So, to help you along the way, allow me me give you some wisdom. First and foremost, get some wisdom. You are bright and capable, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be in college in the first place. But for all that, you still have a lot to learn; not only about your major, but about life in general. It isn’t your fault. Wisdom takes time, experience and a willingness to reflect and learn from others. You’re young, inexperienced and often think you know everything. (Part of that is just biology…the decision making part of your brain isn’t mature until about 25, so you’ve got that excuse for a while yet.) Read, reflect, think and be open to the guidance of those wiser than you.

Before you look at the ‘corrupt’ world of businesses, corporations, governments, social conventions, religions and all the rest and roll your enlightened eyes, remember that other people, often wiser and more seasoned, are all around. And once, they were as idealistic and ironic as you are. They just had to get jobs, raise families, endure sickness, fight wars, pay tuition bills and mortgages and all the rest. They know things. Avail yourself of their insight.

You’re going to have some wonderful experiences! You’ll meet interesting people and bizarre people (quite a few of those); people smarter than you and not so smart. You will take trips, have unusual jobs, display an odd fashion sense and engage in deep conversations over dinners in the dorms or apartments where you make your home.

Just remember that lots of other people your age who either can’t afford college, or aren’t interested in college, are also having ‘experiences.’ Some of them involve working in industry, working in trades, doing physical labor or engaging in public service. Others are in combat. Still others are starting families. Their experiences, dear ones, are not the in slightest inferior to your own. They are only different. No small number of them will make a lot more money than you, a lot soone. Be gracious and kind; they might hire you someday.

It seems obvious, but learn everything you can. Versatility and marketability are critical today. The degree you seek is nice, but it will be a very expensive wall hanging (much less interesting than that poster of your favorite alt band), if not backed up with actual useful information or skills.

Now, about your professors and instructors. Show them respect. They’ve earned it and they work hard at learning and teaching. Come to class, do the work, ignore your smart-phone. Do not, however, offer your teachers worship. They are human beings who can be wrong, and outside their own particular expertise they frequently are. It is appropriate for them to challenge you to think and teach you to reason. It is unprofessional and immature if they try to crush you and the beliefs that have long sustained you and your family.

Which reminds me, you still have a family. They love you, they miss you and they are spending remarkable amounts of money and effort so that you can learn and have ‘experiences.’ Love them back, in word and action. Answer their texts. Give them the time of day and listen to their wisdom and opinions. You might be surprised at how much they care about you and desire to help.

Don’t be stupid. Youth and intelligence do not confer invulnerability. Part of wisdom is knowing that death is no respecter of age, education or social class. Alcohol, drugs, fights and illicit sex are dangerous and can lead to life altering or life ending tragedies. And terrible, terrible YouTube videos. (Remember, also, that future employers can find you online. I think that’s all I need to say there.)

Finally, treat one another with love. In your youthful passion, please do not misuse another human being or trample their heart. Remember, too, that this is one of the best times to find a future spouse, so be careful to use your time wisely as you meet others and date. I met my lovely wife in college and I know that will never have more time to lavish on young love than now, so don’t waste it. Odds are, your future marriage will impact your happiness as much as, or more, than your education.

Jot these down. Life will quiz you as you go.