What every college freshman needs to know
By Marguerite Kelly,
Q. I want to help my nephew, who is going to a large state university in the fall. I know that having fun in college is important, but I think it’s also important for him to set goals before he leaves home and to focus on his grades when he’s there, especially if he wants to go to graduate school. He also needs to know how to budget his money, which foods are the most healthful and how to create a structured environment so he can stay organized. In other words, how can I help my nephew be the best that he can be?
A. Your nephew will do well in college if he gets good grades and sets high goals, but it will be the choices he makes and chances he takes that will decide how well he does in life.
You can help him get where he needs to go by listening to his dreams. They may be half-formed and uncertain, but as long as they’re legal and safe, they deserve your support. Your nephew knows himself better than you do.
The more thoughtfully you listen to his dreams, the better he’ll listen to your advice, whether it’s about nutrition, organization, money or the intangibles that matter so much more.
He needs to know that he’ll be more independent — and feel more independent — if he uses most of the money he makes this summer to cover his personal expenses at school, which is better than asking his parents for an allowance. If a college student wants to be treated like a grown-up, he has to act like one.
He also needs to know that though his university will be big, impersonal and full of confusing, unexpected situations, he should still pass on some of the kindnesses that others have given to him. Tell him that it won’t take long to have a cup of coffee with a homesick freshman, a friendless student or a classmate who just got jilted by his girlfriend back home, and that it could make a huge difference to that person.
Most of all, you need to tell your nephew how to handle the social challenges at school, because they could decide how the rest of his life will go.
First of all, he should know that the impulse center of his brain won’t fully develop until his mid-20s, so he’ll need to choose friends who will say no for him when he somehow cannot. Otherwise he might believe the classmates who tell him that he won’t lose his motivation if he smokes marijuana and that he won’t become dependent on it, either, and then find his grades dropping like stones in a well and the university dropping him. Pot affects some people much more than others, after all.
Or perhaps your nephew will fall for the student who gives away sex so freely, only to find that she has given him her sexually transmitted disease and maybe a baby, too. If he considers the consequences now, he may not have to pay child support for the next 18 years.
This young man may be especially tempted to join the drinking crowd, not just because drinkers seem to have such a good time but also because there is so much more drinking on campuses today. Drinking games, binge drinking and dorm-room drinking can cause grave problems. Your nephew should know that drinkers are four times as likely to become alcoholics if a parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent is, or was, an alcoholic, and that one out of four of them will develop the problem before age 25.
Although you’ll be warning your nephew about many things, you should encourage him to study some unusual subjects and to listen to new ideas, because they will broaden his horizons and help him choose the right career. If he were to work for money or fame, he would never be rich enough or famous enough, but if he follows his true interests, he will be a happy man, and that’s what really counts.
To underscore your advice, you might also give your nephew three good books: “Been There, Should’ve Done That” by Suzette Tyler (Front Porch, 2008, $11); “The Naked Roommate” by Harlan Cohen (Sourcebooks, 2011, $15) and “The Healthy College Cookbook” by Alexandra Nimetz, Jason Stanley and Emeline Starr with Rachel Holcomb (Storey, 2009, $15). They’ll keep him out of trouble when he’s far away.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from The Washington Post Chat transcript: Read a recent parenting Q&A hosted by Kelly. Family Almanac archive: Read previous columns. On Parenting: Check out more news on the blog.