How To Avoid Being 'That Mom' When Kids Head To College
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice.
Today we are talking about college. This is the time of year when millions of high school students and their parents are breathing a little easier now that college admissions decisions are mostly in. But while applying and getting into college is one major hurdle, actually getting through it is another.
Even apart from the academic challenges, managing the social life seems to be another, at least if the stories we're seeing in the news these days are any indication. Cheating scandals, excessive drinking, hazing, even sexual assaults are all being reported on various college campuses around the country.
So we wanted to talk about how parents can prepare their children and themselves. So we've called upon our regular parenting contributors. With us now are Leslie Morgan Steiner, she's a mom of three and the author most recently of "Crazy Love." Aracely Panameno is a mom of one. She works at the Center for Responsible Lending. Jolene Ivey is a mom in a blended family of six. She's a Maryland state legislator. Dani Tucker is a mom of two. She's an office administrator and fitness instructor. Ladies, welcome back to you all. Thank you all so much. It's so good to have all of you today.
LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Hey, Michel.
ARACELY PANAMENO: Sure a pleasure.
JOLENE IVEY: Thank you for having us, Michel.
DANI TUCKER: Thank you.
MARTIN: Now Leslie, we're going to start with you because you actually came to us with this topic because you've been looking at all these stories, you know, in the media about cheating scandals and partying. Is there one in particular that just kind of sends you over the edge?
LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: You know, I don't think - I think it's the confluence of all the stories. But the issues that trouble me the most are the binge drinking on campus. No matter what the drinking age in the state is or the university's policy, it seems like kids manage to thwart it and are really focused on an excessive amount of drinking and partying.
And then also the fact that there are sexual assaults at college, of course, but what bothers me is that there have been a lot of stories about universities that it seems to me are trying not to prosecute the students who are the perpetrators of the sexual assault. And as a woman and as a feminist and the mother of two daughters, that worries me so much that my kids might be victimized and then nobody would be held accountable.
And I just feel like when did college become this hotbed of total debauchery with universities doing nothing to stop it and parents kind of saying, well, I got my kids into a good college, and now I'm going to turn a blind eye to everything that happens there?
MARTIN: But this is a question - the when is a question that I wanted to ask you, which is, you know, everybody here went to college. And so it is really worse? Or are we just more aware, because we have various means of becoming aware that we did not have when we were in college, like social media for example and like kids telling on each other through social media in a way that we didn't have?
STEINER: I think it's so true that social media makes it really in our faces now as parents. And also, you know, I feel like such a fuddy-duddy, but I'm older, I have a different view now, but, you know, I don't want to work so hard to civilize my kids and help them. You know, it feels like it's all I do is civilize them every day and then help them get into college and pay an incredible amount to send them there and then just say, OK, you're totally on your own, go wild, go crazy as if they've deserved four years of 24/7, you know, booze and sex fest. It just seems crazy to me.
MARTIN: Jolene, we're going to go to you now because you're our sherpa, you're there. You're kind of in the middle of it now with the age range of your kids. You've got one child who's already - he's not a child, he's a young man - who's already graduated. You've got to who have already graduated. You've got another one there.
MARTIN: So what's your sense of it? And do the kids feel this way? I'm interested, do the kids feel that kind of that drinking, sex, partying, is a really big part of college life, however they feel about it?
IVEY: Yes, it definitely is part of college. I can't say that it's truly any different than when we were in college. But we didn't have Facebook and Twitter and all that then, as you pointed out. I get kind of concerned because I have a range of children, and some of them are quite social, and I worry about them for those things. Are they going to participate in all of that?
And then I've got at least one who is - not that he's not social, but he's a lot more conservative in his behavior and he feels uncomfortable when there's an excessive amount of partying around. So he can have a harder time fitting in in a situation like that.
MARTIN: Of all the - of all the things that people worry when they get through college, are they worried about the kids, their academics and staying on track academically or the social life? I get the sense that the people actually worry about the social life a lot more.
IVEY: I worry about both, and I'm glad that our oldest son, when he was in college, he looked at how much it was going to cost per class. So if you take a $50,000-a-year school, and then you look at how much each individual class costs you to go to, that kind of puts it in a new frame of mind for him to make sure that he at least attends class and that he knows that he's supposed to come home with decent grades.
I do worry about the partying, you know, on both ends. One, for my own child, if they're going to participate, you don't want them to get hurt. And then the other, for my kids who don't do such things; how are they going to fit in? How are they going to have friends? So it's hard.
MARTIN: Aracely, you have a story to tell about this that you've shared before.
PANAMENO: Yes. So my daughter, we took her to college. We were very happy that she had gotten into a really great school - a state school. And it's a predominately white university and campus. And my daughter is of mixed background - Latino and African-American - and she was trying very much to fit in. But she had come from a background and an upbringing where there are expectations, where she was very responsible, she did well in terms of her academics and sort of meeting expectations. But when we arrived on campus, the university administration and faculty told my child - and the student body that was just arriving - have fun. And to me that was such a red flag racing statement because I expected the university to reinforce the values that I had taught my child, right; to be responsible, to meet expectations, to continue to do well because if a university education is going to prepare you to enter the job market, you would not be expected to behave this manner in the job market. So my daughter...
MARTIN: So bad things happened.
PANAMENO: My daughter's specific incident was that she actually went to a frat party. She was not part of a Greek organization but she had been studying quite hard for finals, decided to give herself a break, goes to a party, drank too much and was alcohol poisoned. Her heart actually stopped. And on her way over to the emergency room, the emergency personnel and the ambulance actually brought her back.
What was very, very appalling to me was the abdication of responsibility by the university. They refused to call me. They refused to give me notification and it wasn't until my daughter was well enough the following week - like four or five days later - that I actually got the phone call from my child where she said mom, I hope you're sitting down, and she shared with me what had happened.
MARTIN: Because she was 19. She was over 18 at the time and so, so there is that, yeah, so there's this attitude that on the one hand they're adults, for purposes of talking to you about these - on these issues, but I bet you still got that term bill.
PANAMENO: Right. And I still got the bill.
MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah.
MARTIN: And it's had a real effect on the rest of her education.
MARTIN: I mean, she actually had to withdraw for a while, right to recover...
PANAMENO: Absolutely. She...
MARTIN: Recover physically or because the whole year was wasted with the work?
PANAMENO: So half of the year was wasted and she had not met academic expectations because of the partying and so she had to withdraw from school for about a year before she could actually go back.
MARTIN: Dani, what about you? I know you're really proud of - your oldest is in the Navy doing well. And you've got another one coming up behind who's starting to think about colleges now. What's on your mind about this?
TUCKER: More so on my mind is just making sure that they have what they need to - because I don't expect college to change. I don't expect the Navy to change. You know, like he's a designated driver, OK? He's, you know, he's not the drinker but his friends drink and a lot of them underage drinking. You get a lot of that in the, you know, military - underage drinking. But I'm like, you know, you're serving your country at 18, why can't you have a drink? So personally, I don't have a problem with it. But just teaching them how to be responsible because I don't expect the other people to do it. You know, I mean they're going to encounter those things. I'm not sure.
Imani just came back from her college trips and, you know, she saw some things that she participated and, you know - I mean on their level, not on the college level. But, you know, just talking to her about that and telling her, you know, when you go to these schools you're going to see a whole lot of things, a lot of things that you see on TV that you're not used to and you've got to learn responsible. Lean on your faith a whole lot, that's why you have it.
MARTIN: You know, what's tough about it though, is that that's the time of testing.
TUCKER: Mm-huh. Exactly.
MARTIN: I mean adolescence is the time of testing. It's the time when kids separate from their parents. It's the time when they try out new things. I mean, you know, those qualities are the things that make them bold, that make them do amazing things. That's are the things - that's the reason like, you know, that a Gabby Douglas can fling her little body, you know, off on the balance beam like and do amazing things. That's why kids can land, you know, a plane on an aircraft carrier at 19. But at the same time, that risk-taking is the very thing that puts them in such peril.
MARTIN: So why don't we wheel it around at this point and talk about what kinds of things that you say to them to try to arm them, to prepare them to go out there in that environment? Dani, why don't you start?
TUCKER: Yeah. For me first of all, for us, a lot of their faith. I mean, you know, I have to - I always teach them, you know, when you're not with me, God is always with you, period, and you have got to use your faith. And that's big for me with them. I think it helped Davon when he was out in the ocean for seven months, you know, that's all he had. When you don't have your family to make sure, you know, you have your God and how to walk in that faith that he's going to...
MARTIN: You mean he was on a ship. I just want to clarify. He wasn't on a raft.
TUCKER: No. He was on a...
MARTIN: OK. So he wasn't lost at sea. He was...
MARTIN: He was on a battleship. OK.
TUCKER: He was on a battleship and they did see some action out there, you know, and I think that was, you know, one of them opportunities where he did use his faith - at least that's what he told me, you know. So that's the biggest thing for me because I've laid their foundation and the family has and the village has. And now that you've laid that foundation and they go forth what, you know, what else? Your faith.
MARTIN: Our moms here talking about college and going away from home and other areas, including military service - how to keep the kids on track once they are out of your sight. I'm joined by Dani Tucker, that's who was speaking just now. Also with us, Jolene Ivey, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Aracely Panameno.
Jolene, what about you?
IVEY: Well, for our child who's in college right now, he's the one who's a little more serious and not a partier, but as a result was having a difficult time fitting in. So I really had to encourage him to seek out friends that were more like him. Now his first foray into finding friends on his campus led him to a group of pretty right-wing religious kids and it wasn't really his style, but at least they could, you know, hang out and not drink. It took him a little bit of time to find the right group to fit in with and he has found a great group of friends. And, heck, when I picked him up recently, one of those kids was there to help him move out and that's a friend.
MARTIN: That is a friend.
MARTIN: That's right. Aracely, what about you?
PANAMENO: So we've had a great deal of conversation about consequences to one's own actions and she had to pay quite an expensive price because of partying too much and not acting responsibly. So learning how to deal with what's out there, learning how to deal with social pressure, being strong enough to be your own decision-maker and not feel awkward about that.
MARTIN: Had you ever talked to her about drinking before she went to college?
PANAMENO: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MARTIN: Because you're not a drinker.
PANAMENO: We have talked about drinking. We've talked about things, doing things in moderation. Things in moderation are not a bad thing. And so, you know, she had previously to going to college, she had had something to drink - wine or something like that with a meal at social events - very, very small consumption. But once she was under - without parent supervision, she actually just couldn't handle the environment.
MARTIN: Hmm. Leslie, what about you? I know it's interesting because you had your own troubled history with alcohol that you shared, you know, in the past as a young woman. Do you talk to your kids about yourself? I mean, there's always this debate about how much of your own past you share. Even as a cautionary tale there's a big, you know, debate about that. But...
STEINER: I do. I'm very open with my kids. I don't glamorize it. I try to focus on the very sad ending and why I ended up giving up any kind of drinking or drug use. But the thing that worries me the most right now is that I did my experimentation when I was still living at home and my parents and my teachers in high school really cracked down on me and forced me to face consequences - which is one reason why by the time I went to college my drinking and drug history were completely over. I had had enough. What I worry about now is that we as a culture seem - at least the world that I live in - we parents are very focused on kids not experimenting at all in high school, which I support. But then, when they get to college, if it's a free-for-all and the universities aren't doing anything to police it in any way, I really worry because nobody's forcing the kids to learn the good lessons that I had to learn when I was 16 or 17. And that I just, I really hope I'm doing everything I can with my kids right now and I hope that I can still help them choose colleges that have a culture that is not this completely crazy four-year party - because I don't know if any kid can stand up to that kind of peer pressure.
MARTIN: You know, it's interesting. Jolene, I'm going to kind of go to you - you might have the final word on this - is it's interesting that every group that we talk to has their own particular thing that they're most concerned about. You know, at a lot of the majority white colleges people are very concerned about drinking. And a lot of the HBCUs, even though they have a much more strict environment, a lot of kids are really concerned about hazing because there's something about this idea of being tested that seems to appeal to a lot of these kids. And what a lot of you have talked about is the fact that you don't feel that the universities kind of have this attitude that they have to even communicate with the parents about these issues, except when it comes to financial matters. So I just wanted to ask you as a lawmaker, is this something that comes up? At the legislature, is there some policy conversation around whether there should be more conversation with parents around these issues?
IVEY: The thing that we've been talking about the most is the fact that if you end up with a culture of too much drinking and partying and it could lead to date rape and that kind of thing, well, then the college needs to take more responsibility with cracking down on that issue. And they can't just sweep it under the rug and act like it didn't happen because they don't want to get a bad reputation as being the school where girls get raped. And I think that's a really serious issue that we need to deal with because schools can't be allowed to not prosecute that kind of behavior. It's not right for the culture. It's a lot worse to be a school where kids get hurt and raped than it is if kids just drink too much.
MARTIN: In the absence of that, a final thought about what kind of messages you leave kids with I mean about this issue? I mean it's...
IVEY: I think...
MARTIN: It's such a tricky time. I mean there's so many...
MARTIN: You know, and obviously, statistically, we always say this is a very tiny fraction of all the kids who are in, millions of schools every year. But you know what? If it's your kid you don't care if it's how many. You care that that's that one.
IVEY: Oh absolutely. And Dani's point at you can't expect anybody else to be responsible, you have to make sure your kid knows to be responsible. And I know that that's saying a lot, and not that my kids have always been responsible, and not that I have always been responsible my whole life, but you end up paying the price and sometimes the price is just too high.
MARTIN: Dani, I'm going to go to you last because your daughter is on her college trip now. She's just starting to think about college. Is there any particular thing you want to implant in her as she just starts this journey, as she just starts this process of thinking about going away?
TUCKER: I always tell them, I tell them both, just remember, it will follow you the rest of your life. And it will follow you the rest of your life. Whatever you do always think that whatever I do the consequences - good or bad - going to be with me the rest of my life, and am I willing to live with that? And that makes them search within. Do I want this over my head the rest of my life?
MARTIN: Do kids even know what the rest of their life means? That's like next week.
TUCKER: Oh, yeah, they know.
MARTIN: Do they know? You think you know? That's like next week, right?
TUCKER: Because you also at the same time let them know what's over my head the rest of my life because I did A, B, C, D and E, you know?
MARTIN: All right. All right.
TUCKER: And you teach them that.
MARTIN: I'm scared now.
MARTIN: Just really scared.
STEINER: I know. Me too.
MARTIN: Dani Tucker is mom of two, office administrator and fitness instructor. Jolene Ivey is a mom in a blended family of six and a Maryland state lawmaker. She's also the co-founder of a nationwide parenting support group. Aracely Panameno is the mom of one and an activist and lobbyist. And Leslie Morgan Steiner is an author and a mom of three.
Thank you all so much for joining us here in our Washington, D.C. studios.
TUCKER: Thank you.
IVEY: Thank you, Michel.
PANAMENO: Thank you for having us.
STEINER: Thank you, Michel.
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MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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