As your child prepares to go off to school, are they aware of the distinct possibility that they will be interacting with others whose life experiences and beliefs are in conflict with theirs? How will your, and their, reactions be to someone of a different race, ethnicity, religion, or lifestyle? While often glamorized and sensationalized in the media, is your child aware of the true challenges in defending or explaining their background or beliefs publicly, in a real life setting? While not intended to alarm, parents need to be aware that college is a whole new environment with few boundaries. The comfort your child felt in his/her high school surrounded by others who were “like” them, is about to, to a degree, be challenged.
Some people are “live and let live” types who are unfazed with people’s differences. Others have difficulty seeing outside of the boundaries of their own deep seeded beliefs. With the SCOTUS rulings (i.e. Affordable Care Act, immigration rights, gay marriage), increased acceptance of LGBTQ people, religious controversy, and the rise in racial tensions, is your child educated and knowledgeable enough to have adult conversations about these subjects? These conversations will be occurring – both in an out of the classroom. While in a classroom, these discussions will take place in a controlled setting. There will be historical, factual examples. However, most encounters with people who are “different” will be outside of the classroom. They need to be able to express their thoughts and feelings in a respectful manner, while accepting and respecting others. There will be discussions of alcohol, drugs, sex, lifestyle, religion…it will be happening. You need to ensure that your child is aware of that. YOU may need to realize that as well. While no one is advocating that you, or your child, needs to change their belief system, college is a place to continue acceptance and understanding in a more complex manner. As a parent whose children are living in a global society, your role is to give them the encouragement and tools to be able to “hear” these different perspectives, despite your own beliefs.
This turning point in your child’s life is more than them simply discovering what they would like to do with their life professionally; they are also discovering and affirming who they are – through relationships and encounters, in addition to their academic learning. While they are listening to other voices and viewpoints, they are also learning more about themselves. These ‘things’ that they are learning will help them gain a stronger sense of self and their place in the world.
And now, are you ready? When they come home for that first break, you, as a parent, need to be ready to possibly see some of these changes – in whatever manifestation it takes. Have they come home with a new tattoo? A piercing? Have they decided that they want to change religions, or even drop the one with which they’ve grown up practicing? Do they now have friends (or significant others) of a different race or a vastly different belief system? Are they questioning their sexuality? The main question is this – are YOU open to this discussion, the possibility of a major shift in your child’s belief system? You have taught them to be open an accepting of others; now it may be your turn to do that with your own child.
Again, while not meant to alarm anyone, this is an uncomfortable topic that needs to be addressed head on. Your child may be afraid to discuss changes with you out of fear of disappointment or rejection. They may feel there is no one in their life that they can open up to about some inner turmoil. It is your role, as a parent, to reaffirm to them that you are always there for them – to give them that acceptance and understanding you have so encouraged them to have for others.
In the next installment in this series, we will discuss student stressors and how to best address them. We will focus on warning signs and resources, for both you and your child, that can be utilized throughout their college experience.