Enough With College Bashing

 Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

Anyone else aware of the increasing level of college bashing going on lately?  The articles and news features on whether college remains relevant in today's tech-driven world and whether it's worth the costs.  It seems to me that these views are looking at college through a very narrow lens.

No question about it -- the institution of college has reached a tipping point particularly in terms of costs and access.  Yet conveying messages discouraging teens from pursuing the goal or that college isn't worth their time, work, or investment isn't a balanced message at all.  Different perspectives are based upon differing experiences - not right or wrong, but simply different.  But there's a big difference between sharing differing points of view and basically trashing the institution entirely.

Many parents, from their children's earliest years, already have the hope for college on the horizon, and many started stashing away cash while their children were just learning to read.  College has been, and continues to be, a goal shared by millions of parents and their children.  And why shouldn't it be.

Let's be honest...no parent (including this one) wants to see their child in debt that they'll be struggling to pay down until they reach retirement.  Few parents send their children to college expecting four years of binge drinking and failing grades.  And most parents raise their children to understand that anything worth achieving requires hard work and sacrifice.  Yet there are voices, many of them, singing the tune that college isn't worth it.  Any of it.

Here's how I see it.  College is the time in a young person's life when they're encouraged to explore new areas, challenge their assumptions, engage in discussions that stretch their thinking, and collaborate with people -- professors and students alike -- who expand their horizons.  It's a time when learning occurs in ways that expose young people to experiences that form the foundation for what comes next...life.  And it's when children grow into young adults in ways that cannot be measured by a paycheck.

There's no question that college isn't for everyone.  Many successful people do well without it and many make other choices.  A man I worked with many years ago personified success -- several homes, foreign cars, vast travel, philanthropic efforts.  And late one afternoon, he shared with me his greatest regret in life even after achieving what most of us would call the pinnacle of success...not attending college.  No matter his achievements, the fact that he didn't attend college was the thing that overshadowed all else.

Every person has a different life path.  College has been and remains one aspired to and chosen by many.  Of course the "real life" issues of cost and expansion of access requires solutions, but losing sight of the things more difficult to measure and quantify...that college prepares young people to enter and sustain an educated, diverse, capable, flexible, and collaborative society, is doing them a terrible disservice.

It's true that not all goals are achievable.  Yet some goals and the experiences that come with achieving them frame and remain with us forever.  The people we become -- our jobs, titles, and income, may define us well into adulthood, yet college sets the tone for what comes next.  Few other things in life have the same lasting power.

We're Losing Our Kids

 Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

The suicide of a college student.  The disappearance of another from a busy street.  Both in my local community.  Both within the past three weeks.  One remains an active effort with the hope for a positive resolution.  The other no longer does.

A young man I know well called just prior to Thanksgiving, telling me that the roommate of a friend had just committed suicide.  On campus and in their shared room.  A college student approaching the finish line toward graduation with a full life yet to be lived.  His friend needed short-term housing until alternate living arrangements could be made.  I heard the pressing need, yet the only thing that registered was that another promising young adult was in so much pain that ending it all seemed to be the only way out.

The raised voices about removing the stigmas and providing better access to mental health care are being heard.  Identifying young people who are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues is critically important, but that’s only one side of the coin.  There's another side, one that requires us to dig deep, that's as important if not moreso.

Like flipping a light switch, children cross a “magical threshold” into the responsibilities and pressures of adulthood when they turn 18.  Never mind that a child's brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25.  The welcome mat is thrown down and we hope for the best.

So what happens.  They find themselves navigating classes, working to maintain their grades, handling their self-care and finances, dealing with roommate and peer issues, figuring out new environments and expectations…a host of demands that would tax even the most prepared young adult.  Yet many are simply ill-prepared and not ready despite what the law says.

Along with reaching this passage to adulthood comes the accompanying challenges and obstacles that prevent and preclude friends, professors, and others from being able to step in when a student is in crisis.  And this doesn’t even touch on the "red tape" issues facing parents who are trying to get their children the help they so desperately need.  And often times from afar.

College is a “hot topic” today – in fact, I just blogged about it.  The cost of attendance, whether college is worth the investment of time and money, and the safety of students ... all important issues. Yet attention to the fact that the lives of many of these young adults are balancing on a tightrope because they are unable to handle the pressures seems to be missing in these discussions.  They're slipping and some of these cracks in their new-found adult lives are swallowing them whole.  And forever.

There is shared grief here … this student’s friends who knew there were issues yet did not know what to do or where to turn.  This student’s parents who may have been unaware of the extent of their child’s difficulties or had been unsuccessfully trying to secure help.  And the grief that we all need to share because of the lack of safety nets for our 18 - 21-year-old children who are dealing with depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol issues, and other issues that are pushing them to despair.

I’m a parent too.  Of a young adult who has also experienced difficulties.  I know the fights involved and the “systems” that work against parents in the quest of their lives.  Few things cut through a person’s existence like feeling helpless … like knowing someone is struggling yet being told that information cannot be shared … like knowing that the line between having another day to fight and the last day can be hair thin.

My heart goes out to this student.  No child -- and yes, whether 18 or 25, they are still children -- should be alone, unable to cope, and without the supports they need.  There are resources such as Active Minds (www.activeminds.org) working hard to raise awareness and garner support for college students with mental health issues.  We hear about these stories every day.  Yet when it happens to your child or in your community, it drives home the fact that some things have to change.  What are we waiting for?

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO

 

Bullying and Tragedy

I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the recent suicide of a bright, talented young man from Rutger's whose world was destroyed by two classmates out for a laugh.  To say that I am equally angered and heartbroken would be an understatement. Over the past decade, I have worked with hundreds upon hundreds of parents whose children have suffered bullying, harassment, and worse at the hands of peers.  Doesn't matter the grade -- 1st Grade, 5th Grade, 10th Grade, college.  And while attention to these issues has increased, so too has the number of young people who feel frightened, overwhelmed, without support, and as though whatever they are facing can not be handled any longer.

We have instituted "anti-bullying" programs in schools, churches, and synagogues ... started groups to address self-esteem issues for teens and special education issues in classrooms ... provided platforms for college students to stand-up and speak about the issues most important to them.  Yet this week, several children have ended their lives because clearly, things are not working.

We are losing our children.  Bright, talented, sensitive, aware children.   Children who were on the path to adulthood and who may have made contributions to our world that could have changed it for the better.  We can shake our heads and collectively mourn or can say "enough" and start to do something about it.

Are we raising our children to respect themselves and others, to value differences, and to embrace all perspectives and experiences?  Are we demonstrating a clear intolerance for anyone or anything different from ourselves?  What messages are we giving, both verbally and by our actions?  And what could be the consequences?

We are at a crossroads and we can either continue along the path we've been walking or can make a decision to change.  I cannot imagine the grief that this student's parents, family, and friends are experiencing.  What I can imagine is that this young man deserved the respect that we all desire.   And a precious life has been lost.

Navigation means...

Determining a course... Plotting a route...

Heading a movement.

I suppose heading a movement is precisely what I'm doing -- the movement to educate and empower parents to be informed and skilled parent advocates for their children.

For some, it's navigating the route into and through special education.   Perhaps you have a 7-year-old who was just diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome or a 13-year-old who has had an IEP for years yet things simply are not working and progress is not being made.

For others, it's determining the course for transitioning between middle and high school or high school into college.   Perhaps your child just entered the middle school "madness" and is already struggling or you and your 11th Grader are trying to figure out whether college is a real option and if so, how.

Whether you find yourself in the early phases of the process (i.e. a "novice") or have been working to maneuver for some time (i.e. a "veteran") ... whether you regard yourself as a "full-time, stay-at-home" parent (a term I truly dislike) or are working to balance your job and home responsibilities, I'll be sharing information, resources, and yes ... thoughts (some you'll like and others you may not) to help you navigate through the most important job your child has ... education.  Your child needs your voice and my role is to be sure it's strong, clear, and expert-level.

I hope you will share your thoughts as well.  Looking forward to this new dialogue...

Debra