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Conversation with Claire Friedlander

College coordinator advises parents to communicate with their college-bound students

By Stacey Dresner

STAMFORD – Your child has been accepted to the college of his/her choice; your FAFSA is in, the deal is done, now all that’s left is for your little darling to leave the nest and begin the next stage of his/her life.

Not so fast. There are steps rising college freshmen can – and should – take right now to prepare for their new college experience.

Claire D. Friedlander, college coordinator at the Elayne and James Schoke Jewish Family Service of Fairfield County, talked to the Ledger recently about what incoming college freshmen – and their parents – should be focusing on now, besides how to decorate their dorm rooms.

Friedlander should know. A national board certified counselor and a licensed professional counselor in the state of Connecticut has an extensive background in the college admissions process.

She offered some sage advice to college-bound students and their parents.


Q: What should young people getting ready to go away to college this fall be doing right now to get prepared for college life?

A: One of the things they should be doing if they are planning on living on campus – and they have notified the campus of that – and they are going to be sharing a room, is that they should find out the name of the person with whom they will be sharing their dorm room and get in touch with that person, so that they can plan on who brings what and how they want to meet for the first time.

It’s much easier to be happy in that first semester when they’ve done some pre-planning. Maybe they are not that far away from their dorm-mate and can meet personally before the semester starts. Otherwise they can make arrangements to meet on Skype or Facetime.


Q: What should parents be talking to their kids about before they go away to college?

A: One of the things, if parents haven’t already done this, is to talk to them about problems that they may encounter on campus if they are not careful, in terms of interpersonal relationships. There are lots of articles that address the issue of male-female partying, sex, and so forth. You can’t let that stuff go unaddressed these days. I read the Chronicle of Higher Education every week and there is hardly an issue that isn’t dealing with some college and a great big lawsuit over these kinds of problems. You can’t expect the college to take the first steps on this; this is a parent and student responsibility. Students need to know what to expect and how to prepare themselves, protect themselves, and present themselves.

If parents can find an article or search on the Internet for information about some of the recent incidents on college campuses, they should pull some and say we need to talk about this. They should not infer that they don’t trust their children who are about to go off to college, but to indicate to them that these are real issues that they need to be aware of. It is important to be prepared and to understand how people can be duped into situations that they are not prepared to handle.

When we think about our children going off to college, we think, ‘How wonderful!’ And here I am talking about something that is so serious and negative. But that is the problem: When it comes to parenting, there are things we just don’t want to talk about, but we have to.

Parents have got to prepare their young people who may feel they will be excluded if they don’t participate. That is very important. They need to give them the strength to be able to stand their ground and the ability to know what to do if they are in a potentially compromising situation.


Q: Do you find that parents have a hard time letting go of their college-bound kids?

A: I don’t think they have a hard time letting go, I think they have a hard time getting prepared. Letting go is something they are happy to do. They think, “My kid is going off to college. It is so wonderful, and everything is going to be great.” They think that they are now absolving themselves of any responsibility. They say to themselves, “They got in; they got a room they are going to be fine.” But there are parental issues that need to be addressed and this is no time to cut the cord. It is very important to maintain a relationship with the student, to make sure that it stays strong and healthy all the way through and that the student shouldn’t feel uncomfortable telling their parents about anything that is bothering them.


Q: What can they do if they have issues with their new roommate?

A: They should talk with an advisor, if they feel uncomfortable. If they are uncomfortable, revise the situation. Don’t feel as if they have to stick it out. It is not always loud noise and drinking that may be the issue between students who are roommates, but it can be other kinds of behaviors that are not healthy. Schools will make changes if there is a need; and if they can’t make a change to another roommate, they sometimes can switch students to a single temporarily so that the student can have some downtime to get themselves together, and by the second semester be ready to move in with another roommate.


Q: What advice do you have for students who may have a hard time making friends and is therefore feeling lonely?

A: I think, especially Jewish kids, should find out what Hillel is up to or the Jewish Student Union. They always have get-togethers or meet and greets for new students. It certainly would be a good thing to do to identify with the Jewish community while you are on campus.

If your student is a loner or someone who is uncomfortable being the first one to reach out and go and do something, to tell them to just do it is not going to help, it just makes it harder. I would say to parents, call ahead to one such group, find out if there is some event or activity for students coming up soon, and tell them that your son and daughter is on campus now and feeling very alone. Ask them if there is someone who can reach out to your child.

Making new friends is a big part of it, but not leaving old friends behind is also important. It is important that they increase their number of contacts at the peer level as much as they can.


Q: What about the issue of antisemitism on college campuses?

A: It is everywhere…but it isn’t rampant everywhere. There are definite groups that are engaging in different kinds of antisemitic activities, but it doesn’t seem to kill off pro-Jewish involvement. I think the Jewish student groups have become stronger because there is that kind of negativism on some campuses. I wouldn’t worry about it; I wouldn’t stay away from Jewish organizations because of that. In fact, I would encourage students to be involved and to be positive.


Q: What is your biggest piece of advice to parents?

A: Besides preparing students for what they might encounter [like drinking and interpersonal relationships], I would say that that is not what college is all about. There are plenty of positive things going on. The more students take advantage of opportunities to get involved in the things that they like and want to be involved in, the better. It almost deletes the possibility that the negative is going to happen because they will find that their friendships and acquaintances are going to come from the new groups. If they can get into some programs and activities that don’t start out as being about drinking and partying, the better off they are going to be.

Drinking is an issue, and if students want to drink and they know it is not a good thing to do, they have to be prepared to accept the consequences. And they shouldn’t think that the college is going to back them up. They are now 18 – they are now adults. The grades are now coming to them and not their parents. This is a whole other world and students have to accept that fact.

It’s just like driving the car. When you go through a red light, you can’t tell the policeman that your daddy is going to kill you if you give me a ticket. The reality is, planning for what comes next is really important and it is a big part of the parental role. Students have to be aware of what they could be facing if they participate in that kind of socialization.

All of this is part of the road to maturity – and that is something that can’t be forgotten.

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