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The Boomerang Effect

When that dream school turns into a nightmare and teaching kids to learn to pick up the pieces when they fail.

By Susan Schaefer

Is anyone else disturbed by the alarming number of kids who happily go off to the college of their dreams and are right back in their old bedrooms by the end of the first year, or semester, or week? Just when you thought the nest was empty, there they are again; with their beaks wide open expecting you to drop that fat worm down their throats. Goodbye tens of thousands of dollars! Hello miserable kid!

If you have ever trudged through a college tour you were most likely assured that, even if your child runs into some rough patches, not to worry! The school offers a plethora of support to help them through anything; academic, emotional, or otherwise. What they fail to mention is that the same lack of motivation, which gets students into trouble in the first place will probably prevent them from signing up for any of these services.

This is the thing at college; parents aren’t there. Kids need to make their own appointments with tutors. Since there are often not nearly enough tutors to go around, students must sign up a couple of weeks in advance to secure one. They also have to self-advocate (professors will absolutely not talk to parents), haul themselves over to the writing and math centers, get up in time for class, and choose to stay in and study when a dozen of their besties are begging them to go to that amaaaaazing frat party.

Students usually do not magically change their ways when they go off to school. If they did not take academics seriously in high school, chances are they did not acquire the necessary qualities to succeed in college. But, in high school, students can often pull it together before grades come out and do okay. Since this has worked in the past they think this will work in college no matter how many times they are told it won’t. The next thing they know they have to tell their parents, who 5 minutes ago were so happy they are home for winter break, they need to repeat a class to the tune of $4,000 and their GPA is already shot. Happy holidays!

Nobody sends their kid away to college expecting they will not succeed. We figure, if they had the grades and test scores to get there, they will be fine. But after doing some research, I found there is, in fact, an alarming number of kids going home and staying there. The national average for students returning to college after the first year is only 65 percent.*

Surprisingly, it’s usually not because they can’t do the work, it’s because they don’t know how to manage their time effectively, solve their own problems, and take responsibility for their actions. In other words, they do not have the life skills to function independently. Some kids eventually do pull it together and go back to school, but rarely do they go back to where their dream school turned into a nightmare.

Wondering how this happened? Well, you’re not going to like this but we probably did it to them. As parents we are so hell bent on saving our kids from the pain of failing at anything that they don’t think they can actually fail. Then we send them off to college where we can’t swoop in and save them and they find out they actually can, and sometimes do, fail.

The time has come to end the era of “everyone’s a winner!” We need to let our kids learn to fail, pick up the pieces, and move on when they are younger so they can be self reliant when they are older and don’t end up back in their Power Ranger sheets when they should be in their filthy dorm room sheets.

Sue Schaefer, M.ED., M.A.T., founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an Academic Coach, Student Advocate, and certified teacher. You may visit her website at www.academiccoachingct.com, email her at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com and follow her on Twitter @sueschaefer1.

*(Data from: http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/reports/graduation.html).

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