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Archive for Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Freshmen thrive on independence, even if they stay in town

March 31, 2009

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Wes: It’s the time of the year when final decisions on college are made. Of course, some families bought in to a given college months or even years ago. But some are still weighing the alternatives — and may still be throughout freshman year. For many years, I’ve suggested that living in a college town has numerous advantages — one of which is NOT the opportunity to move six blocks away to go to college.

I think this is a well-reasoned position. If your mom is a preschool or kindergarten teacher, I would never suggest you be enrolled in her class. The point of going to kindergarten is to leave home and become a part of society, with all its good and bad, up and down experiences. From that point forward the life of a child is about growing up and away. For the college-bound, a major part of that process is moving into the dorm or apartment and setting up a young adult life. Even for those who’ve opted to go out of town, the normal homesickness of freshman year can make the siren’s song of local college hard to resist. Many have come back after one or two semesters to enroll at Kansas University, Johnson County Community College or Haskell Indian Nations University.

I still hold to the idea that leaving for college is an essential part of growing up. Kelly takes a different and equally well-reasoned position. But I’ve also come to realize that for some kids, it’s just not in the cards. Teens with cognitive, emotional or psychological problems such as depression and ADHD or those who are simply not very mature often end up in difficult circumstances if they leave home prematurely. Yet after 15 years, I’m often surprised by which kids do fine on their own and which do not. It’s a tough prediction to make, and nobody wants to discourage a young person from following his or her dream. So parents have to try to get an objective view of where their teen is developmentally.

All of this is complicated by our precarious national financial situation. Many stock-based college funds have been decimated along with the markets in the last year, limiting options that were previously open. While the future of financial aid appears rosier than in previous years, it’s never a done deal until the check’s in the bank, and many families appear to have more money on paper than cash waiting to be spent on college right now. Thus the ideal of sending kids off to the U of their choice for an enriching transition to adulthood may give way to the big blue bus that runs every hour between Lawrence and Overland Park. It’s a tough decision, but for many, the financial realities will make more expensive decisions either unwise or impossible. That brings us to our final topic — where to live.

For those sticking around Lawrence, I strongly suggest moving into university housing, greek houses or (last choice on my list) an apartment. If our kids aren’t leaving Lawrence, they should at least find their own corner of it in which to live. Assuming the family can afford it and the teen is not encumbered by psychological problems, the complications of a young adult living in their parent’s home are rarely justified. In other words — young adults need their own space, and parents should do whatever they can within reason to help that process out.

Kelly: Our days as seniors are numbered for the class of 2009. Not only have we been consumed with endless college applications, but we’ve been burdened with the knowledge that high school as we know it will soon be coming to an end. Some of us have been anticipating graduation since the day we entered high school. Others remain unsure of ourselves and what’s in store for the future. Whether we are attending college or not, we realize it’s time to start making real adult decisions for ourselves.

I don’t view my decision to go to KU as selling myself short on experiencing amazing, life-changing opportunities. Ideally, I would see myself attending some school in New York or Europe, being able to live on my own and being able to afford a luxurious lifestyle. Coming back to reality, I realize that times are tough for the economy, and I need to be practical. Plus, I feel Lawrence still has a lot to offer me, in part because I’ve only had the pleasure of living in Lawrence for a short period. I know there’s a lot that the world has to offer, but for now I feel comfortable where I’m at.

Deciding on what college to attend was a somewhat easy choice for me. Of course, with the convenience of location, in-state tuition and the major I wish to pursue, KU is the perfect choice. And I really didn’t contemplate much about the matter. I just knew that going to KU would work for me.

Whatever college you attend, whether it’s close by or far away, realize this is your opportunity to prove yourself. Being on your own and experiencing a new life makes you take on great responsibility. It’s important for you to show how much you’ve grown. I think there are those who lose sight of such principles. They take the idea of freedom too far and either end up with a bad hangover or bad grades.

Next week: Living on your own in 2009? Do’s and don’ts for families of high school seniors.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to doubletake@ljworld.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.

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