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December 20, 2006

Winter break visits home can bring surprises to both parents and students

From yesterday's Washington Post:

If you're a parent, be forewarned: The homecomers may snack like locusts, sleep like vampires, treat property with the respect of marauding villagers -- yet exude such charm and sweetness that you pray they never leave.

If you're a student, you could be in for an awakening, too. You may wonder why your old room is suddenly a workout spa, why your parents consider a major in folklore impractical and why the very air at home seems to transform you into the child you were sure you'd left behind.

Ah, the joys and oys of the school-break family reunion.

Nearly 85 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges and universities ditched their familial digs in 2005, and 12.6 percent of 263,710 freshmen surveyed lived more than 500 miles from home, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Considering that even more upperclassmen likely don't live with Mom and Dad, that means many happy -- or not-so-happy -- reunions across the country this winter break.

Parents eager to catch up may find that their child offers little family time or is reluctant to share her thoughts. When she does talk, parents may discover she's questioning their values or has chosen a lifestyle at odds with theirs. Bam: They've been fired from an 18-year job.

Read the whole thing.

Let us know in the comments section how things are going for your family over winter break.

October 14, 2006

A request for advice from other parents

I received the following e-mail from a parent whose freshman daughter is struggling academically. If you have any suggestions for her, please add them in the comments section below.

Our daughter called the other nite & was so discouraged about her midterms. She felt she had studied hard & knew the information. She stated that that is all she has done in the last two weeks is study, by herself & with friends. She was an "A" student in high school & did PSEO her Senior year. So for her to get a "C" & "D" on her midterms was a total shock. I stated that you have to study differently in college. How differently? I'm not sure. She said she was having a hard time concentrating & she thought she was ADD!! She's working on getting a job & my reply was that I thought that would help her in scheduling her time to study, knowing she wouldn't have open ended hours to study, she might be able to concentrate better. What advice can I give her? I would think not being able to focus isn't all that unusal for freshman. Is there any better food or drink that would calm her nerves (She doesn't drink pop). Any advice from seasoned parents would be appreciated! Thanks.

A good starting place would be reading the following article written by Dr. Scott Slattery, who writes a regular column for University Parent. This article appeared in our Fall 2004 newsletter.

Question for U: Academic Blind Spots

My son did well in HS, so why is he struggling now? We didn’t see this coming.

Situations like your son’s are confusing and troubling for students and parents alike. Why would a student with no history of academic difficulty start struggling? These situations are often understandable and easy to address.

One way of understanding is to think about academic “blind spots? (ABS). Just like the blind spot we know from driving, ABS’s are issues that are ‘there’ but can’t be seen without actively looking for them. Students can be cruising along academically – success in the rearview mirror, clear goals ahead, no problems in sight – when they bump into an issue that was sitting in their blind spot.

As an example, let’s look at study/homework time. The traditional guideline is that students should spend three hours of study time a week for every credit taken (i.e., 45 hours of studying per week for a 15-credit semester). In this example, though, we will use a less strict guideline of 1 hour per credit, or 15 hours a week). In a recent survey of incoming freshmen (CIRP, 2001), approximately 77 percent said they expected to devote 15 or more hours to homework. Unfortunately, only 5 percent studied that many hours in their senior year of high school (86 percent studied 10 hours or less per week). In another survey (FYE, 2001), 64 percent of freshmen reported that their courses required more study/homework time than they expected. Two years later, 81 percent of the same group said their courses required more study time than they expected.

These statistics are not made to suggest that students need to study more in high school; rather, they point to a potential ABS – namely, that increasing study/homework time from 10 hours or less to 15 hours a week is a significant adjustment for many students. After all, if 10 hours or less worked well in high school, why change in college?

I use study/homework time as an ABS example because it indicates how small skill issues can snowball into large academic problems and how easy it often is to fix these situations (i.e., develop a more effective study schedule). Other common ABS’s include:

• ineffective time and stress management;
• difficulty shifting from a high structure environment (like home or high school) to a low structure environment (like college or an apartment);
• leaving home for the first time;
• taking an unrealistic academic load;
• too many campus involvements;
• and under-utilization of resources.

Past academic success does not make a student immune from an ABS in college—just like having a good driving record doesn’t make someone immune from hitting another car if the blind spot is not checked. While ABS’s are difficult for students to see, they are often easy to spot by others. Taking steps to assess if your son or daughter is academically prepared for college may prove to be a worthwhile preventive step. If you don’t find any concerns, then nothing is lost; but, if an ABS is found, then a lot of frustration and confusion can be avoided. Some options & suggestions are listed below for assessment and intervention:

1. Identify ABSs – there are several quick, affordable assessments students can take to highlight potential ABSs.

2. Use resources – remember that others are often able to see potential issues and can offer practical recommendations for change.

a. LASC (Learning & Academic Skills Center) (624-3323) offers courses for academic skill development [LASk 1001; & LASk 1101) for students on probation. Individualized skills training (LA – learning assistance) is also offered.

b. UCCS (University Counseling & Consulting Services) (109 Eddy Hall; 612-624-3323) offers individualized academic counseling for issues such as procrastination and low motivation, as well as assessment and test interpretation. UCCS staff are available for consultation with parents.

c. Consult with faculty / advisers. Students gain the benefits of increased efficiency and networking. Faculty offer important insights into potential ABSs based on work with previous students.

3. Value balanced schedules. While it is important for students to maintain a credit load sufficient to graduate in a timely manner, it is equally important for them to balance challenging courses with less demanding classes. Students with too many challenging courses run the risk of deflating their GPA. A balanced courseload is more likely to result in a healthier GPA and a clearer mind for focusing on work (not catching-up).

One update: the LASC is now called Student Academic Success Services (SASS).

Parents who've experienced something similar with your student, what worked for your student? What didn't?

July 31, 2006

Parental involvement: finding a balance

Yesterday's New York Times Education section contained a number of interesting articles about higher education. Of special relevance for parents of college students, especially first year students, is an article offering advice from student affairs professionals (including from the U of M) on how parents can support their students, even from a distance.

For parents who'd like to learn more, a sidebar offers recommended reading, including Marj's book, You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years