Parent Doesn’t Want Child’s Grades Tied to Self-worth

Dear Harlan: How can you help students realize that their success isn’t completely wrapped up in their GPA? College counselors say that high-school students can’t get into a top state school without a 4.3 GPA? There is so much pressure to be accepted that students are having emotional breakdowns. There is widespread peer pressure. I try to avoid letting it affect my parenting, but it’s hard to avoid when it’s woven into the culture. What can we do to change this?

— Parent of a Senior

Dear Parent:  It starts with you – the parent. Make it about your kid, not about the college. I was a 3.0 student in high school (barely), struggled on my SATs, went to a state college and didn’t choose a major until my junior year. I figured it out. My parents didn’t care about the college. They didn’t tell me what I should want. They didn’t let other people dictate what I should want. They let me choose what I wanted. “What do YOU want?” is the only question they asked. They trusted that I would be successful. There’s an epidemic of students who don’t know the answer. It’s easier, safer and more comfortable for students and parents to focus on being wanted. They take classes to be wanted. They choose clubs and organizations to feel wanted. As a result, more college students than ever are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. Make college less about a school and more about your child. Make it a mantra. The best school is NOT always the best place for your child. Check out Frank Bruni’s book “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.” The book shares data and anecdotes from students who have gone to a wide range of schools and won big. Getting accepted to a top-tier school doesn’t guarantee happiness, fulfillment or a top-tier life.

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Grandma Roasts Chestnuts and Loved Ones

Dear Harlan: My grandmother always brings up my weight when we get together for holidays. She has no filter. She says whatever comes to mind. This happened again over Thanksgiving. I’ve struggled with my weight for my entire life. She knows how much it bothers me, but continues to keep hurting my feelings. I’ve respectfully asked her not to ask me about this, but she doesn’t listen. I will see her again during the holidays. What should I do? I’m already dreading the upcoming holidays.

— Grandma Problem

Dear Grandma Problem:  Grandma roasts a ham and the guests. No, it’s not nice. You can lose the weight, but you’ll never lose your grandma’s unsolicited advice. Even if she stops with the weight comments, she’ll find some other way to get under your skin. She wants a reaction. She will never stop giving you her opinion. Don’t try to manage her. Manage your reactions. Acknowledge her comments and move on. You can talk to her again about it, if you want, but that will just give her a bigger reaction. She likes the attention. The best approach is to love yourself even more. This can mean changing what you don’t love or loving what you can’t change. When you love yourself, stupid comments from family members roll off your back. When you are balanced, happy and healthy, you can enjoy the best qualities of flawed people. Instead of feeling attacked, you can look past this part of her personality and love what she can offer. Or you can scrap all this advice, avoid her and head to Vegas over the holidays!

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She’s too busy for a date… He’s crushed, confused, and still waiting

Flirting After SchoolDear Harlan: I like this girl, but every time I ask her out, she is busy (legitimately). She sends me mixed signals and sometimes I really think she likes me, but then I sometimes think she’s just leading me on. How do I know the difference? — Led on

Dear Led on: You need more crushes in your life.  Listen to me man… If you had five more women in your life who interested you, this one would be a distant thought. You wouldn’t feel led on because you’d have moved on a long time ago. Interestingly, when you move on, women find you much more attractive. It’s not attractive to sit around waiting for someone to decide that she has enough time for you. Moving on makes you appear to not need anyone. That makes you more wanted. You’ve done everything you need to do. You’ve asked her out. She knows how you feel. Now you can let her know that when she’s available, if you’re not seeing someone, she can let you know about that date. Make it about the timing. Then, spend your time on women who are available.

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College freshman coming home for Thanksgiving break? Here’s what parents can expect…

Open Arms

Thanksgiving break is a very exciting time for parents. Having your child home again is just about the most wonderful thing that could happen (that and actually cooking a moist turkey). There are so many things to do and so much catching up. There are meals to share, rooms to clean, light bulbs to change, computer issues to resolve, things to buy, stuff to rearrange, relatives to see, family outings to go on—there are so many things to do as a family and so little time to do it.

College students get excited about Thanksgiving too. For them, it’s a time to sleep, eat, hang out with friends, and see a boyfriend or girlfriend. Oh, and if there’s time to visit and shop with parents, that’s a bonus too.

Notice the difference? What I’m trying to say is that first-year college students home for break might have different expectations than their parents. This is especially true of students whose break is their first visit home.

Things to Expect during a Visit Home

– Expect them to want to sleep a lot (college is exhausting)

– Expect them to want to reconnect with friends

– Expect them to want to spend time with significant others

– Expect them to want a new curfew

– Expect them to want to eat a lot of home cooking

– Expect them to want to hang out at night with people other than you

– Expect them to want to have some space to do nothing

– Expect them to be surprised with what has changed

– Expect them to want you to do laundry (expect the only thing you’ll get in return is lint)

– Expect them to want you to keep their things just as they left them

Being back home is like being transported to another world. The last time your child was home he or she was a kid. So much has changed. The boy is a man and the girl is a woman. The life your daughter left behind is now part of her past. Coming back home can be like being a deer in the headlights. So try not to run her over by having too many expectations. She might actually need a break.

Mom doesn’t want to share son over Thanksgiving Break

Christmas table setting with turkey. Christmas dinner. Holiday decorated table, Christmas tree, champagne and roasted turkey, Christmas served table

Dear Harlan: My son is coming home for Thanksgiving break from his first semester in college. He just informed us that he plans on spending most nights with his girlfriend. She’s a lovely girl, but we see her on a regular basis (she visits him frequently). We understand that he wants to be with her, but we have family obligations. We also miss him and would like dedicated time together. How should we approach this without pushing him away?

— Breaking

Dear Breaking:  Don’t make him choose. You’ll have hurt feelings and a miserable kid who can’t wait to leave. Don’t take this personally. He misses his girlfriend, friends and family. He needs to reconnect with the familiar people. Figure out how much time you need. Explain your dilemma to him. Let him know that you want him to spend time with friends and his girlfriend, but also want to make sure there is family time. Ask him what works for him. If he can’t give you enough, suggest changing times and shifting when you spend time with him. Be flexible. Invite his girlfriend. Make lunchtime family time. The fact that you’re asking him what works instead of telling him what you want should change the conversation.

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15 Things Parents of First-Year College Students Should Never Do


1. Get Carried Away in Hysterics: No one wants to be the freshman of the mom who literally couldn’t let go, fell, hit her head, and got carried away in an ambulance. On the other hand, hiding your feelings makes you come off as cold and uncaring. Find a middle ground (a few tears, no sobbing on the ground) and get out…fast. Run!

2. Wake-Up Calls: It’s not about you getting them up; it’s about you knowing where they are in the morning. I know it alarms you to be so far away, but this is not how your child becomes a self-sufficient responsible adult. Besides, sleeping through a quiz is all part of learning.

3. Call a Teacher: Parent-teacher conferences are ovahhh (unfair, right?). In fact, FERPA makes it illegal for schools to share your 18-year-old’s grades or divulge that your child is on academic probation. If your child has a problem, your child must fix the problem. This is why there are academic advisors, office hours, department chairs, and deans of students. Unless your child is unable to speak due to an illness or prolonged absence, let him or her do the talking.

4. Cut Them Off: Threats only work for so long. Then your child will become an adult, keep secrets, avoid you, and spend time with the nicer in-laws. If your child is underachieving, misbehaving, or struggling, there is always another issue behind it. Get mental health or academic support to help fix the problem instead of reacting to the symptom.

5. Fix Fix Fix: It’s your passion. It’s your purpose. You’re a pro. But it’s no longer your problem. Their struggles belong to them. Their victories belong to you (yes, a mom told me that at an event—brilliant). Let them fix it. Repeat after me, “What do you think you should do?” Give problems time to marinate. At least 24 hours. It’s how they become seasoned.

6. Public Humiliation: Being your child’s Facebook friend, Instagram follower, and Twitter subscriber is a privilege. Not a parental right. Come across something offensive, alarming, or dangerous? Have a private conversation. Never publicly shame, censor, or parent. WARNING: YOU WILL BE CUT OFF.

7. Text Abuse: “Where’s the remote?” “Eating at ur fav restaurant.” “Waiter just asked where r u.” “Missing u.” “Hot 2day.” “Sunscreen?” “LOL.” “Boo.” “Hi!” “☺.” You are a new generation of parent. You have to be the one to set boundaries and limit communication. Cut your talking, texting, and communicating in half. When your child is texting, talking, or video chatting with you, he or she is not building new relationships with new people on campus.

8. Always Blame the Roommate: NEWS FLASH: Your kid might be the roommate from hell. When your child screams, “I HATE MY ROOMMATE!,” ask your angel three questions: Do you want to get along? Can you just be roommates (friendship is a bonus)? Have you shared what is making you uncomfortable or asked your roommate to share what’s making him or her uncomfortable? If your child answers NO to any of these questions, I’ve got news for you.

9. Surprise Visits: No one likes surprises. Give them a day or two, or at least a few hours, before springing an impromptu visit. They need to clean up, ask the overnight guest leave, and fumigate (kidding about the guest, maybe…).

10. Expect Perfection: Your kid has had to be perfect for 18 years. Set them free. Give your child permission to be imperfect. It’s a gift. When they struggle, instead of panicking, suggest they find their people and places.

11. Cure Homesickness at Home: FACT: 66.6 percent of first-year students admitted feeling homesick or lonely (according to HERI stats, UCLA). The cure for homesickness is not at home. It’s finding your people and places on campus. It’s being patient and appreciating that change takes time. Remind them. I’ll remind them too.

12. Redecorate Too Soon: It’s awful to sleep in a sewing room that used to be your bedroom while home over Thanksgiving. That’s what one first-year student told me. His mom took over his room the day he left. Give it a good year before throwing out the mattress and moving in the sewing table.

13. Wait for Them to NEED Help: Students who have struggled socially, emotionally, physically, financially, and academically in high school may struggle in college. Change can be a trigger. Make sure they have help in place before they need it. Over 32 percent of college students admitted feeling so depressed “it was difficult to function” (according to ACHA-NCHA data). Identify specific people who can help and support them. Give them all the info they need to get help before they need it.

14. Be Impatient: Google the word patient and you get 514 million results in .05 seconds. No exaggeration. Change takes time. The first year in college is the equivalent of being trapped inside a snow globe filled with fecal matter (it can be a you-know-what storm). You must be the patient and clear-minded one because your college student doesn’t know patience yet.

15. Fight the Uncomfortable: Change is uncomfortable. Fighting the uncomfortable only creates more uncomfortable. Your job is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable first—then when the unexpected pops up, you can help your child get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Beware of the Instagram, Snapchat, Headline Culture

facebook-thumbs-downDear Harlan: I’m a first-year college student who has been on campus for four weeks. I feel like people are socializing so much more than me. I have so much homework that I don’t ever have the time. How do I balance schoolwork and socializing? I see friends on Snapchat and Instagram who are having a better time than me. I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Is this a normal feeling?

— Failing Socially

Dear Failing Socially: Everyone’s life always looks better  on Facebook or through an Instagram filter. This is the problem with living in a “headline culture.” And it’s not just a college thing. We all feel it. Life in the age of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and streaming news about people’s personal lives distorts the truth. There are two realities: There is the one you see on social media, and then there is the one people actually are living. The one on social media is filled with the best angles, happiest moments and amazing times without you. There are victories, hugs, kisses, cars, homes, trips, life moments and a little tragedy and humility sprinkled within. You are getting the highlights without the rest of the story. Do not let this world shape your reality. It’s NOT real. The only thing you know is what you know about your life. And I can promise you with 100 percent certainty that what you are feeling is the norm. Two-thirds of first-year college students admit to feeling lonely, and a third of all students feel so depressed that it’s hard to get their schoolwork done. Read “Madison Holleran’s Friends Share Their Unfiltered Life Stories” on, and you’ll see first-hand accounts of how headlines and reality don’t align. One of Madison’s friends shared a picture of herself smiling with a friend, which is captioned “Although I look like I’m great, everything is falling apart.” The pictures DO NOT tell the story. Studying too much is a good thing. You’re doing it right. Once you figure out how to establish regular study habits, then you can find more balance. Congrats – you are more normal than you possibly can imagine. It’s just not part of the headline culture.

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College kegger won’t happen at this mom’s house

Not Smoking, eating or drinking wood sign

Dear Harlan: My son, who is a freshman in college, wants to have his friends stay with us for summer break because we live near the beach. I want to tell him “no” because I am worried sick about the drinking that I know they all love to do. I have met only one of the kids that he wants to bring into our home; there are three others that he wants to bring. I feel so torn. I just don’t want to deal with the underage drinking, driving, worrying and heaven knows what else. He argues with every point I try to make. My husband is a business owner in town, and I fear that if something were to happen, we could lose everything. I hate being that mom who won’t let him bring friends around because I’m so happy he has made some. I just don’t know how to handle this! Any helpful advice would be appreciated. Arguing with an 18-year-old who thinks he’s invincible is exhausting!

— Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom:  There’s no arguing. Your place, your rules. Then there are local and state rules. These are rules enforced by the police. If the police discover that alcohol is being consumed on your property or that you’re supplying alcohol to underage teenagers, knowingly or not, you’re all in big-time trouble. And if someone gets hurt, injured or killed, you’re in even bigger trouble. If you lose everything as a result of the trouble, there won’t be a house, either near the beach or away from the beach. Then he and his friends will have nowhere to stay. It’s a simple conversation with your son. Anyone is welcome to come to your house, but there is no underage drinking allowed. It’s non-negotiable. If he doesn’t respect the rules, or his friends can’t respect them, he can find another place to stay. No need to argue. House rules rule.

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Parents want college-bound daughter to be more aware of sexual assault risks

Dear Harlan: 
I have a daughter who is going to college in the fall. She doesn’t think being safe is an issue that is relevant to her. She comes from a safe community where little happens. We have explained that sexual assault is a threat in college. Her way of thinking makes it hard for us to trust her judgment. What can we do to help her to see that this is something she needs to be aware of? We want to help her, but how can we do this if she doesn’t believe it’s a problem? — Protective Parents

Dear Protective Parents: First, you rock.  You are the MOST influential people in her life.  You need to talk about this. Even if she doesn’t respond the way you want, she will hear you.   Instead of forcing her to think the way you think, start with the way she thinks. Rather than questioning her judgment, acknowledge that her life up to this point has been safe and secure. She’s fortunate. Instead of telling her what she needs to do, ask her questions about sexual assault on campus. Don’t make the conversation about her behavior or poor judgment; make it about assault on campus. For example, ask “Do know if sexual assault happens on your campus? What type of sexual assault-prevention programs does your campus have? Why do you think sexual assault is such a big issue? What would you do if something like this ever happened to you? Have you seen the stories in the campus newspaper about assault on campus? Do you think anyone expects this to happen to them?” Fear isn’t going to get her attention.  Use facts.  No one expects to be a survivor of sexual assault.  According to data cited by the National Sexual Violence Center:

  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 46.4% lesbians, 74.9% bisexual women and 43.3% heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes, while 40.2% gay men, 47.4% bisexual men and 20.8% heterosexual men reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes.
  • Nearly one in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration or alcohol/drug-facilitated completed penetration. Approximately one in 45 men has been made to penetrate an intimate partner during his lifetime.
  • 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and 9% are male.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
  • 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and 9% are male

Remind her that she will hear a lot about sexual assault and survivor resources on campus – it’s required as part of Title IX education. When gathering facts unique to her campus, encourage her to talk to the campus police, ask current students on campus, check out the Cleary Center (, visit and know the resources and support services on her campus and in the community (

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS CONVERSATION: Remind your daughter that no matter what happens – it is NEVER the survivor’s fault. And you will ALWAYS be there for her.

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No Lying When Posting Online Dating Pic, OK?

TinderDear Harlan:  Which is better: an online dating profile picture that shows me looking my absolute best, or should I go with something a little more realistic? I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations, but I want to put my best face forward. What is the best approach? Impress with the best? — Newly Single

Dear Newly Single: Go with your real face. There’s no reason to try to impress with a pic that’s too hot to match in real life. Bait-and-switch isn’t attractive. Apply the 10 percent rule: Anything more than 10 percent deceptive is wrong. If you’re 10 percent older, shorter or heavier today, don’t post a picture of you looking 10 percent younger, taller and fitter in your profile picture. It’s also important to follow the 100 percent rule. This is when someone misrepresents 100 percent of the truth. This is also known as LYING! If you don’t have 100 percent of your hair, aren’t 100 percent employed or 100 percent single, don’t post a picture of you with a full head of hair with a description of being too busy working to find love as a single person. Make sure you represent your best, without deception or lies. Better yet, make yourself 10 percent less attractive, and wow them face-to-face.

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