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Posted at 3:24 PM ET, 07/20/2010

A how-to-get-through-college book for parents

By Valerie Strauss

Once upon a time, in another millennium, kids in college solved their own problems -- or let them fester -- but rarely did they seek help from their parents. Today things are different. Student-parent contact is almost constant, and parents are very present in the life of their kids, often pitching in to solve problems without a real understanding of college life today.

Help is here.

Harlan Cohen, author of “The Naked Roommate” that advises students how to handle the many issues they confront at school, has written a how-to book for parents on surviving the college years.

There’s a lot to learn, and “The Happiest Kid on Campus: Everything a Parent Needs to Know to Help You and Your Child Have an Amazing College Experience,” covers it all in hundreds of pages organized to help you easily find a particular problem and a solution.

If, say, your child calls and says he/she is so homesick that he/she won’t last another minute, you can find the “Homesickness” section in the table of contents and head over. You will learn that your kid isn't alone -- 65.1 percent of students end up feeling homesick or lonely, and that there are three things you will be facing with a homesick child:

*The first is being able to listen to it (not fun).
*The second is being able to help fix it.
*The third is being able to identify when it’s more than just a passing sickness.

Cohen’s new book has been deemed so valuable at some colleges that schools are buying them in bulk to give to parents when they arrive on campus. Virginia Commonwealth University purchased more than 2,000 to give out.

“I tell my parents that I’m not going to test them on the material but I think they are going to find it a really good resource,” said Daphne Rankin, VCU's director of student engagement and a professor of sociology. “He’s a very engaging writer. It is really helpful for first-year parents, and for those parents who have been through it, it’s a good reminder.”

“The Naked Roommate” was so popular at some schools that it became required reading on some campuses for freshman, with its advice on negotiating naked, smelly, noisy, and mean roommates, as well as for dealing with professors, how to read a college textbook, and how to think about sex, drugs, laundry, diet, and a lot of other issues.

Here are excerpts of a conversation I had with Cohen about parents and college:

Q) Why did you write this book?
A) The reason is that parents have moved into the role of first responder. They need to know what’s going on. They need to have a baseline of what’s normal, so that instead of elevating stress and anxiety, they can relieve it.... And I realized that there was very little information and few resources available for parents during this time of transition.

Q) What’s the biggest thing parents need to about college life?
A) They want to know they kid is going to be safe and that their child is going to be happy. I remind them that most of the time they are going to be safe. But the other thing is they are going to be uncomfortable at times. And you need to allow them the space and the time to be uncomfortable, because it is the uncomfortable moments that help us define who we are. But today’s students get uncomfortable and immediately email or call and chat with their parents.

Q) That can’t be good.
A) No. The more you know as a parent, the better equipped you are to direct your child to other sources on campuses. The more you know, the less you hover. And there is such a thing as healthy hovering.

Q) What is healthy hovering?
A) Knowing enough information to empower your children to solve his or her own problems. It’s you not being the ones to reach out to the people to fix things but directing your child to reach out to the people who can fix things. This idea of letting go is the most dramatic change for students. But for parents it's really loosening the grip. It’s no longer letting go. It’s no longer goodbye. It’s text you later. See you on Skype.

Q) What’s the biggest mistake parents make when their kids go to college?
A) The biggest mistake is that they are as impatient as their kids. Parents want it all to happen fast. They want it to happen in two days or two weeks. But it’s not even two months. It’s two semesters. It’s two years. And if you can be more patient and you can understand the uncomfortable parts when your child isn’t having the best day, you won’t be alarmed.... There’s research on this. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, 65.1 percent of students end up feeling homesick or lonely during the first year. That’s two-thirds.

Q) Is there something a parent of a college freshman should be doing now, this summer?
A) They should read the book, and they should become educated. If there is an orientation they should go to these orientations, and don’t arrive late and leave early. Arrive early and leave late. Because it is your time to see the people and walk the campus.... Parents can get educated so they can help their child as the right questions before school starts.

Q) What questions?
A) Here’s one: Where are the three places, not just one, where I will find my place? Because too many times a student thinks life is going to happen. They don’t remember that parents are the ones who created the magic. And now they have to make their own. They have to find places they belong. If they don’t get along with their roommate, they still have other places to explore, other people to learn on. The students who thinks it's all going to happen and finds it doesn’t happen can get cared, desperate and make choices he or she regrets.

Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | July 20, 2010; 3:24 PM ET
Categories:  College Life  | Tags:  college and homesickness, college freshman, college life, harlan cohen, parents and college, the happiest kid on campus, the naked roommate  
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Posted by: jordanrow | July 21, 2010 2:54 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 24, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

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