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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Prepping kids and parents for college


BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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TIPS ONCE THEY'VE ARRIVED

• Find out if your child's college has an office of parent affairs. It's a designated liaison for parents and helps them stay in the loop.

• Subscribe to the school newspaper or bookmark its online version. This will let you know what's going on at your child's campus.

• Set a once-a-week check-in time for a telephone call or Skype conversation. You want regular communication to be expected.

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For all the excitement college brings, the first year away from home can be a stressful time for both parents and their children. Letting go is just as difficult as learning from your mistakes.

But at 'Iolani School, seniors and their parents rely on a counseling program in which recent graduates return to campus with practical advice, survival skills and friendly tips. "College Life After 'Iolani" offers a helpful blueprint for newly minted graduates no matter what their alma mater as well as peace of mind for their parents.

"I guess the main concern of a lot of the parents is how is my kid going to handle being by themselves," said Daisy Catalan, a Waikele parent of a senior who helped organize this year's program.

The program, which has been around for about 20 years, covers a range of situations, from making sure your child can sew on a button to knowing how to balance a checkbook to what kind of suitcase to buy. And of course, doing laundry.

There are answers to things the young students have never thought of because, for years, their parents have taken care of them, Catalan said.

"It really helps the parents and the students to prepare them on what to expect," she said. "Little things you have questions about, like when you get sick and don't feel well, what do you do?"

Meeting with veterans of the college experience during informal settings can ease fears, said Madlyn Finger, another parent organizer.

"A lot of parents are put in this for the first time and what happens is you become anxious and you become nervous and you become scared," she said. "And you have a lot of unanswered questions."

The students have questions, too, including many they would never ask an adult. The sessions bridge that generation gap, said Catalan's 18-year-old son, Adrian, who found the information helpful even though he plans to attend the University of Hawai'i.

"They were able to connect with us, being alumni," he said. "They also were able to talk about subjects that the school couldn't talk about, such as drinking and sex and substances. They addressed it matter-of-factly."

A key issue for parent and child is communication and Todd Fleming, director of college counseling at 'Iolani, urges regular conversations up to a point. Families have to wean themselves from some of that, he said.

"Part of the experience of going to college is to learn to solve problems so that when something goes wrong, the first thing a child does is to try and solve it and not call home," he said.

Young college students, suddenly on their own, can find their growing independence slightly uncomfortable at first, he said.

"They want independence, but they realize that pretty soon they may have more independence than they can handle," Fleming said. "They want to be treated like an adult, but I think in a lot of ways they still like being taken care of."

Rochelle Uchibori is about to send her second child to college, but this time it's much farther away New York. She thinks he's ready but still plans to work with him on some basic life skills this summer, like ironing.

At some point, though, she will have to believe in herself as much as her son, who will have a credit card for emergencies and an open invite to call home if necessary, she said.

"As a parent you always worry and you want them to do their best and experience the best," she said. "I have raised him for 18 years and tried to instill in him good common sense, but I am ready to let go."

GETTING READY

• Learn to let go by allowing your child to spend more time with friends, but maintain restrictions as appropriate.

• Plan to accompany your child to college to help him/her settle in and be sure to make flight arrangements early.

• Consider buying large duffel bags with wheels because they store better.

• Teach your child how to manage a checking account and discuss a weekly budget.

• Buy a laptop computer with an extended warranty and a cable to lock it to the desk.

• Research public transportation near the college and teach your child how to use it.

• Establish emergency contacts for your child.