As many parents are celebrating the quarantine graduations of their pre-schoolers and wondering what on earth they’ll do to entertain their kids during an endless summer, parents of quaranTEENS are pondering a weightier issue: will the college that their child spent four years working hard to get into be open this September? And if the campus does open, will they choose to send their high school graduate away from the safe, sanitized cocoon of home?
Before my first child was even born, I was already dreaming about his future. I didn’t know for sure, but my gut told me that I was carrying a boy and I would daydream about my son’s first smile, first words, and first day of school. I pictured the man he’d someday become, the high school graduation that would propel him into the adult world, the independence and responsibility that comes along with going off to college.
Like so many teens around the world, my son worked hard in school and prepared for the ACTs so when he received his acceptance letter last year to an East Coast business school, he celebrated by buying every piece of school branded merchandise he could get his hands on. His interim year of study abroad was cut short and, like so many college students, he was back home by March. He’s been here ever since, monitoring his email to see what the latest updates from his college are. As I write this, we still don’t know if his classes will be online or if he’ll get to experience the time-honored tradition of moving into a college dorm for the first time.
If his school decides to open its campus and classrooms to students, will I send him there in the midst of a pandemic? You better believe I will. The purpose of college is so much more than merely to educate young minds. The social and self-sufficiency aspects are crucial and while my son can learn about economics and politics via Zoom sessions, life skills like making new friends, negotiating the choppy waters of shared living space and generally having to fend for himself are not things that he will learn from the comfort of his childhood bedroom.
I asked two childhood friends of mine whether or not their sons would be going to college this fall. One friend, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, said that her son’s college would be open for students to live on campus and learn from late August until Thanksgiving and that she had no doubt that it is beneficial for her son to start his freshman year on time.
She said that he wanted to start his life, learn to live with other people and experience the transition from home to dorm life that is a rite of passage for kids going to college for the first time. Her son is eager to build his new friend base and be with people who’ve experienced a similar sense of isolation and frustration while in lockdown with their families. Furthermore, my friend’s son has registered for several science courses that require lab lessons which cannot be done at home.
In terms of the risks associated with the coronavirus, she said that she trusts the school to put safety measures in place and that she is prioritizing her son’s mental well-being in deciding that going to college is the best thing for him. Another long-time friend of mine said that her son, whose freshman year had been truncated by the pandemic, could not wait to go back to his Atlanta-based college this August and begin his sophomore year.
When her son came home to shelter in place in New Jersey from his Atlanta based school, he went from interacting with hundreds of students every day to being stuck at home with his parents and three sisters for months. It has not been good for his mental health. He’d tasted the freedom of on-campus college life and to have that taken away suddenly was devastating. True, his laundry was once again being done by his mom and he didn’t have to consider where his next meal was coming from (my friend is a phenomenal cook), but these amenities were not a good trade-off for the lost independence and growth.
Both of my friends trust the schools that their sons attend. There will be hand sanitizing stations, masks and distancing where possible. And both feel strongly that the risks of contracting the virus are not as scary as the fallout of missing out on any more of this critical time in their lives. The mental health toll from being isolated is scarier than a virus that we know more about protecting ourselves from than we did back in March.
My thinking is 100% in line with theirs. Our kids have all sacrificed and suffered for months. As their parents, we collectively believe that it’s time for them to gingerly pick up where they left off and try to find their place in this new world, even if that means that life won’t be exactly as it was before. At least they will still be living.