Ask Mary Jo

College student treated like ‘kid’

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Q. I started reading your column when I had you for sex ed in high school. I noticed that you’d sometimes receive questions from college-aged writers, but I never thought I’d be one of them. Here goes. Can you please print this? I have two reasons for writing to you. First, I’d like to ask my question. Why am I treated like I’m still a kid when I come home? My mom wants to know where I’m going and when I’ll return. I have a curfew even though all semester I take complete care of myself! My dad expects me to adhere to his rules and listen to his political beliefs. “My house, my way,” he says. It’s like I walk in the door and become 12 again. It’s not like my folks are paying for my education. I have my own loans. I acknowledge that they help out when I’m home. If I’m visiting over the holidays, I don’t pay them rent and they pay for groceries and such. I still think I should be treated with respect. Second, I want to tell adults (like parents and grandparents) that they should realize that growing up is inevitable and good. Like that movie title says, “the kids are all right.” I’m a junior in college and my GPA is great. I work part time at school and keep active. I’m on target. I’m OK, and a lot of my friends are OK. No, we’re not perfect, but no generation is perfect. My friends and I vote and are informed and are preparing for good careers. Thanks for listening.


20-year-old male


Mary Jo’s response:


Your words show your growing maturity. I too believe that “the kids are all right.” I also have empathy for the way you feel when you return home from college. I think that type of experience is pretty universal. I recall feeling that I was surrendering adulthood when I walked through my parents’ doorway as a young nursing student and that was a very long time ago. Time may have dulled my perception of that experience, though. My memory provides an image of serenity, of allowing someone else to take charge for a brief period. I also worked through school and carried a heavy load. My parents fussed over me, my mother fed me constantly, my father mumbled about oil changes and finances. In short, I was cared for.


Can you see your parents’ actions through their lens? When I train adults to teach young people I often ask them to “remove their adult glasses’’ and try to see the world through the eyes of someone from a different culture. Every encounter with an adolescent is a cross-cultural experience.


The same is true in reverse. The time you spend with your parents now is precious. In their eyes you’re their little boy. In your eyes you’re a young man who is independent and self-sufficient. Perceiving you as a grownup is a leap for them; you’re well on your way to demonstrating adulthood, but it will take time for them to grasp the change.


Try talking with your parents honestly and with respect. Show them this column. Explain your need to feel autonomous. You sound like a young man on a good path, and I’m sure they’re proud of you. Explain your feelings to them just as you’ve articulated them to me.


Good luck with school. Enjoy this time in your life. Keep in touch.


Q. I wish you taught at my college, or at least could speak at a dorm or something. I’m an RA at a well-respected school, and most of my classmates are high achievers. You’d be amazed at how much they don’t know about their own bodies, though. Most of them didn’t have any type of good sex ed in high school. I think that’s appalling. Since I know more than they do (even though I often have less experience) many girls in my dorm ask me questions. I’ve texted you a few times anonymously when I wasn’t sure of the answers. Thanks for responding. Can you recommend a good website they can turn to? I’m not an education major – I’m pre-law. It’s not like I mind being their “go to” person, but I’m not always sure I’m giving the right responses. Thanks!


20-year-old female


Mary Jo’s response:


Being an RA is an excellent preparation for life, regardless of major. I congratulate you on taking on the added responsibility of that role, especially since you’ve been brave enough to step up and answer sensitive questions.


Your comment about a lack of sexuality education saddens me. I write this from New York City; this week I will present a break-out session and a keynote at a national sex ed conference. Education on healthy sexuality is not mandated in most states. When my daughter was an RA during her undergraduate education, I often traveled to her college and presented mini-workshops in the dorm. I found many high-achieving college students were lacking in basic education about their bodies and relationships. You’re not alone.


Please continue to use me as a resource – I truly don’t mind. There are many excellent websites that can back you up. Any information on STIs or HIV/AIDS can easily be found on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) sites. An informal and up-to-date website about sexuality and relationships is http://www.scarleteen.com/. Although targeting teens, the information is applicable to college students. Stay strong!


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