For young adults and their parents, it might be considered the emotional equivalent of a bungee jump. Heading off to college for the first time can be exhilarating, terrifying, cause for jubilation—and usually a few tears. And the first few weeks or months can mean even more angst. How can this turbulence be navigated smoothly?
Enter Harlan Cohen, speaker, syndicated columnist, musician and author of the Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College, a bestselling guide to managing the surprises and potential pitfalls of college life. LN caught up with Cohen at his recent presentation to students and parents at Webster University.
LN: Your book, The Naked Roommate, is now in its 4th edition. Did you expect it to be that popular?
HC: No, that was not the expectation in 2005 when the first edition came out, but people just really embraced it! And things are always changing. I visit about 50 college campuses a year, so I have the opportunity to gather insight from students and keep my finger on the pulse of recent trends.
LN: The title of your book is very memorable! What else do you talk about besides roommates?
HC: The book is about helping students to make choices in alignment with their values. It’s about much more than roommates, because that’s just a small part of the college experience.
LN: Is this your first visit to Webster University?
HC: Yes, and I have to tell you how impressed I am with this school. I visit hundreds of college campuses, and I don’t say that unless I mean it.
LN: In your presentation, you talked to the students separately from their parents. Do you always do that?
HC: Yes, I try to. I appreciate that time with the parents, because I have two children myself and I know, as a parent talking to other parents, it’s a different conversation without the kids around. As for the students, without parents there, we all can be really honest.
LN: Do parents share their personal stories with you afterward?
HC: Always. I just met a mom today who’s the mother of twins—each one at a different school. She described it as a double whammy. She had twice as much to deal with when they were infants, and now she has to deal with two goodbyes. There’s no question that this is a life moment, a rite of passage, as much for the parents as the kids.
LN: What about homesickness? How should parents handle that?
HC: By remembering that the cure is not at home—the cure is on campus. The student who can create a world on campus, be patient and have realistic expectations, is a student who can really find their place and a new home. But that takes time. It doesn’t always happen in two weeks or two months, it might not even happen in two semesters.
LN: Kids and parents—Facebook friends or not?
HC: If you’re a ‘gotcha’ parent—you just want to catch your child doing something wrong, then no. But if you want to stay connected, it’s a great way to have access. Don’t humiliate them, don’t write on their wall, just stay connected. If there’s something that makes you uncomfortable, call your kid and ask about it! Remember, sometimes they post song lyrics as status updates.
LN: You’re a musician and your debut CD, with songs like Girl Walks Bye and Internet Casanova, is called Fortunate Accidents. Tell us about that title, please.
HC: I believe, a lot of the time, dating and relationships are more a result of fortunate accidents than deliberate planning, so that was the inspiration for the title.
LN: What’s next?
HC: My next book, which comes out in April 2012, is Naked Dating: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober. And I’m very excited about another project, Naked Dating Experiments, which is simply about having the confidence and courage to say what you feel and be who you are, knowing that no matter what, it’s going to be OK.