Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years
Coburn, K. & Treeger, M.
ISBN: 0060521260 & 978-0060521264
Harper Paperbacks
1997

BOOK REVIEW (Davidson Institute) - A review of Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger.

Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

A must-read for parents of teens who are preparing to or have recently moved away from home to go to college, Letting Go accompanies parents through the journey called college. Starting with applying to colleges and on through to graduation day, this is a perfect guide to help navigate your child through moving out and finding independence, to helping you through the first few months when your child doesn’t call home like he or she promised. Filled with real life experiences, Letting Go is recommended by colleges and universities across the country.

The opening chapter is a perfect introduction as it explains the experience of a mother whose daughter is a college freshman. Although she was so excited about going to college, she refuses to get out of the car once she and her mom arrive. A few hours later, she is telling her mom to find something to do because she has plans with her “new friends.” This rollercoaster ride the daughter sent her mother on is explained from both perspectives, as are many other issues that may arise, such as issues when filling out college applications, choosing which school to go to, moving in and meeting new roommates, dealing with romantic relationships, having harder classes, being homesick, having an empty nest, and dealing with your child when he or she comes home for vacation as a new independent person.

Here is a quote from a student whose parents worry that she is procrastinating on her college applications:

    For me it’s hard enough to decide what clothes to put on in the morning. It took me forever to decide where I wanted to go to college. My mom was getting quite concerned as each month passed and deadlines approached. In all reality, you think about your college choice 24/7. It may not appear that way on the outside, but it’s always internal, always in your head, rolling around (p. 115).

Authors Karen Coburn and Madge Treeger are strong advocates of talking with your child about what is expected once he or she is in college. They say to sit down with your child and lay out how often you expect him or her to call home and visit; however, if these guidelines are not followed, it is not cause for alarm. As a college freshman, your child is experiencing many things and is finding out what it is like to be on his or her own. It is not uncommon if your child does not want you there by his or her side, and this book addresses this through sharing experiences other parents have had. As the book mentions, when asked how they would like their parents to stay connected, students will say they want attention and support from their parents, not unsolicited advice; and mail, any kind of mail to keep them connected to their life at home. A college student wrote:

    Even if they don’t approve, it’s important to have their understanding. They’re not going to approve of everything I do, just like I don’t approve of everything they do. We’re different people with different ideas about things. But I want them to try to understand where I’m coming from, and why I’m doing what I’m doing (p. 293).

Coburn and Treeger have plenty of firsthand experience with college students and the issues they face when transitioning to the college environment. Coburn is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Students and Associate Dean for the Freshman Transition at Washington University in St. Louis, and Treeger is a former member of the Washington University Counseling Service and currently has an active psychotherapy practice in St. Louis. They have compiled their experiences and insights into a wonderful, informative book that is a must-have for parents of college-bound children.


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