#096 Your Changing Role: Preparing to be a Great College Parent with Andrea Brenner Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:36

Just when you feel you’ve mastered the art of parenting a teenager, a new chapter is on the horizon. Transitioning into the role of a college parent. It’s a bittersweet moment, your teen is taking a step closer to adulthood, leaving you with the anticipation of what’s next. Navigating this shift can feel uncertain, and I speak from experience having adult children of my own. My advice, approach this change with care, awareness and intention. Better yet. Today, we’re joined by someone who’s made it her life’s mission to ease this transition. Dr. Andrea Brenner is a college transition expert, who bridges the gap for both students and parents alike. She is the founder of the talking college cart deck brand. And with a 25 year tenure as a sociology professor at American University, and the brains behind the university’s inaugural first year transition course. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Let’s dive deep in uncover the insights to make you the best college parent you can be. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Andrea, welcome back to the podcast.


Andrea Brenner  02:06

Thank you for having me back.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:08

Who is episode number 20. On teaching your teen how to college last time, we’ll be sure to link to it in the show notes. Because for those parents who are knee deep in high school, you’re like, Okay, this is coming. How do we get ready? And now we’re going to focus even a little bit more on the parents this time. Yep, absolutely. What are some of the struggles that parents have in this landscape?


Andrea Brenner  02:34

Yeah, there’s so many, I would say one that comes to mind is the shift from being the high school parent to the college parent, and there is no rulebook for it. Nobody prepares you. And I think as a child advocate, which we are from, you know, K through 12, not only is it appropriate for us to be that, but it’s also legally okay for us to be that, to play that role. And then all of a sudden, our child enters College, and we’re sort of cut out of the process, you know, we no longer have access to our children’s grades, or their daily life. And what does that mean? And so I, I love to, to talk to parents about how to prepare for that transition, which takes many families by surprise, but prepare for it early and really start parenting your college bound student as a college student, even when they’re still in high school.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:32

Yeah, so I mean, really, any of our listeners, whether they have a teenager or even if they’re already in college, because that I mean, I have a My youngest is a senior in college as we’re recording this, and I’ve got older adult children, you know, it’s a tight rope, right? And, and so it’s not like, Oh, I did this while they were in high school. I don’t need to think about this transition anymore. I mean, you still have stuff to equip us all the way through. So where do you start?


Andrea Brenner  04:01

Well, that’s a great question. And I think the easiest place to start, because everybody’s story is different. And every child’s got different strengths and weaknesses as to their parents. I think the best place to start is to tease out where that student needs to grow. And the simplest exercise that comes to mind I do with a lot of families is to is to ask a family to dedicate some time, maybe 1520 minutes to blank pieces of paper and two pens, and parents and their high school student sits in a quiet place away from phones and other technology and sets a timer for maybe 15 or 20 minutes depending how long that student can sit. And they start each writing a list but not looking at the others list. And the student is writing everything they think they need to learn before they head off to college, and the parent is writing everything they think their team needs to learn before they head off to college and And then I love to ask parents and students to compare their lists and and a lot of things come to light. One is there are things on both lists that are pretty close to identical. There are also worries that students have on their lists, that might not actually be something that they have to worry about immediately. For example, on a lot of students lists, a lot of high school students believe that they need to understand how to do their taxes before going to college, they think that’s an adulting skill, which of course it is, but they think it’s a college level or college ready skill. And many students don’t have to worry about that immediately. But we really need to start thinking about some of the things that our kids are concerned about. And really dig into which ones need to come first. And fourth and foremost, the other thing that comes up when we compare those lists of parents and students is that there’ll be things on the parent list that you’re not on the student list, and the student has taken by surprise, and said, we really think I need to work on my for example, listening skills. And then then there can be a really good in depth conversation. The next step of this exercise is to come up with a combined list. And this will seem you know, this will be a way of to streamline all those things that both parties believe should be learned. And then in this list, and I believe very strongly that this should be a part of the list is there should be a column about who is going to teach the student these skills. And it’s really important that it’s not always the parent. So it might be a neighbor, or an uncle or an older sibling, you know, and it could be parts of things, you know, something like learning how to do banking is a pretty large task. But talking about the basics of banking can maybe be done with a parent. And talking about day to day budgeting for a college student might be with an older sibling or a friend who has been to college before. So you know, breaking those down into manageable sized bite sized tasks. And I think this exercise will really help students realize what there is left to be learned, and also where they don’t have to worry yet because they really have mastered some things.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:13

I love that, you know, I advise the families that I’m working with in our college major and career coaching course, to set aside college bound conversation time every single week. And I so I’m going to steal this exercise for my newsletter one of these weeks because I think what I find is students get overwhelmed for us as parents, we can talk about, oh, the future and the college piece of this and all of that throughout the week and sprinkle it in. And the students I’ve found as I’m guiding them towards the right college major and career and what college is going to offer that they don’t have the capacity to to worry about that and think that far headwind, they’re just trying to get through their academics or their extracurriculars. So this idea of do this exercise so that it’s gonna be at the end of the episode is gonna make my weekly college bound challenge for them is find time to do this. If it if they’re already doing as I advise, which is every weekend, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, pick a family time, it could be one week you’re scheduling college visits, that could be another week, you’re deciding when you’re going to take the AC T or the LSAT and getting registered. But every week if they’re doing a little bit, it doesn’t become as overwhelming. And I think you’re taking the same approach so they could use this meeting. And then you’re setting them up for Okay, now make a plan to how we’re gonna get to the finish.


Andrea Brenner  08:48

You got it? Absolutely. And revisit the list. Right. So that yeah, it’s the night tonight’s the night we’re going to be talking about college, what thing on this list you want to you want to work on? Right? And maybe it’s let’s have a dinner table conversation and learn the basics of health insurance. You know, it could be something as simple as that and is done by the end of dinner.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:06

Yeah, that was that one’s an easy one. So those are kind of like life skills. I think that you’re pointing to there. What about like the increased academic rigor that comes with this?


Andrea Brenner  09:20

Right? And that’s, you know, I created these talking college card decks because these are the conversation prompts that families have been asking for, right? And so a big section of all of my card decks deals with academics. What are those differences between high school and college and there are so many and I do think that high schools do their best but they don’t necessarily prepare students for all the bits and pieces of academics that they will need in college and colleges really expect students to come in pretty much college ready for the academics and there is a chasm in between and I I love that my work and hopefully my card decks fill that void with you know, prompts and had it released. I Asking how to start some of these questions. So in terms of academics, I would say, here are the biggies. Number one is there are huge differences in the amount of time students sits in a classroom, in high school vs. college and high school, it’s about 35 hours a week of class time. And in college, it’s between 12 and 15 hours a week of class time. That’s a huge difference, a lot more free time. To use wisely or not so wisely in college and families are often surprised by how much free time students have. That doesn’t mean though, that the student is not working hard in college. And in fact, they’re probably working a lot harder than they did in high school, they may have a book assigned to take, you know that to be the reading for one week, rather than a chapter or two chapters. And that’s huge.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:46

It’s funny, I always say, Kids, enjoy this time. And don’t underestimate your responsibilities. Because it feels like it’s a period of time, you know, they’re out from under their parents roof, is the greatest amount of freedom with the least amount of responsibility that really, frankly, you’re ever going to have in your life, right. Because when you’re with your when you’re living under your parents roof, you probably don’t have a little more freedom that you want. And when you get out into the real world truly adulting out on your own, you’ve got a lot of responsibilities. So it can feel like that, oh, I’ve got all this freedom, but don’t forget it and a lack of responsibility in some regard to your point. And I see a big difference even across different college majors, how many hours you’re studying outside the classroom, it can be equal to a full time job or more for some really rigorous majors.


Andrea Brenner  11:43

Absolutely, for sure. And I think that’s something that really takes, you know, families by surprise. And students aren’t necessarily set up with those study skills. Because you know, high schools don’t do the greatest job of teaching those study skills. So that’s something students have to often learn on their


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:56

own other advice with academics? Yes,


Andrea Brenner  12:00

absolutely. I think it’s really important for a student to know all of their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to note taking skills, reading skills, listening skills, speaking skills, and really to kind of assess themselves. And my card decks ask a lot of these questions. So for example, they know a student, what kind of think feedback have you gotten from teachers in high school? Have you been asked to put your hand down? Have you been asked to speak more? You know, think about yourself as as a listener to you? Do you speak more than you listen to you listen more than you speak? Are you willing to talk across difference? You know, at this time and in, in the state of the world, that’s especially important to you know, welcome conversations, civil conversation with people with whom we disagree. And, you know, so where are you with those college level skills, and I do think that’s a self assessment too. And then I would, I think I would throw in another piece, which has to do with the reminders. And a lot of high school students are kind of sit back on their laurels and wait for reminders from teachers, right, maybe it’s an email or something in the grade portal, even something written on the board that says, you know, don’t forget chemistry tests on Thursday. And students often rely on those reminders. And as reminders don’t really come in Polish, it’s up to the student to have a daily planner that they know works for them doesn’t matter if it’s written or electronic, or both. But they need to sit down with all of their syllabi, and they need to get all of those due dates on their calendars. And we know that they need to rely on themselves to to set those reminders if they have things do. Very good.


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:39

Okay, so adulting type skills, life skills, academic skills, and they get out of your house, you’re worrying about I mean, I’m just going to speak from experience, you send them off as a mom who sent children off to college before and you’re wondering what’s going on? And you’re worrying about, like, what if something goes wrong?


Andrea Brenner  14:05

Yeah. Right. So yeah, go ahead. Sorry.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:08

No, just dive right in. So to


Andrea Brenner  14:10

me, you know, again, I keep saying the same thing. It’s all about what would you do scenarios, conversations that you have in advance? And one of the things I do with my my cards X is I sat down in focus groups and interviews with college presidents down to RAs, saying, you know, where are students failing to thrive on on college campuses? Where are they not showing resilience? What What can they better do to prepare and a lot of the answers come down to the fact that families really need to take a step back, and students need to take a step up. So if you as a parent, get a call from your student who’s new to college, who says my whole world is crumbling, everybody hates me, I hate it here. I want to transfer whatever those emotional, high emotional first, you know, month, maybe conversations might be I think it’s important for the parents to step back and to try not to play the role of fixer. We are such good fixers, we have been doing it for so long. But this is a time for students to really become their own fixers. And a little piece of advice that I offer is when a student calls with a problem, train them to say, you know, that sounds like a problem. Why don’t you give it some thought? And why don’t you call me back when you think you have a solution. And we can tease out what the solution looks like, it doesn’t have to be perfect. But let’s kind of see how you can self advocate. But at the same time, let me play a role of helping you tweak it.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:41

You know, I bet, if a parent has a job outside the home, they’re probably doing a little bit of that type of coaching in their job, right? I’m reflecting about this week, I had a team member, come to me, and our operations manager, she came to me and she said, Hey, we had this request, something from another employee XYZ doesn’t even matter what it was about, it wasn’t anything that was a really big deal. She was looking for my insights. But like, this is a leader in my business, who I trust her judgment, she’s well equipped to make these decisions. She was looking for me to give her approval. And I could have said, Hey, this is what I would do, or this is what I think you should do. Or I might suggest, those are phrases I use a lot. But instead, I said, I bet you you have some pretty good ideas, why don’t let me know what you think. And then, you know, if I disagree or have further input, I can let you know. And she did exactly as I would have advised her to. And so as you’re saying this, as a parent, it can feel weird to transition to that with your, your now college student or your teenager. And you are probably doing this in other areas of your life with friends and co workers and subordinates at work. So you’re probably going to be better at this than you think. But this one has a lot more emotion, I think for parents, so


Andrea Brenner  17:13

it does, it does and it’s not solve the problem on your own kid. It’s, you know, what, don’t just come to me with your problem comes with a problem and a possible solution. And I mean, I do this with my own kids who are grown, is they know, they don’t really come with a problem. They come up with a problem and no, sometimes drafty solution. And we tease out that solution together. And sir, other ways we can tweak it to make it work better. But again, those problem solving skills are life skills, and they’re so important in college.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:45

Well, you know, I was my one of my sons, my older son, who’s 25 came to me recently, and I started like jumping in to help. I was doing the opposite of what you’re telling us to do. And this particular case, and he was wise enough, and he’s 25. He’s out on his own self supporting and all the things but he was wise enough to say like, just call him to vent mom. And I, you know, sometimes it’s like, well, when they come to us, what are they seeking? Sometimes we assume they’re seeking a solution to their problem when everybody needs a friend and a parent, you know, as you and I both know, with adult kids, you know, it’s not that you’re no longer a parent, but our kids are looking for a different type of support. So don’t just assume that your kid even wants you to solve it for them. They might just be need to get something off their chest to a safe person.


Andrea Brenner  18:39

I agree. And it’s moving from that role of fixer to that role of supporter that’s so challenging for us as parents.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:45

Absolutely. Any any other like. So you did all the the focus groups, and you did the surveys with the people, the colleges. So it sounds like this parents stepping in too much was a consistent theme that popped up anything else that was popping out concern? Yeah,


Andrea Brenner  19:03

yes. And it’s probably along the same lines, but it is using encouraging our students to use the resources at their campus, right. So those resources are pretty much included in our tuition dollars anyway.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:16

A lot of money for them. So go. Exactly. And


Andrea Brenner  19:21

these are not it’s not just the money. It’s also that these are people who are trained, there are people on college campuses that are experts on the junior experience or the sophomore experience, and certainly the first year experience. And so you know, again, if your student calls you saying the heat in my room is broken? Are you saying I’m going to call Residence Life or are you going to say you should call Residence Life? Or are you going to say well, what should you do as a student if your heat is broken? And you know, the student is really able to ask their RA as their resident advisor and look online at the residence life portal. They can find those answers on their own.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:59

I’m Curious when you talk about like, so these problems are gonna surface at times, it might be. I think, as parents, our brain jumps to something much bigger than my heat or my AC isn’t right in my dorm room. But those are problems then navigate as well. So what are the areas in which you see like problems or setbacks coming up? Because I think that if I’m the parent of a teenager, and I’m listening to this, and I don’t have experience like you and I do, working with this age group, I probably have gotten to the big things, right, like, something not good, personally helping happening to my kid. What are the more likely I think those are probably a little bit more rare than some of these other things? What are the common setbacks or problems that they might have? And where do you start to point your kid for those things? Sure.


Andrea Brenner  20:53

So common setbacks and challenges. And again, I think we need to really reiterate that mistakes are a part of growth. So you know, these are not all wrongdoings. They’re just things that happen. And it’s less what happened and more how you’re going to remedy the situation. Right? So common setbacks on first year, for first year college students making a financial mistake, some hopefully not too big a financial mistake, could be something as you know, big as as identity theft and something as small as running out of Meal Swipes right, having a plan in advance of what to do if something happens. Losing or breaking something really important that happens to a lot of first year college students that came out of my focus groups and interviews might be a student ID or winter coat, or even a laptop. You know, what, what do you do in that situation? Where do you go? Making social decisions that aren’t the best, right? Sometimes revolving around drugs and alcohol? Do you know? And again, that’s something that my cards talk about? What would you do if you happen to plan a student who you didn’t know who was drunk or passed out? You know, what is the chain of command? What should you do physically in that moment, and really have students tease some things out and and come up with some solutions, maybe with parents. So some of these are just common mistakes that come up. Working through roommate issues is another big one. There are wonderful resources on college campuses to help. But it’s amazing how many students just really struggle to live in a very small space with somebody who might be very different than than they are. And so working through some of those things, maybe it’s a roommate contract, that you have agreed upon, you know, hours of sleep, or noise levels, or visitors to the room, etc. But these are all workable solutions. But sometimes they seem extremely large to a first time student who’s dealing with them.


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:45

I think to the student, those are the things like they’re probably not as worried about the as you said, I was a very nice way social problems, to say that I was struggling to find the right word for that. But the social issues of like, what include maybe drugs, or alcohol or some sexual nature of something. As parents, I think our listeners can jump to those things. I think it’s very helpful for you to say like, roommate issues we might be dismissing, and this is probably where the list exercise would be a good one. Because kids are probably more worried about that. Am I gonna find my people in? How do I get along with my people? And how do I manage my money? And things like that? And they, they aren’t nothing. They’re not something to just dismiss. And they’re their real problems. So


Andrea Brenner  23:37

yeah, nice. No. And I would also say at least that, that when it comes to health and safety, parents need to be parents first. And those are they’re always, you know, emergency exceptions to all of these rules, right? If your child calls you with a significant health or safety issue, there is no question that as a parent, it’s your job to step in.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:55

Yep, absolutely. Okay, so you’re talking college card decks, you have a two five of


Andrea Brenner  24:02

them now? Yes, I have five of them, which I’m really excited about. So we have the original one, which is their conversation prompts for college bound students and their parents and guardians. And those are some of the what would you do scenarios that take place during high school, and that’s out in Spanish now as well. So we’ve got those of those to buy a brand new one called Talking college college ready, and that was our tips and discussion prompts for college bound students with learning differences. Evidence, a wonderful advisory group of learning disability support folks from across the country, who really added the content to that card deck. And then we have one called Talking college campus visits. That’s really for sophomore freshman, sophomores and juniors in high school and those are insider tips, and discussion prompts all about campus visits, getting the most bang for your buck. And then our last one is actually Yeah, for college campuses, and that’s called Talking college peer leaders. And those are conversation prompts for orientation leaders, Ras, all of those fabulous upper class students who are working with first year students. Wow.


Lisa Marker Robbins  25:12

You’ve spent many, many years on college campuses, so I know you are spot on. So we will link to the talking college card decks in our show notes. We also have that past episode, episode number 20. I can’t believe it’s been 70 some episodes since we had you on but I know we’ll have you on again, Andrea, thanks for making time. Thank you for having me back, Lisa. As we wrap up today’s episode, I truly hope Idris insights not only equipped you for the coming transition, but also empowered you with tangible steps to follow up. For those who’ve been with us on this journey. You’re well aware of our weekly college bound challenge, and this week is no different. Taking inspiration from Andrea’s invaluable advice, I urge you to make the time for the activity she highlighted earlier. craft those lists detailing both your and your teens separate perceptions of what needs tackling before they set foot on a college campus. Then, merge those into a comprehensive checklist and a strategy to ensure college readiness. If today’s episode resonated with you, please consider sharing it with another parent who might benefit supporting us by following rating and reviewing the podcast allows us to reach and assist even more families in transitioning their teens into promising futures. Thank you for tuning in to College and Career Clarity podcast, where our mission is to transition your family from feeling overwhelmed to exuding confidence and clarity that your teens future