20 Things About Life That My Son Needs to Know Before College

Author and professor Molly Pennington wrote an advice packet of life lessons for her first-born son when she left him at college. 

On women:

1. Months of charged flirtation are way more pleasurable than one-night stands or random hook-ups. Flirt your heart out. But be wary of kissing. Most especially be wary of drunken kissing (because of where it leads.) Not that you’ll ever be drunk.

2. Girls care about sex and intimacy. I’m not saying that you don’t. I’m saying that girls might obsess over your response if you have sex with them (during which—if you do—you will wear a minimum of one condom. Zero exceptions). They might not even know you well or be in love or infatuated, but they’ll be waiting for your text message. And for things that can be interpreted as “I love you,” even in secret. So don’t mess with any hearts. Leave the hearts of girls alone. (The hearts of girls are an integral part of the rest of their body, btw.)

On being a young white male:

3. I’m not sure why college is the ground zero of sexism. (I’m thinking specifically of the boys who were rating the girls’ looks at orientation.) I imagine it has something to do with raging insecurity. Nevertheless, the notion that girls’ value springs from their looks is a false one. Keep it your habit to find something else to see when you look at them and while you listen to them.

4. Get to know girls. I mean really get to know them. Statistically, girls outperform boys academically. Experts claim this is because they read and study more, but they’re probably also trying to overcome stereotypes that claim their main interests are nail polish and bunny rabbits. You know that there is plenty of room in the female brain for math, science, theory, cosmetics, bunnies and millions upon millions of other interests. Girls are interesting. Pay attention to what they have to say.

5. Chances are, everyone you meet will have emerged from their own private hell at some point—or they could be operating from within one. Even people who you might tag as “douches.” So above all, be kind. It’s almost more important than anything else.

6. I know that you don’t really understand “white privilege” yet. Please trust me on this: you operate with a lot of that stuff. It means that your life is different and easier than the lives of minorities (people of color, women, the gender fluid, ETC). Be aware of your privilege. Dismantle it. Contort yourself into positions that allow you to understand the perspectives of minorities. This will not be comfortable, but it will be crucial.

On studying:

7. Procrastination is something that should inspire terror. In contrast, deadlines are your friend. Find the discipline to force yourself to study in increments. Break huge projects, papers and test prep down into manageable chunks and work on a piece each day. Reward yourself after.

8. If for some reason, procrastination has manhandled you, has kept you locked like Cersei in the basement of The Faith by the High Sparrow, then just admit to it. Like maybe you re-watched all of Game of Thrones, just for the hell of it?

Ok. Own it. Say to yourself, “Dammit. I ignored my assignment.” Do not do a “shame walk” through King’s Landing. Forgive yourself. Crack open the books and get to work. Just immediately get to work.

9. It is so bizarre that homework and studying may appear to you as dull. Resist that thought. You are young and beautiful and studying may threaten your joy, but trust me: You are in heaven. College is heaven.

All you have to do is learn new things. That’s what you’re there for. It is such a profound and glorious privilege. But it’s hard to get that while you’re in the midst of it. Still, try to appreciate the bliss of your life as you go through it. There will come a time when you will yearn for the pleasures of reading about Political Science and then writing a paper on it.

On professors:

10. Raise your hand in class and sit near the front. Do this. It’s easy and it helps.

11. Go to your professor’s office hours. Introduce yourself. Ask a question. Do this several times per semester. It’s important that they know you.

12. Figure out how much you are paying for each individual class. (My quick estimation tells me it’s about $100 dollars for every hour you spend in class.) Anyway, whenever you want to skip class, instead imagine lighting $100 dollars on fire. Watch $100 that you have to pay back get swallowed in flames. Ok?

Now go to class and sit in the front row.

On partying:

13. When I arrived in my first dorm room I was met by an upperclassman in a bathrobe who poured some of his beer into my cactus plant while laughing. Next, he took me by the arm and escorted me to a smoke-filled, crowded dorm room where they were passing around a bong. I probably took a hit. I can’t remember. Point being: don’t take a hit. Bongs are covered in germs.

14. It is possible to get “high on life” and “drunk on love.” Not actual love, though. Do not talk to me about being in love or meeting your soul mate during your freshman year of college. Maybe during senior year. No. Not then either. Meanwhile, no drinking or drugs.

I know you’re not interested in that stuff. Peer pressure is real and big, though. You’ll need to be strong to resist it. Besides, you sparkle just as you are and you know it.

15. It can take a while to make lifelong friends. Or it can take five seconds. The best way to make friends is to be one yourself. That sounds like corn nuts, but it’s true.

16. Don’t gossip. Once I walked past a closed dorm room door only to hear three of my “friends” ripping me to shreds. Of course, I knocked and confronted them. That helped me feel a little less hurt, but I knew that whatever they said next would be more vicious and more quiet.

Strangely, a lot of social bonding occurs through the dissing of others. Two people become closer when they tear apart a third. It’s widespread, but primitive. And almost unthinkable to consider a culture that doesn’t make fun of people. Still, I’m asking you to try not to make fun of people. Try.

And if anyone ever laughs at you, just imagine me confronting them with full-on nerd-mom passionate gusto.

On all this sudden “freedom:”

17. Life hurts. Try as I might, I have not figured out a good reason for this or a surefire method to avoid it. Your first few weeks of college will be a gladfest and also, a tragedy. Kid-life is officially over. Mourn it. Then go join a club. Seriously.

18. I still marvel over the fact that I can choose whatever cereal I want in the grocery aisle. So I understand the newfound freedom that attends your nutritional decisions. Try to limit yourself to just one Mountain Dew per day. Also, try to eat vegetables. Just, please, try.

19. I know that you won’t truly care about the following until you are much, much older, but there is this thing you can rely on if worse comes to worse, which it won’t. Here’s the best “this.” Just THIS: I love you with a blinding admiration. I have seen every part of you since the beginning. I have reveled in your becoming and in being responsible for your food, shelter, homework, media choices, paperwork, legal requirements, proms and car rides. Now it’s time to pass the torch. Now it’s going to be you who are responsible for you.

So love yourself with a love that rivals my own love for you.

Just, please, do so. That way, I’ll know that you’ll always be fine. Ok?

20. Text me.


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MollyPennington - CopyMolly Pennington Bio:
I’m a writer, a mentor, a speaker, a wife and a mother, and a lover of insight and whimsy. My default setting is perpetual cheer, but I don’t shy away from the wounds of the world. To me, nothing is more vital than social justice and I believe that perception and compassion are curative. I’m here to make the world a little less mean. Instead: smarter, brighter, better. You can find out more about me at www.mollypennington.com or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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