In a few short weeks I was supposed to be loading up my daughter’s car and embarking on the 1,300 mile journey to move her back to college to begin her sophomore year; a year she has been looking forward to since last October when she was already so over the anxieties that come with being a freshman.
But now, in a time when solutions can’t be trusted, anxieties are multi-faceted, and much of what you looked forward to a year ago has disappeared, my daughter has decided not to go back to college — in person anyway.
After a month of struggles, stresses, and sleepless nights she’s made the difficult decision to stay at home and continue classes remotely, and I couldn’t be more supportive.
I am happy that my daughter has decided to stay home and learn online
- The plans are impractical
Like all universities opening back up for business, hers has made detailed plans to attempt to keep everyone safe. Most of the new policies sound fine on paper (increased ventilation and disinfecting, directional traffic flows, hand sanitizer stations sprinkled throughout campus) but in reality are like throwing a paper ball to stop a boulder. They just won’t be enough, and most of these decision makers know it.
Also illogical? The university’s requirement for students to show proof of a negative COVID test within 14 days of returning to campus, which anyone with a brain knows gives the student 13 days to be exposed before arrival. Housing assignments have been shuffled so that students in the same major live in the same building, which is another laughable plan to contain an outbreak.
What about classes taken outside the major? Jobs with coworkers who may not even be students? And let’s not forget the most glaring possibility of transmission, the number one objective of most college students, and the thing no plan can stop: partying.
2. House Parties (sponsored by COVID!)
Ask anyone who has ever been to college — hell, ask anyone who hasn’t been to college — what the one thing they associate with it is and the first answer they will most likely give without pause is “parties.”
Make all the plans you want, administrators; you’ll never be able to stop college kids from partying. Sure, you might be moderately successful at halting on-campus gatherings, but the raucous house parties off campus will never be deterred.
And if the large gathering of people standing shoulder to shoulder (or, quite literally, on top of each other) isn’t cause enough for alarm in a pandemic, let’s not forget about masks, the other critical safety guideline that will quickly be tossed aside when these kids want to put something in their mouth, you know, like a Jäger Bomb, a tongue, or something else we can all use our imaginations to envision.
3. Tiny brains make poor decisions
Everyone knows that washing our hands thoroughly, wearing masks, and staying away from group gatherings are the easiest and most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID, and requiring students to follow these guidelines is a no-brainer.
But teenagers have tiny brains. It’s true; no matter how intelligent a teenager is, how high their test scores are or what prestigious university they may attend; their brains won’t be fully developed until age 25. They will forget the rules. They will ignore the rules. They will think they are invincible and above the rules. They are teenagers; it’s not their fault.
4. No answer is good enough
When my daughter was still considering going back to school in person, my own myriad of worries boiled down to this one: What would happen to her if she got sick? A friend asked me what an acceptable answer would be (okay fine, it was my therapist, who I like to think of as a friend with benefits – those benefits being the money she gets from me) and the only thing I could think of was them assuring me she wouldn’t get it, which I knew they couldn’t do.
With my daughter 1,300 miles away, I began to panic at the thought of the “what if.” If she contracted the virus, there wouldn’t be anything I could do to help: I couldn’t go get her and take her to a hotel or put her on a plane and bring her home. She’d be stuck there: sick, scared, and isolated. Like many universities, hers has a plan for this, but it is vague.
They say they will quarantine the infected in a special dorm where there will presumably be people to bring them food and check on them. However, if they get really sick they will “send the student away” — where to we have no idea but I’m picturing the trucks in The Handmaid’s Tale full of vacant-eyed, wheezing passengers sitting on benches in the back. Call me irrational, call me overprotective, I don’t care. That’s just not acceptable.
5. Her mental health comes first
For my daughter, and for countless others, college comes with an abundance of stress even in the most ordinary times. Throw in a deadly pandemic that isn’t abating and the anxiety can very quickly become detrimental.
With health and safety big triggers for her, my daughter knew that returning to school in person would be not only counterproductive but debilitating. She would be so consumed by the fear of the virus, by her frustration at the lack of responsibility she knew she’d witness in other students, and by the illogical plans for safety, that she knew her mental health would take a big hit.
And ultimately in her struggle to decide what to do, it’s what she put above everything else. Of all the reasons I’m supportive of her decision, this is by far the one I’m the most proud of her for considering.
After almost 25 years of being a parent, I know there are limits to what we can control. I understand that sending our kids to college in the best of circumstances comes with a huge leap of faith — we can never know if they’ll be safe or escape sickness — but this feels different. To me, going back to campus right now feels like running into a burning building with fire escapes that aren’t up to code. The threat is too great, and while my daughter’s decision comes with a heavy dose of heartache for all that she’s losing, the things she’s saving are far more valuable.
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