Dear Harlan,

I’m the oldest and the first in our family to go to a university in the United States (which is an entirely different experience from what my parents were given in our home country, especially during communist times). I’ve been quite understanding and patient when trying to explain how this whole process is supposed to look. I had a 4.0 GPA, and was an Advanced Placement student who was overinvolved in high school, and I never got into trouble. I know my parents care and are trying to protect me, but they don’t see this college experience as one where I need to learn to protect myself. My dad, being an electronics guy, set up security systems and cameras and a phone and car tracker. They claim it’s for my own good so that I don’t “crack my head open” on my own, but it’s not like I make poor choices. They are planning to call every night, and I already get constantly questioned as to where I am and what I’m doing, even though I’ve been honest with them as to my activities. Even their co-workers suggested that they should back off a little. I could’ve gone to a better and big state school for half the price, but it was too far away for me. Both of my parents are doctors and although they now say they don’t force me to study medicine, they approve only of that as my future and the other options are all poor ones. I’m trying so hard to look forward to college, but all I see are the arguments that lie ahead. I’ve tried to sit down with them to talk over what both of our expectations are, but they refuse. My high-school counselors have no idea, and my friends suggest the disowning route, which I’ve seriously considered, but I don’t want to do. I’m out of ideas. Please help.

Trapped 18-year-old

Dear Trapped,

It’s time to begin learning a new life lesson: How to deal with parents who drive you absolutely crazy without going crazy yourself. It’s an invaluable life skill. I learned it in my 30s, and my parents rarely drive me crazy now. Here’s how you do it: Listen to them, don’t try to win their approval, and do what feels right for you. It’s OK if they don’t always get it. It’s natural for them to question your decisions. Maturity is giving your parents permission to not understand you, to have values that conflict with yours, to worry for no reason and to get in your way at times. Once you accept their flaws, you’ll stop hating and resenting them, and feeling trapped. You’ll give them permission to be imperfect and still love them.

Once you land on campus, surround yourself with people who will listen, support and guide you. Form a network of people who want you to be your best and understand your struggles. This can include professors, advisers, upperclassmen, international students, professionals on campus, a counselor, a therapist and spiritual leaders. Learn to tolerate your parents. When they call, share the truth, but not all of it. When your parents question your decisions, listen, and don’t fight. Ask yourself if they’re right, turn to the people around you and make decisions that work best for you. As the year goes on, see if they pull back. It might take living the college experience for a few months for them to stop freaking out and realize they don’t need to call every night.

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