Success in College Begins With a Nurtured Heart™

By Dr. Lisa Sharpe, Guest Blogger

Professor and Chair, Graphic Design, Robert Morris University

As a university professor, I am in a unique position to see the results of 18 years of schooling and parenting. As teens enter young adulthood, the training they received both at home and at school becomes obvious when they enter their freshman year of college. Living away from home and surrounded by peers, the transition to college requires emotional resilience, discipline, and self-control.

In my classroom, there is typically a 50-50 split between students who are emotionally prepared to succeed in college and those who are not. Behavior issues, ADHD, and distractions like Facebook, cell phones, and Youtube are a national issue for colleges and universities, and the problem becomes worse each year. Ten years ago, when I walked into a room to lecture, students were waiting more or less attentively. Here is my reality in 2012:

This fall, I walked into my first freshman class of the year, and announced the start of class in a reasonable tone of voice. No one noticed. I began to discuss the syllabus in a slightly louder tone. About half the class turned to me and attempted to listen above the din of conversations (cell phone and otherwise) taking place. The other students were surfing YouTube and Facebook on the classroom computers. I used my instructor workstation to lock down all the computers in class. The students didn’t skip a beat – they pulled out their smartphones and surfed away.

At the end of three terms, many of the easily distracted students had been academically dismissed, leaving me with a much smaller group to work with. Were the distracted students less intelligent, talented, and capable than the ones who passed muster? In my opinion, they were not. However, they did not receive the training they needed to succeed in college, and they are now saddled with a double whammy: student loans and poor grades on college transcripts.

Sadly, my experience is typical across the nation. From community colleges to elite universities, professors are discovering that this generation of students is the most easily distracted and poorly behaved that we have ever seen. Statistics show that freshman attrition is rampant: In the United States, one in four students will drop out of college in the freshman year.

So, what does this mean for parents and teachers of school-age children, and how can the Nurtured Heart Approach help? As a parent or teacher, what can you do to help students graduate with the emotional toolbox they need to become successful college students?

The Nurtured Heart approach builds emotional resilience in grammar-school age children, but parents of teens need to know that the NHA will work for them too. By focusing on strengths, not weaknesses, our easily distracted college students can become successful. The principles of the NHA – strictness, energizing the positive, and keeping your responses in line with your core values – will work on teens as well. No matter what the acting-out behavior, teens are still looking for your attention.

There’s a happy ending to my “first day of school” story. Because of what I learned about the NHA from Dan, I realized that the students who were acting out by ignoring me actually wanted my attention. For example, two male students were so obnoxious that first day (loud profanity, lewd sexual talk in class, playing music loud enough to be heard through their huge headphones) that the other students actually asked me to throw them out. I would have been well within my rights to do that. However, I had also immediately recognized that these two students were bored. They mastered everything I had to teach in seconds while the other students struggled.

I announced a break and took the pair aside. I asked them about their interests. I asked them to show me what they wanted to do in graphic design, and they immediately responded by showing me their Facebook pages, which were filled with examples of their very advanced design work. Only then did we discuss behavior, and I set a strict rule regarding profanity and disruption in class. One turned to the other and said, surprised, “I think she likes us!”

It’s three weeks into the term as of this writing, and these students have directed their energy to impressing me with their work and helping other students in class. If I had penalized them or dismissed them from class, I would have become just another adult to rebel against. By giving them positive emotional energy, I became their coach and friend.