Preparing for The Citadel – Parent Edition

The knobs check in with the company’s 1st Sergeant and turn in their phones. Remember to turn them off so they won’t be dead when they are returned in a week.

Each year about this time in the Facebook group for new parents some parents post that they are really stressed about the preparation. I try to be as caring as  can be and encourage these parents to begin to let go of the process and encourage their student to do the prep work necessary.

Since tuition is now really high, especially for out of state students, I understand the need for families to monitor expenses and to be concerned with the purchases needed to report to The Citadel.

For many alumni who tell tales of their parents dumping them at the gates and driving off on matriculation day these parental concerns confuse them. Sending a student to The Citadel today is a major investment. Out of state tuition is over $40,000 a year. Most families must watch their expense and it is a team effort to meet the expenses.

With that background I offer a few tips for new parents:

The Citadel is a leadership college. That means in addition to their academic major they will be learning leadership skills. Parents need to learn to step back and let their student take charge of their process. This includes getting everything gathered to report on Matriculation Day. Once they report you will not have any control of how your student handles their training. Start practicing letting go now.

The new parent Facebook groups help with basic questions and support. Do not spend your time trying to get everything “just right.” Each cadet and family are different there is not one right way to get ready for Matriculation Day. The future knob must prepare physically and mentally for the big day. They need items on the Success Packet list and should break in their shoes. How those things come together with vary with each person.

Last year the father of a knob sent me a video clip from Finding Nemo. In the clip a small sea turtle, Squirt, gets thrown out of the current. Nemo’s dad, a clown fish named Marlin panics and tries to go after Squirt. Marlin is stopped by Squirt’s laid back dad, Crush, who says, “Kill the motor dude. Let us see what Squirt does flying solo.” As a parent be like Crush, not Marlin. Do not try to intervene with your knobs experience. You’ll be amazed at what they can do “flying solo.”

The staff and cadet cadre have a strong tradition of training young students and molding them into strong cadets. Allow the process to work. If at any time you have concerns or questions, contact the parent liaison, Capt. Taylor Skardon, parents@citadel.edu. or one of the three Ombudspersons.

Cadre members lead knobs from the Cadet Store back to their company. August 2015
Knobs in the class of 2019 study their Guidons.
A 2019 knob reports to his company on Matriculation Day.

Winter Furlough Notes for Citadel Parents

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Luminaries light a path toward 2nd Battalion December 2 after the Candlelight Service in Summerall Chapel

Winter furlough begins today for cadets at The Citadel. A time to celebrate to be sure.

Some will be thrilled with the grades their cadet achieved this semester. Others will not have fared that well and you’ll most likely have questions. The notes and links below should answer most of your questions. The links below will also bring you to the pages to find contact information for the appropriate person or department to address your questions. While this advice is manly for first year families, parents of cadets in all years may find the links helpful

If you’ve read this blog for a while you’ll already know this next bit of information. As I mentioned in this post from 2012, the beginning of second semester is tough for all cadets, knobs to seniors. They’ve just spent close to a month at home visiting with family and friends. Coming back to cadet life, getting up early, PT in the cold dark days of winter, is a tough reality.

For parents of knobs, if your son or daughter hasn’t questions their decision to attend The Citadel before, January and February are the months you may field that call. If you do get “the call” remind them that they are stronger than they think they are, encourage them to talk to their classmates. Once they talk to their classmates and other friends in the Corps they will realize they are not alone. It’s still tough but they will get through it. Remind them that Recognition Day is not too far off, March 17, this year.

This experience is so common the cadets have a name for it, the PG version is F’d up February. It is also tough when their friends decide for a variety of reasons not to return.

If you are a family with a student who has decided to leave The Citadel, I wish you and your student the best in their next endeavors.

My best wishes to all The Citadel cadets and families this holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah-Chanukah, Happy New Year!!

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A Note to My Critics

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The blog entry I posted yesterday, The Odd Things Citadel Parents Learn is now the most viewed entry this year and the top post since starting this blog in 2011 after my son graduated. Apparently it struck a chord with parents and alumni, but for different reasons.

The current parents tell me they can relate to everything I’ve written. The few alumni I’ve heard from directly say they can relate as well. They understand, because they know me, that I was poking fun at the strange things parents of cadets learn.

I can understand why the alumni wonder why parents know about shoes, T-pins, sheets etc. Unless they have a cadet who has attended since the barracks have air conditioning and all cadets are required to have a computer and encouraged to have a cell phone, they just won’t understand what it is like for current families.

Prior to the early 2000’s electronic communications had not been a big part of our lives. Now to stay competitive in the job market a cadet must know how to use a computer and other devices. Prior to 2000 college life was different for everyone. Few people had laptops and we weren’t used to being electronically connected to the world.

Skype, Facetime and other means of communication weren’t around either. While an argument can be made that the knobs should have limited access to communication, the fact remains that post Virginia Tech tragedy campuses around the country had to institute communication plans with the students. The Citadel now encourages knobs to have cell phones. They can’t use them whenever they want but they do have them.

For readers new to my blog I encourage you to read through the blog posts linked below. You’ll find I repeat over and again that parents must learn to let go and allow their sons and daughters to take ownership of their successes and failures. Once Matriculation Day arrives and parents ask what they can do about this or that on campus, my usual response begins, “you don’t need to do anything, that is up to your son/daughter . . . ”

My son, a 2011 graduate, never told me anything at all about his experience. I have over the years heard stories from others. I did buy most of the items on the Success Packet List and the Nice to Have List. It was my high school graduation gift to him. I don’t know many cadets who have the money to spend, about $1,000 on shoes ($100+ a pair), boots (close to $150 a pair) athletic shoes (close to $100 a pair), and the other required items. I learned a lot about what they needed and how to save money, i.e. cheap sheets, good socks for instance. I pass that information on to others just as local parents shared with me their recommendations.

Stories of washing machines and dryers at home getting clogged by T-pins that were left in sheets at the end of the school year have led them to be referred to as “minions of satan” by a number of parents. (hat tip to my friend Mandy) Many would prefer their cadets use the straps to hold the sheets in place.

My son never told me about the sink or much else for that matter. He did, however, tell my younger son, who told me. When visiting for parents weekend my son’s knob year in 2007, my younger son said, “You didn’t touch the sink did you?!” When I said no and asked why would he ask, my younger son told what the knobs use it for. (he’s never been good at keeping a secret)

I am the chair of the Atlanta Citadel Club’s new Parent Committee. As such, I felt I needed to alert the club about what is being said by alumni about my recent blog post. I received this encouraging note in return:

At these times, I always lean towards my favorite quote about “critics” from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man (or woman!) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’ve heard through the alumni grapevine that many of them don’t understand why parents know about any of the things I write about. If you are an alumnus who feels I am a “Helicopter Parent” I invite you to email me to discuss your concerns. I much prefer a civil dialogue than hearing second-hand about comments made about me and my experience with my family by people I’ve never met. I encourage you to read the blog post below to get a background on why I started this blog and the  parent Facebook groups **see below

Previous blog posts about letting go:

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

A Letter to The Citadel Class of 2015

Matriculation Day: The Hardest Part for Parents is Letting Go

Transitions and Letting Go

Advantages of being the Parent of a Citadel Cadet

Preparing for Knob Year – Parents Edition

Uniformity, Lists, and Letting Go

**If you want to know why I started this blog, see this entry:

The Story of My Nontraditional Calling

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photo by Stanley Leary

Social Media, Parents, and Cadet Life

Padgett-Thomas Barracks at The Citadel photo by Stanley Leary
Padgett-Thomas Barracks at The Citadel
photo by Stanley Leary

2015 marks the 4th year that I have posted and will moderate a group for new parents of incoming knobs at The Citadel. The group for parents of the Class of 2019 has over 30 members already.

The original intent of these groups still stands, to offer parent to parent advice to incoming parents of knobs. Attending a senior military college is a strange process for parents with no military background like me. The Facebook groups are an easy way to get general information out to fellow parents.

The Facebook groups for the individual classes of parents were started by me, and are supported by a few select friends who each bring a unique perspective as a parent of a graduate. I started with the 2016 class. There are now groups for the classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 and now 2019. I am no longer the administrator for the 2016 and 2017 groups. members of the class are moderating those groups now. By this summer I’ll pass on the reigns to the 2018 group to a couple of parent members. I also administer the Military Parents of The Citadel group.

The Citadel is a military school and a leadership school. That means that the cadets are expected to learn to advocate for themselves. In this environment more so than nonmilitary schools, the students are expected to take ownership in their process. Social media can be a blessing and a curse for the parents and the cadets.

With the advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others, we’ve become accustomed to instant information. Skype, Facetime, and smart phones are wonderful tools to stay in touch. In years past when the knobs had a bad day, or hour, they had days before they could vent to family and friends. By the time they did get to phone the problem had worked itself out. The rules have changed over the years and knobs are expected to carry cell phones with them now. This change happened out of an interest in increasing security. All across the country after the Virginia Tech tragedy campuses changed how they handled security.

2007 was the last year knobs were not allowed to have cell phones first semester. That is the year my son was a knob. The knobs did have access to email and Skype. The difference I’ve seen in the knobs and parents now versus eight years ago is that with instant communications the parents worry more, not less. The knobs can now text their frustrations to parents in real-time. The big problem is they rarely let their parents know when a problem has been resolved leaving the parent to worry. With the increase in connectivity some parents get overly involved with their cadet’s experience at the school.

I am not advocating no communication. I am telling new parents that it is important for them to remember not to join the knobs on their emotional roller coaster. They will need a loving ear to vent to once in a while, but will also need their parents to serve as a rock to help them stay the course when it gets tough.

Each knob is different, and will process the experiences differently. Each year during the first “challenge week” formally known as “hell week” knobs leave, but far more stay than go. It is a tough time for the knobs and their parents. I do remind parents that knobs are at a college, not going to war. It is a very tough system. The knobs are yelled at throughout the year. They are not given encouragement and must find the strength internally to deal with the 4th class system. There is no universal experience there, but everyone who has gone through four years at The Citadel will tell you it was tough.

The school offers several resources for cadets and parents if they have questions or encounter problems on campus. While I encourage parents to let their knob or cadet handle their problems with minimal intervention, I also tell them that they know their child and if they have a concern to address it with the appropriate person on campus. The Ombudsperson’s office is a good place to start if you are not sure to which person or office to direct your question.

A big mistake parents of all classes of cadets make each year is posting too much information to the parent Facebook groups. While each group encourages members to keep the information shared to the group private, the fact is, some groups have hundreds of members. There is no way to keep members from sharing information with their cadet, a spouse, and others.

The best rule of thumb is not to share specific information about your cadet to any group. It is also not a good idea to air grievances to any group. You never know who will see your post. There is the very real potential that what you post to a group will reflect poorly on your cadet on campus. It should not happen, but every year it does. I post a warning to the groups I administer each year not to post specific information about your cadet, even a prayer request about your cadet because they are sick. Each year someone over shares and there is negative repercussions for the parent and/or their cadet.

If you have a grievance with the school send a note to the appropriate department on campus. If you need to vent about a situation send a private message to a friend or a group of trusted friends.

To find help on campus, you can see this link.