Naive US freshmen are offered lessons in perils of adulthood

July 28, 2006

US university officials are being forced to step up warnings to students about the day-to-day dangers of adulthood, after discovering that even the smartest of America's young people are astonishingly naive.

Increasing numbers of schools are expanding their summer orientation programmes for 18-year-olds who will matriculate this autumn, adding sessions about online scams, gambling addiction, credit card debt, alcohol poisoning, date rape and the illegal downloading of music, among other things.

Most schools also offer optional programmes about many of the same subjects for the students' parents.

Cheryl Barnard, associate dean of student affairs at Quinnipiac College in Connecticut, said the school had found that most parents "know nothing"

about the perils of things such as facebook.com, myspace.com and other online communities in which students often post compromising pictures and information about themselves that can be used by anyone from sexual predators to prospective employers.

Quinnipiac has also added to its summer series a session about sexual assault and a test designed to measure students' knowledge about the risks of alcohol.

At other times during the year, the school offers lectures on gambling, credit card debt and financial management.

The Rochester Institute of Technology in New York has also beefed up its summer orientation with "Digital self-defense", a programme covering topics such as illegal downloading, online scams and computer ethics - despite the fact that its students are among the most technically savvy in the country.

"There are lots of students who may be familiar with the internet but not up on what they need to do to protect themselves," said Kerry Hughes, the freshman orientation programme director.

University officials blamed well-intentioned parents who, concerned about everything from paedophilia to terrorism, had structured their offspring's lives so tightly and protected them so diligently that the children had had almost no time to learn things on their own.

"These are kids who have been programmed from day one," said Dr Barnard.

"Their parents have selected their play dates, they have kept them occupied after school, they have in some senses chosen their friends. Students don't know how to get from point A to point B on their own."

New students were "naive in many ways about the world", Ms Hughes said. "We find that often students are calling their parents several times a day instead of trying to solve problems on their own."

When all of their parental restrictions are lifted, some students take advantage of their newfound freedoms, risking their financial status, future employability and even health.

"This generation of parents doesn't understand the effect their parenting had in respect to their children being naive," Dr Barnard said.

"It used to be that you graduated from high school and you became an adult.

Now you don't become an adult until three or four years after college."

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