Marcella and Richard Tyler admit they had second thoughts about sending their 19-year-old daughter to study law 3,000 miles from home at a college in Washington, D.C., especially after she encountered illegal drug-dealing in the laundry room of her apartment building.
But the Sherman Oaks residents soon decided that the benefits of attending prestigious Georgetown University with its highly rated law school outweighed any problems their daughter might face so far away from her comfortable upper-middle-class San Fernando Valley neighborhood.
"As the oldest of four children, she was pretty independent," Marcella Tyler said.
After calling her parents, the Tylers' daughter, also named Marcella, summoned police and the drug dealers were arrested. She now is a practicing attorney with a Los Angeles law firm and her parents are convinced they made the right decision about their daughter's education.
The Tylers, other parents, high school and college counselors agree that there are definite advantages and disadvantages to sending young people still in their teens away from home to college. They also agree that not every high school graduate is ready to cope with living on their own at first.
"It depends on the child. Some need the protection of their nest a little while longer," said the elder Marcella Tyler, who has two children who have remained at home while attending college.
Parents, she said, should weigh the negatives against what they and their children hope to gain from college.
An important indicator of whether new high school graduates are ready to live on their own is their previous handling of responsibilities, said Sandra Harris, a clinical psychologist with the University Counseling Center at Cal State Northridge.
"You have to consider how well they have mastered their current tasks, how well they have fulfilled responsibilities at school and at home," she said.
Also, she said, parents should ask themselves how well their children have handled other separations, such as summer camp or visits with relatives, before sending them off to college.
Harris said that during late adolescence, children should "separate from parents and become individuals in their own right" and college can help them do that, whether they go away to school or stay at home.
But not every high school graduate has the option of going away to a university because of the high cost of education.
Jack Wright, a counselor at Franklin High School in Los Angeles, believes parents and educators should start preparing for a child's education early, including financially. Wright said that during his 21 years on the job, by working with parents, he has obtained scholarships and other financial aid for hundreds of students from Franklin's working-class neighborhood. He starts looking for the financial help soon after a student enters 10th grade.
In his office, Wright has a map upon which he has marked the 103 universities in which he has placed students. To prepare for life outside the family home, many of his 10th-graders attend college-credit courses at Cal State Los Angeles and other universities the summer before their junior year.
Then Wright places students entering their senior year in summer programs at various colleges and universities, some as far away as the East Coast.
"These kids will then have the experience of being away from home," Wright said. "They will feel the homesickness and they will feel a little depressed. They will get a little lump in their throats when they call home. But that comes and passes. They get occupied with the challenge and by the end of the program they are reluctant to return home."
A Santa Clarita parent of a college-age son attending Cal State Northridge said her son chose that college because it had a good business program.
"But I think living away might help them to mature," Valerie Armstrong said of college-age children. "Possibly, if we had had the finances, we would have handled it differently and encouraged him" to go away.
But Harris said that students who do stay home have the opportunity to gain self-confidence just by changing their school environment.
"It gives young people a chance to feel their strength in the outside world" while still living in the safety of familiar surroundings, Harris said. But, she cautioned that parents should not be too strict with college-age students because "as the children become adults, they want adult freedoms. You have to allow them to develop."
Also, some students receive sometimes badly needed added support at home in a number of ways, Harris noted.
For example, she said, young people who have had problems with drugs or alcohol probably need to stay home and away from added pressures they might encounter living on campus or in an apartment.
'It's a big transition to go away to school," Harris said. "If a student is not ready, they may not be able to manage a new school, new social relationships, new living arrangements. It's rather overwhelming, at least initially. They may need their parents' support."
Staying home at least for the first year or two of college can be an advantage to young adults who have not learned how to manage their finances or their study time, counselors and parents also said.
"Having to pay food bills and electricity and phone bills every month all of a sudden can be a big revelation," Marcella Tyler said. "Not all children can manage that."