Having a child go off to college can be difficult for both the student and the parent. Something parents often struggle with is determining how involved they should be in their students lives now that they’re out on their own. We’ve put together a few tips and suggestions to help you through this time of transition. We’ve explained what you can do to help your student as well as a few things to avoid in order to be the best support system.
What to Avoid
As parents, it can be difficult letting go of your college student. While you want to be there to help and support them, here are a few things that can be detrimental rather than beneficial.
Don’t rush in at the first sign of trouble
Calls to professors, the business office, or housing should be made by your son or daughter. You should be teaching them to solve problems on their own. Rushing in to help right away paints a poor picture to students, professors, and school staff who your student will be working with for the next four or more years. It’s time for the student to learn how to deal with others and negotiate through problems on their own.
Don’t encourage them to come home every weekend
Students need time to settle in, and this will be difficult enough without returns to the nest. A high school girlfriend or boyfriend and the student’s circle of home town friends can be a magnet, but time away from them will be healthy and allow the student to bond with their new community.
Don’t pry or insist on access to the student’s records
Privacy laws protect student records, and even those paying the bills aren’t allowed peek. Only the student can sign a waiver to allow access. It may be best for parents to respect the student’s privacy and not probe into every area of their life.
Don’t treat a mistake like a disaster
The first year of college will be filled with mistakes and poor decisions. The first semester of freshman year in college is often the toughest, as students struggle to adjust to new academic expectations, new social lives, and changing perspectives of the world around them. This is all part of the college experience. Remember that people learn from mistakes. Be patient with your student and allow them the opportunity to make some poor choices and learn from them.
Don’t expect to will face the same person who left in August at Thanksgiving time.
Students experience an entirely new world at college. They will be exposed to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new ways of defining themselves. This is a crucial part of the college experience and adulthood in general. Though it may be a bit shocking at first, try to be understanding and supportive as your student experiments.
What You Can Do as a Parent
Even though you should avoid being too involved, there are still a number of ways that you can help and support your college student.
Attend orientation programs with the student
This is a good opportunity to put names and faces together and to note the feel and look of campus. When the student calls home, you will, then, have a reference point in mind when the student talks about his daily life. Orientation also provides you the chance to learn about the many services offered at the college which could be helpful to you and your son or daughter. Don’t leave without names and numbers of contact people for you to call if you need any assistance.
Give students a crash course on how to take care of themselves
You would be surprised at the number of students who have no financial knowledge, don’t know anything about car inspections, let alone when the sticker needs to be replaced, or have no clue how much soap to use for a load of laundry. Take some time to teach your college students some basic life skills such as sewing, using a credit card wisely, and some simple car maintenance tips. These may not be as obvious to your 18 year old as you might think.
Stay in touch
Keeping in touch with your college student can go a long way. Even reaching out just once a week can help you gauge their attitude, learn about their classes and course work, list to their concerns, and offer some advice and encouragement.
Send care packages
Sending care packages helps your student to feel supported and reminds them of home. Home cooked meals, pictures, or other reminders of home can help with homesickness and provide comfort during stressful exam seasons. Send any words of wisdom you have or clip a humorous cartoon. Just keep home and family alive for them.
Visit the campus
If a student is lonely but trying not to come home too often, consider going for a visit. Plan to do something with the student that involves a campus activity. Take in a play or a sporting event, meet their roommates, and lead the way while being a familiar face.
Talk over concerns or problems
When a student has a problem, talk them through the concern to get them through the anger or panic mode. Brainstorm with them who on campus might best assist them and then encourage them to do their own leg work.
Refer them to people who can help
Let the student know he may not have you at his side but that there are many people to help on campus. Remind the student that faculty and staff expect to be called upon. Let the student know the Dean of Students is a gateway to lots of non-academic services which include the health center, the counseling center, tutors, writing or math labs, even clergy. Urge them to make early contact.
It is important to remain positive. If you are critical in the same way the student is, you may be reinforcing the student’s negativity and inhibiting his ability to act toward a solution. Try to remember the student has a narrow view of the way college works, especially in her first year. Give students a broader perspective that offers possibilities.
Talk with the student, not at them
You have to be there to discuss what is part of life. Talk about drinking, sex, and drugs, even before they move to campus. Look at mistakes, yours and theirs, and evaluate ways of handling them. Be willing to range across academic work, activities, relationships, recreation, feelings—in short, everything to keep the dialogue open and the lines humming. Listen, be open-minded, and be an equal in talk.
Respect the student’s new independence during home visits
The old curfew might not work! Of course, there should be house rules for your convenience; you run the home! And, there should not be any undermining of family values. You may not want her to stay out all night, but perhaps she can come in an hour or two later than when she was in high school. Negotiating with the young adult will give him more confidence and self-assurance.
Pitfalls to Be Aware Of
There are some things to think about and be aware of to help a parent deal with possible problems through anticipation.
- Know that many first-year students generally socialize first and attend to academics second, even third. Know also they procrastinate. Encourage them to focus on their studies first.
- Warn them about the pitfalls of using credit cards. It might be worth the time to calculate monthly payments at 24%. You and your student may wish to agree on a minimum credit level for cards they do use.
- Discourage them from working too many hours at a job during their first year at college. Fifteen to twenty hours is the prescribed limit.
- Know the warning signs of possible trouble. A month of no contact either way, the student’s seeming to have little course work to do, no discussion of activity or participation or mention of friends’ names, or wanting to be home all the time could signal a need to evaluate whether or not college is a good choice at this time or may indicate a more personal concern.
- Help the student appreciate that a college or university is not an oasis from state and federal laws. Explain there are real consequences for breaking laws and be sure to discuss your expectations for behavior along with legal limits.
- Understand that an 18-year-old may not be ready for the college experience. Allow a year off, with a work experience, for the student to grow into the value of college. Also understand that changes of majors can be expected as students discover new possibilities and explore new areas of study.
There are two people you can always start with:
- Academic dean or program director. They will head up your student’s college or oversee the program they’re enrolled in. This person will be able to troubleshoot worries or concerns about courses and grades.
- Dean of students or student affairs. They will be able to direct you and your student with problems of all natures outside the classroom. Their job is about helping students make the college experience the best it can be. They’ve heard it all, so don’t be afraid to reach out.