The college years can be exciting and stressful for both you and your child. Exciting, because your child will be learning to live independently, and this allows both of you to explore other parts of your lives. Stressful, because this means that your relationship will change. Some find this process enjoyable; others do not. In order for this transition to be as productive as possible, you will need to be patient, understanding, supportive, and clear and reasonable about your expectations. Listed below are some tips you might find helpful during this process.
- Rule #1: Don’t ask if he is homesick. While it is true that many students miss being at home, most are so busy in the first weeks of school that they do just fine, as long as nothing reminds them about being away from home. Even if he never brings it up, you can rest assured that he does miss you. If your student is really homesick, encourage him to stick it out for one semester.
- Rule #2: Write, even if she doesn’t write back. Your student will be exploring and enjoying her independence and this is necessary for her development. Even so, she will want to keep her family ties, as well as the security those ties bring. It’s nice for her to receive things in the mail (and depressing when the box is empty). Still, she may not respond for some time. Don’t interpret silence as rejection.
- Rule #3: Ask questions (but not too many). First-year students tend to resent interference with their newfound lifestyles, but most still want to know that someone is still interested in them. Parental curiosity can be experienced as supportive or alienating, depending on the attitudes of the people involved. Honest inquiries that further the parent bond are welcomed. Pulling rank, “I have a right to know” questions, and hidden agendas should be avoided.
- Rule #4: Expect change (but not too much). It is natural and inevitable that your student will change over the course of his time here. For some, this change is gradual. For others, it is quick and dramatic. This can be quite stressful for all involved. It helps to remember that young adults should be forming their own identities, and that it is counterproductive to try and stop them from doing so. While you may never understand the changes in your child’s social, vocational, and personal choices that may occur in college, it is within your power to accept them. Maturation can be a slow and painful learning process. Please be patient.
- Rule #5: Don’t worry excessively about moody behavior. You might find parenting during the college years to be pretty thankless. Your student may sometimes feel overwhelmed with all that is happening, and she might turn to you in distress. Conversely, you may rarely hear from her when things are going well. You are serving as a “touchstone” for your student, someone she can turn to when she feels the need. Regardless of what she might say, this is valuable to her. If your student’s “bad mood” seems persistent and you have concerns about it, call the Office of Student Health Services to discuss it further.
- Rule #6: Visit (but not too often). Whether they admit it or not, students usually appreciate visits from their parents. This gives them a chance to connect to both of their “worlds” at once. “Surprise” visits are usually not appreciated because they can feel disrespectful. It is better to wait for planned visits, such as the Family Weekend opportunity. After that, arrange times that are convenient for you and your student. When you do visit, treat your child to a meal away from the dining hall or offer to do the laundry. Your visits will be eagerly anticipated!
- Rule #7: Avoid the “These are the best years of your life” speech. The college years are full of discovery, inspiration, good times and friends. But they are also marked by indecision, insecurity, disappointment, and mistakes. In all probability your student will learn that college is much more challenging, in every way, than he imagined. Parents who think that college students “have it made,” and that they should always perform well and be worry-free are wrong. Those who accept the highs and lows are providing the kind of support students need most.
- Rule #8: Trust your student. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling like the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing. One mother wrote her son during his senior year: “I love you and want for you all the things that make you happiest: and I guess you, not I, are the one who knows best what those things are.” If you’re smart, you’ll believe it, mean it, and say it now!
Adapted from the National Orientation Directors Association