As your student takes on adult responsibilities, your role will change, but your student still needs you. Students need you to support their growth, development, and independence, and to be a stable force in their ever-changing world. On occasion, they even need your advice—but they may or may not ask for it.
Support your student by staying connected. Communicate via phone, e-mail, IM, cell phones, and ‘snail’ mail. Students love to get real mail, especially care packages. Expect that your student will not respond to all of your contacts, but know that he or she appreciates hearing from you. Be sure to visit, but not too often. Parents and Family Weekend is an excellent way to reconnect with your student.
Give your student the opportunity to share feelings and ideas with you. He or she is experiencing new viewpoints and perspectives that may challenge prior belief systems. Allow your student to explore ideas without being judgmental. Understand that changes in viewpoints, behavior, dress, eating and sleeping habits, and relationships with parents are all to be expected during the college years. However, if you suspect that some of these changes may be signs of bigger problems (alcohol or drug abuse, academic problems, etc.), refer your student to the Counseling and Psychological Services office. Trust your instincts. Your student may need you to refer him or her to the appropriate resources for help.
Be Knowledgeable About Campus Resources
Utilize this website or read the Parent Calendar & Handbook. These resources are designed specifically for parents and provide a great deal of information about the University and its departments. Helping your student to navigate a large university by referring him or her to the appropriate resources is one of the best ways for you to mentor your college student during this transition to adulthood. By acting as a referral source, you can demonstrate that you are interested in your student’s life at the University, and at the same time, you empower your student to solve his or her own problems.
Continue to Have Difficult Conversations
As a parent of a college student, you no longer have the same control that you once had. However, you do still have a tremendous influence on your son or daughter’s behavior. In college, your son or daughter will have to make their own decisions about what time to get up in the morning, when to study, when to exercise, which organizations to participate in, whether or not to eat healthily, whether or not to drink alcohol, how much alcohol to drink if any, and whether or not to engage in sexual relationships. While you cannot force your student to behave exactly as you would want them to, parents can share their values and beliefs with their students on these topics. Studies show that parents influence their child’s behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and risky sexual behavior even after their child leaves for college. Provide your student with the facts on these issues, and empower them to distinguish between good and bad decisions when it comes to their behavior, health, and safety. Create an atmosphere of open communication, and your student will not only appreciate that you respect him or her as an adult, but he or she will also be more likely to turn to you for guidance. (Source: Brigham Young University (2008, February 11). “Sex, Drugs and Alcohol: Parents Still Influence College Kids’ Risky Behavior, Study Shows.” ScienceDaily. Read the news release.)
Ask Questions—But Not Too Many
Most first-year college students desire the security of knowing that someone from home is still interested in them. Parental curiosity can be alienating or supportive depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Honest inquiries and other “between friends” communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-student relationship.
Your student will change. College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. It’s natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring. Often though, it’s a pain in the neck. You can’t stop change, you may never understand it, but it is within your power (and to you and your student’s advantage) to accept it. Remember that your son or daughter will be basically the same person that you sent away to school.
Do Not Tell Your Student That “These Are the Best Years of Your Life” The first year of college can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. It’s also full of discovery, inspiration,good times, and exciting people. It may take a while for students to realize that their Hollywood-created images of what college all about are wrong. Hollywood doesn’t show that college is about being scared, confused, overwhelmed, and making mistakes. Students may feel these things and worry that they are not ‘normal’ because what they’re feeling is in contrast to what they’ve been led to believe while growing up. Parents can help by understanding that the highs and lows of college life are a critical part of your son or daughter’s development, and by providing the support and encouragement to help him or her understand this as well.
Trust Your Student College is also a time for students to discover who they are. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing.