Supporting Your Student While Letting Them Go

The college years can be exciting and stressful for both you and your child. They are exciting because your child will be learning to live independently and this allows both of you to explore other parts of your lives. They are 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.

Tip #1: Don't ask them if they are 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 they never bring it up, you can rest assured that they do miss you. If your student is really homesick, encourage them to stick it out for one semester.

Tip #2: Write, even if they don't write back. Your student will be exploring and enjoying their independence and this is necessary for their development. Even so, they want to keep family ties and the security that brings. It's nice for them to have things in the mailbox and depressing when it is empty. Still, they may not respond for some time. Don't interpret their silence as rejection.

Tip #3: Ask questions (but not too many). First-year students tend to resent interference with their newfound lifestyle, but most 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 person 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.

Tip #4: Expect change (but not too much). It is natural and inevitable that your student will change over the course of their 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 their 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.

Tip #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 they might turn to you in distress. But, you may rarely hear from them when things are going well. You are serving as a "touchstone" for your student, someone they can turn to when they feel the need. Regardless of what they might say, this is very valuable to them. If your student's "bad mood" seems persistent and you have concerns about it, call the staff at the Counseling Center to discuss it further.

Tip #6: Visit (but not too often). Whether they admit it or not, students usually appreciate a visit 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.

Tip #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 they imagined. Parents who think that college students "have it made” and that they should always perform well and be worry-free are mistaken. Those that accept the highs and lows are providing the kind of support students need most.

Tip #8: Communicate your expectations and stay informed. It is entirely appropriate for you to expect reasonable outcomes for your investment. Attendance, decent grades, safe and healthy choices, and signs of increasing responsibility should be evident to you. Negotiate and discuss these with your student, then look for that evidence. If you don’t find it, increase your level of supervision.

Tip #9: Trust them. 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 Director's Association at the University of Alabama

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