If your child is entering a college or university this year, your role in their life might change. Adjusting to the person they become over the course of their academic career is a learning process for both of you. It’s a challenging time for most parents—as well as a period of transition for your child.
There are ways you can show your support, even though they might not ask for it. Staying in touch, asking how they’re doing, and learning about their campus environment shows that you care about the career path they’re pursuing and value the person they want to become. Changes are to be expected as they meet new people and expand their social circle and personal experience in new ways.
It is also a stressful time for your child because so much of their future is based on how well they do in this short period. They will have to learn their professors’ varied expectations and how to study for courses that are more challenging than those they had in high school. Grades might slip, or they might decide that the major they chose is not the one they want to pursue.
It will also be a time of managing expectations, as classes might not be as interesting as they initially thought. They may struggle with the amount of writing and reading required to pass their classes, or they might find more complex concepts challenging—all on a deadline with the inevitable worry of whether or not the assignment will be completed by the due date.
Staying connected to your college student is important. But it’s also wise to find a balance between checking in and becoming overly involved in every aspect of their changing life. Email, text messages, and “snail mail” are great ways to stay connected, and give them the opportunity to respond to you as their schedule permits.
During these check-ins, it’s important to remain nonjudgmental, as your child will undoubtedly want to discuss the ways in which their life and their perspective of the world is changing. By remaining impartial to the ideas they want to explore, you’re showing them that you trust them to be able to make up their own minds about the path they take in life.
While it’s important to remain impartial, it’s also critical to make sure that you can recognize if the changes in behavior and sleeping and eating habits are indicative of a larger problem, like drug or alcohol abuse. If this is what you suspect, it’s important to refer your student to their campus counseling center. Trusting your instincts as you watch them transition into adults means paying attention to what they’re not telling you.
Being knowledgeable of the resources offered through your child’s school is important. You should have or can request a student or parent handbook, which should outline all the campus resources available to your student, as well as important contact information, like counseling services or campus police. You can refer your student to these resources as a way to empower them to solve their own problems. But be sure to add important phone numbers and email addresses to your emergency contacts, in case you suspect your child may be in an emergency situation.
Giving up control is difficult, but as your child becomes an adult, it’s an important part of the process. While they were under your roof, or in high school, you could make sure they got up on time, attended class, and were where they said they were going to be. While they’re away at college, you don’t have that same ability to monitor and follow up on their activities. You can influence their behavior, however. You can share your values and beliefs about drinking alcohol, sexual relationships, and drug use, and talk to them about responsible ways to manage their behavior.
Asking questions is an important way to understand your student’s world away from home. Having candid “between friends” talks about what they’re doing and with whom is a great way to further your relationship as well as an effective means of making sure you understand if their behavior is a normal part of their changing life or if it’s a sign of a problem.
The biggest thing to remember is not to tell your child that these years at college are “the most important years of your life.” It’s crucial to put the ideal that movies give us about college years out of your mind. For them, these years are full of insecurities, indecision, and mistakes, so they may worry they’re ‘not normal’ if they aren’t sure these less positive parts of their transition are, in fact, an essential part of all their discoveries, inspiration, and good times.
Even with all of this change, you are still their parent. Which means that a handwritten letter is never out of the question. As most students today live their life online, getting an actual letter in the mail is often more meaningful than a text message.
While care packages might seem old-fashioned, a box of homemade cookies, brownies, or their favorite snack will be a welcome change from dining hall meals. Sending them something they love will help them fuel through an all-nighter and will show them that you care. And that’s especially important when they’re least expecting it.