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Guiding Your Student to Independence

As students transition from children to adults, how do you keep up with what's going on in their lives?  It is common for parents to inquire about their student’s well-being and safety. Here are a few tips to try out!

Recognize this is a time of ambivalence for all parents.

  • The excitement and joy about opportunities awaiting your child are mixed with the waves of nostalgia and a sense of loss. Talk with other parents who are going through the same thing.

Recognize your child's conflicting emotions.

  • Your child, like you, is being pulled between past, present and future ... one day exclaiming "leave me alone; I'm 18 years old. I'm independent" and the next complaining "you're never around when I need you." Your child's ups and downs are a sign of the ambivalence of this transitional time.

Take comfort in the knowledge that part of you is going with your child.

  • The foundation you have provided over the past 18 years will accompany your child across the miles and throughout the years.

Don't tell your child "These are the best years of your life."

  • College can be a fun and exciting time, but it is also a challenging time with new stressors. As well intended as this statement may be, when a student is homesick or overtired from studying all night,  it's not reassuring to have parents imply that this is as good as it gets!

Make a financial plan and discuss expectations with your child.

  • Develop a tentative budget and be clear about who will pay for what. For example, some parents pay for books and supplies, while their child is responsible for incidental expenses such as snacks, movies, and incidentals. Other students are responsible for earning a percentage of their tuition. College is a great time to teach your child about responsible use of credit and debit cards.

Discuss academic goals and expectation ahead of time.

  • Ask them what they hope to accomplish academically during their first year. It is important for them to take ownership of their education. Grades are not the only indication of learning.

Talk to your child about how you'll keep in touch.

  • Do you want a planned time to talk or do you want to be more spontaneous? A cell phone can be a wonderful way to keep in touch, or it can be, as one student described, an "electronic leash." Encourage your child to use it with discretion and not just to fill in the spaces. E-mail and texting are also wonderful ways to keep in touch. Just don't count on a reply to every message.

Be a coach rather than trying to solve your child's problems yourself.

  • You're likely to hear more than your share of problems. College students usually call their parents for reassurance when things aren't going well, and call their friends with the latest exciting news. When you get those late night phone calls, and you will, you can encourage your child to use the appropriate campus resources — to go to the health service or career center, to talk to an advisor, dean, a counselor or tutor. Read resource information sent to you by the college so you can be an informed coach for your child.

Be an anchor.

  • Keep your child informed about changes at home. College students want their parents to accept all the changes they are making but want everything at home to stay the same. So it's important to keep them informed about changes at home, whether it's moving a younger sibling into their room, or, on a more serious note, about illness in the family or the death of a pet. They need this from you in order to feel secure and maintain a sense of trust.

Seek out resources for the tough topics.

Discussing alcohol, drug use, and sexual misconduct are important conversations to have with your child. For tips on how to have this conversation, try these sources: alcoholsexual misconduct, prescription drug use and drug use.  

Resources collected and compiled from "Partnership with Drug-Free Kids" site and "Letting Go: Tips for Parents of New College Students" article by Karen L. Coburn & Maggie L. Treeger.
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