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Tips for Parenting College Students

The following parenting tips are taken from "Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years" by Karen Coburn and Madge Treeger.

Tip #1: Don't Ask Them If They Are Homesick

The power of association can be a dangerous thing. "The idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me with all the new things that were going on, until my mom called one of the first weekends and asked, "Are you homesick?' Then it hit me."

The first few days/weeks of school are activity-packed and the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a freshman's time and concentration. So, unless a well-meaning parent reminds them of it, they'll probably be able to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. And even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.

Tip #2: Ask Questions (But Not Too Many)

College freshmen are "cool" and have a tendency to resent interference with their newfound lifestyle. But most still desire the security of knowing that someone is still interested in them. Parent curiosity can either be intrusive and alienating, or relief-giving and supportive, depending on the attitudes of the person involved. "I-have-a-right-to-know" tinged questions with ulterior motives, should be avoided. However, honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussions will do much to further the parent-freshman relationship. Keep conversations positive and avoid small arguments. Focus on your child's achievements.

Tip #3: Expect Change (But Not Too Much)

Your student will change (either drastically within the first months, or slowly over four years, or more likely somewhere in-between). It's natural, inevitable, and can be inspiring and beautiful. The University and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational and personal behavior and choices. An up-to-now "wallflower" may become a budding student leader; a pre-med student may discover that biology is not her thing after all; or a high school radical may join a fraternity or the marketing club.

You can't stop change; you may not even understand it; but it is within your power (and to your advantage and your student's advantage) to accept it. Remember that your freshman will end up being basically the same person that you sent away to school, aside from some interest changes and new experiences. Maturation is not an instantaneous or overnight process. Be patient.

Tip #4: Don't Worry (Too Much) About "Desperate" Phone Calls, Letters or Emails

Parenting can sometimes be a thankless job, especially during the college years. It can be a lot of give and only a little take. Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle (a flunked test, ended relationship and shrunken T-shirt all in one day) the only place to turn may be home. Often, unfortunately, this is the only time that the urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you never get to hear about the "A" paper, the new boyfriend/girlfriend or the domestic triumph ("gee, I washed my whites and they came out white!").

In these "crisis" times your student can unload trouble or tears and, after the catharsis, return to his/her routine relieved and lightened, while you inherit the burden of worry. Be patient with those "nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place" communications. You're providing a real service as a sympathetic ear.

Tip #5: Visit (But Not Too Often)

Visits by parents (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and/or dinners out) are another part of the first-year events that freshmen are reluctant to admit liking but appreciate greatly. These visits give the student a chance to introduce some of the important people in both of his/her now-important worlds (home and school) to each other. Additionally, it's a way for parents to become familiar with (and, it is hoped, more understanding of) their student's new activities, commitments, and friends.

Spur-of-the-moment "surprise visits" are usually not appreciated.

Tip #6: Do Not Repeatedly Tell Your Student That These Are The Best Years of Their Life

The freshman year can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments and, most of all, mistakes. They're also full of discovery, inspiration, good times and new friends (typically, friendships made in the first year are maintained throughout the undergraduate years, and often afterwards). The beauty of our memory process is that it downplays the negative and enhances the positive, so we have forgotten those bad times, and we typically only pass on the good times.

Because freshmen come to college with larger-than-life expectations, it takes them a while to accept that being unhappy, afraid, confused, disliking people and making mistakes is normal, redictable, and part of growing up. Those parents that accept and understand the highs and lows of their student's reality are providing the support and encouragement where it's needed most.

Tip #7: Take Care of Yourself

Having your child begin their college career can be a stressful experience for parents. Attend to your own emotional needs and find support for dealing with whatever emotions you are feeling. Make "wellness" a goal for yourself with enough sleep, healthy diet, and adequate exercise. Find a new creative outlet for yourself and spend some time "recharging" by doing special things for yourself.

Many parents find it helpful to relish in the fact that providing your child with the opportunity to go to college is a wonderful gift.

Tip #8: Trust Them

Remember that, for your child, coming to the University is an important developmental step towards full adulthood. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people, whose opinions you respect most, are second-guessing your own second-guessing. Keep the following thought taped near your telephone and computer:"I love you and want for you all of the things that make you the happiest; and I have come to realize that you, not I, are the one who knows best what those things are."