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Articles: Ten Tips for Successful Parenting of a First-Time College Student

#1 Don't ask them if they're homesick

The power of suggestion can be dangerous. The idea of being homesick usually doesn't occur until someone suggests it. The first few days or weeks of college are activity-packed and friend-jammed. The challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a student's time and concentration. So, unless a well-meaning parent reminds them of it, they'll probably be able to cope with feelings of homesickness. Even if they don't tell you, they think a lot about "home."

#2 Write (even if they don't write back)

Although new students are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can in those first weeks, most are still anxious for family ties and the securities those ties bring. This surge of independence may be misinterpreted by sensitive parents as rejection, but most students (although 99 percent won't ever admit it) would give anything for some news of home and family, however mundane it may seem to you.

#3 Ask questions (but not too many)

College freshmen are "cool" (or so they think) and have a tendency to resent interference with their new life-style, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is interested in them. The "I-have-a-right-to-know" tinged questions with ulterior motives or nagging should be avoided. Honest inquiries, however, and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-student relationship.

#4 Don't worry (too much) about manic-depressive phone calls or letters

Parenting can be a thankless job, especially during the college years. It's a lot of give and only a little take. Often when troubles become too much for your student to handle (a failed test, broken relationship, and shrunken T-shirt all in one day), the only place to turn is home. Often, unfortunately, this is the only time that an urge to communicate is felt so strongly; so you may rarely hear about the "A" paper, the new romance, or domestic triumph. Be patient with those "nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place" phone calls, letters, or e-mails. You're providing a real service as an advice dispenser, sympathetic ear, or punching bag. Granted, it's a service that makes you feel lousy, but it works wonders for a frustrated student.

#5 Visit (But not too often or unannounced)

Visits by parents, especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and dinners out, are another part of the first year that students may not admit liking… but greatly appreciate! Pretend disdain of these visits is just another part of first-year syndrome.

#6 Don't tell your student "these are the best years of your life"

The first year can be full of indecisions, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. It’s also full of discoveries, inspiration, good times, and people. It takes a while for some students to accept that being unhappy, afraid, confused, disliked, and making mistakes -- in other words, being human -- are all part of growing up.

Parents who believe that all college students get good grades, know what they want to major in, always have activity-packed weekends, have thousands of close friends, and lead carefree, worry-free lives are mistaken.

Parents that insist upon the "best years" stereotype are working against their student's already difficult self-development. Those who accept and understand the highs and lows of their student's reality are providing the support and encouragement where it is needed most.

#7 Take time to discuss finances

Most college students are still financially dependent on parents to some degree. Sit down and discuss your family's financial situation with your student. Students need to know how much money will be available to them and how much of the fiscal responsibility is theirs.

#8 Prepare for their return

When the school year ends and your student returns home for vacation, plan to sit down and discuss the rules of living at home. Parents need to respect the individuality and independence their student worked hard to achieve, and students need to know there are rules and courtesies to observe.

#9 Trust them

Finding oneself is difficult enough without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing you. One of the most important things you can do as a parent is let your student know that you trust his/her judgment.

#10 Expect change

In any event, your student will change (either drastically within the first few months, slowly over the college years, or somewhere in between). It's natural, inevitable, and can be inspiring and beautiful. Often, change calls for some major adjustments.

College, and experiences associated with it, can affect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior. An up-to-now wallflower may become a homecoming queen; a nursing student may discover a stronger love for drama or literature; or a high school radical may become a college preppy or vice versa. You can't stop change. You may not even understand it, but it is within your power (and to the advantage of both you and your student) to accept it.

On the other hand, your student may remain basically the same person you sent away to school, aside from interest and minor changes. Don't expect too much too soon. Maturation is an on-going process. You may just discover your student returning home with some familiar habits and hang-ups. Be patient.

Contact Information

Student Development Office