|Helpful tips for Parents of New College Students|
Don't Ask Them If They're Homesick
The power of suggestion can be a dangerous thing. A friend once told me, "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 if I was homesick. Then it hit me." The first few days/weeks of college are activity-packed and friend-jammed, and the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a freshman's time and concentration. So, unless your student is reminded of it (by a well-meaning parent), he/she will probably be able to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. Even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.
Write - Even If They Don't Write Back
Although new students are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can fit in those first weeks, most are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring. This surge of independence may be misinterpreted by sensitive parents as rejection, but most new students (although most would not admit it) would give anything for some news of home and family, however mundane it may seem to you. There's nothing more depressing than a week of empty mailboxes. So write your new student. Although they may not answer you (the you-write-one, they-write-one rule doesn't always seem to apply to college students), they will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Letters are better than phone calls because letters are tangible connections to home. They can be read and re-read at especially lonely moments.
Ask Questions - But Not Too Many
First year students are "cool" (or so they think) and have a tendency to resent interference with their new-found lifestyles, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is interested in them. Parental curiosity can be obnoxious and alienating or relief-giving and supporting, depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. "I-have-a-right-to-know" - tinged questions with ulterior motives should be avoided. However, honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-new student relationship.
Expect Change - But Not Too Much
Your new student will change. It's natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring and beautiful. Often, though, it's a pain in the neck. College, and the experiences associated with it, can affect changes in social, vocational and personal behavior. An up-to-now wallflower may become a fraternity member or a pre-med student may discover that biology is not his or her thing after all. Remember that your son or daughter will be basically the same person you sent away to college, aside from interest changes and personality revisions. Don't expect too much too soon. Maturation is not an instantaneous or overnight process, so be patient.
Don't Worry (too much) About Sad
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 troubles become too much for a new student to handle and the only place to turn, write or call is home. Unfortunately, this is often the only time that the urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you never get to hear about the "A" paper, the new significant other, or the domestic triumph. In these "crisis times" your son or daughter can unload troubles or tears and, after the catharsis, return to routine, while you inherit the burden of worry. Be patient with these calls/letters. Know that you are providing a real service as an advice dispenser or sympathetic ear.
Visit - But Not Too Often
Visits by parents (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and/or dinners out) are another part of first year events that new students are reluctant to admit liking but appreciate greatly. Pretended disdain of those visits is just another part of the new student syndrome. These visits give both student and parent the opportunity to learn more about the new things that both parties are experiencing. However, spur of the moment "surprises" are usually NOT appreciated (preemption of a planned weekend of studying or other activities can have disastrous results). Prior planning of visits is an act of courtesy in general and a very important recognition that they have responsibilities and plans that they may not be able to or want to change at the last minute.
Don't Ask Them What They Are Going
To Do After Graduation
They have enough difficulty selecting classes and they feel enormous pressure to make that life-long decision even before they have proved their academic capability. Pushing them to focus on the future can have an adverse effect on their present performance. Their main job during their first year is to adjust to college life and be the best student they can be academically. As they take classes in many disciplines and prove their capabilities they will identify their interests and talents. If they fail to develop an academic goal by the time they are in upper class work, encourage them to seek career counseling.
Don't Tell Them "These are the best years of your life!"
Life at college can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments and most of all, mistakes. It's also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and people. However, except in retrospect, it's not the "good" that stands out. Any parent who believes that all college students get good grades, know what they want to major in, and always have activity-packed weekends is wrong. So are the parents who think college-educated means mistake-proof. Parents who perpetuate and insist upon the "best years" stereotypes are working against their son or daughter's self-development. Those who accept their new student's highs and lows are providing the support and encouragement where it is needed most.
Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing. One of the most important things you can say to your new student is something like this: "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 to your new student as soon as possible. It can make a difference!
(Taken from the "Orientation Directors Manual" published by the National Orientation Directors Association, and from "Putting Someone Through College" by Jerry O'Connor.)