How to Successfully Parent Your College Student

Once your student leaves for college, it can become one of the most challenging times as a parent.

Elizabeth Hoyt

June 13, 2018

How to Successfully Parent Your College Student
As a student prepares to leave for college, parents generally fall into one of two categories. "My Baby is Leaving the Nest and I'm Freaking Out!" and "My Baby is Leaving the Nest - Finally Some Alone Time!" Regardless of which category you fall under, it's common for parents to have worries about their student being on their own for the first time. Once your student leaves for college, it can become one of the most challenging times as a parent. Your student will have plenty of new-found freedom and you won’t be able to see him or her as often.
You also have concerns for how your student is handling being away from home for the first time, how settling in is going and whether he or she is adjusting to college life. All of that is completely understandable; however, to allow your student to grow into his or her full potential as an individual, he or she may have to deal with some new and different situations without running to you (at least as a first option). Here are some tips on how to successfully parent your college student:

Let Go

Letting go isn't easy. Take confidence in the fact that you have raised a mature student who you can trust to make smart decisions. Your student needs this to learn how to live independently and deal with life as it comes on his or her own. That being said, he or she will always know that you are just a phone call away should something become too difficult to handle.

Stay in Touch (But Not Too Much)

It’s important for your student to become immersed in college life without you calling every hour on the hour. However, he or she is adjusting to a new life, also, and will likely need someone to discuss all of the recent changes with. Be open to talking to (but, don’t force) them about how they are adjusting. If it seems like they aren’t opening up to you, encourage them to talk to someone they trust. Let them know that you are there to talk, without judgment, no matter what the issue may be.

Mistakes Happen

Allow your student to make his or her own mistakes and be fully aware that he or she will make mistakes. Obviously, nobody is perfect. Who your student was in grade school and high school may not necessarily determine who he or she becomes in college – people make all sorts of decisions when independence is suddenly thrust upon them. Simply encourage that he or she stay true to themselves and, as you keep in contact with them, try to check in on their grade progress and behavioral changes to ensure everything is under control (without being controlling - you just want to make sure they’re safe). Many students have difficulty adjusting to college courses and their grades suffer as a result. Students who are over-achievers or who were straight-A students in high school can have difficulty accepting such realities. Focus on your student’s efforts and not on the grades, letting him or her know that as long as he or she is trying her best, you are always going to be proud. More often than not, the stress of disappointing a parent is at the root of a student’s anxieties (without the parent even realizing it) and a parent’s words of comfort can make all the difference in the world.

Don’t Visit Too Often

If your student happens to attend a school that’s not too far away, you will likely be tempted to visit frequently. Limit your visits to not more than one per month and, when you do visit, ask what they would like to do. Ensure that you make plans beforehand instead of just dropping by for a visit. This shows that you respect their new lifestyle as you would any other adult who may have plans.

Don’t Pressure Them to Come Home All the Time

Similar to visiting too often, you want your student to get the full college life experience. You certainly will miss them, but pressuring them to come home on weekends is not in his or her best interest. If he or she wants to come home frequently on the weekends, encourage that he or she stay on campus, instead. Students who stay on campus for classes only and constantly return home tend to enjoy college less because they aren’t as tied to the campus or the campus community. As an alternative, encourage that he or she join some campus clubs or activities to get to know some other students, which may help resolve the issue.

Avoid Too Much Advice

Your student will likely get frustrated and complain to you about a lot of different things in college, from roommates to studying to finances and beyond. Though you may have answers to it all, mums the word unless they ask you what they should do. They likely just want someone to listen and someone to vent to – not someone to tell them what to do. In order to avoid a fight, lend an ear and let them know you are there to help should they ever need advice on dealing with any issues. That way, they’ll know that you’re ready to give advice if they ask for it and you don’t come across as the bossy parent. When you do decide to give advice, make sure you're talking to them and not at them - the latter can cause anyone to shut out advice. (Hint: Try thinking of how your parents gave you advice regarding raising kids, etc. What helped and what annoyed you most? Take those factors into account when talking to your student.) Keep this rule of thumb in mind: as long as they’re not in danger, there’s no reason to become meddlesome (unless they ask).

Give Space

Many students often feel that they actually have less space from their parents when they leave for college than when they lived at home. While a parent’s constant concern is well intentioned, the overbearing actions aren't doing the students any favors and often result in tension in the relationship. Allow your student to have the time and space necessary to adjust and make sure that he or she knows you are always there when need-be. Check in every so often and schedule your visits ahead of time. All of this, compiled with unconditional love (and, perhaps, some care packages) and you and your student will remain closer than ever before!

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