Tips for Parents: Countdown to College
The transition from
high school to college can be as challenging for parents as it is for their college-bound children. Here are some tips for
parents who are preparing their child for college.
Expect the unexpected.
Your child will vacillate between many emotions. She may alternate between wanting to be close and pushing you away.
Remember that your child is probably torn between sadness about leaving home and excitement about the adventures ahead. Karen
Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, authors of Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years, compares
this behavior to that of a two-year-old: your child may run ahead of you, but she'll still turn around to be reassured that
you're still there.
Encourage independence--but offer support.
It can be tempting
to do too much for your child, especially in the light of his upcoming departure. Restrain yourself from handling college
arrangements for him. If your child has a question about the college, encourage him to contact the appropriate office himself.
After all, your child will soon need to be responsible for dealing with the college bureaucracy himself.
parents should support students' decision-making about the courses they plan to take and the activities they plan to be involved
in—rather than make those decisions for their sons and daughters," says Marcy Kraus, director of orientation programs
at the University of Rochester. "On more than one occasion I've heard a student tell me that his mom or dad picked his
fall courses for him--this is often not a good idea!"
The balance between offering support and taking over
can be difficult to maintain. Students themselves may want your advice sometimes and reject your advice at other times. During
this time of changing roles, good communication—and a sense of humor—are essential.
an informal support group.
Other parents of college-bound children can be invaluable. They can reassure
you that you're not alone and give you a "reality check" about your child's possibly erratic behavior (their children
are probably acting in a similar way). You can share ideas for making your children's last summer home a meaningful one. And
after your child leaves for college, you can support each other as your way of life changes.
your child say good-bye.
Encourage your child to spend time with family and friends over the summer. Be
there to talk when your child comes home from saying good-bye to a high school friend. Have some family get-togethers.
"Make occasions to restate your love, concerns, and respect for your child," says John Boshoven, counselor
for continuing education at Community High School (MI) and director of college counseling at the Jewish Academy of Metropolitan
Make plans for communication.
Discuss with your child ways to communicate with you while she's at
college. Many parents enjoy receiving e-mails from their college-aged children, and students often prefer this method of communication
because it allows them to reach out to you on their timetable. If you'd like a weekly phone call, make that clear to your
child. Once she's at college, ask her when it would be easiest to get her on the phone. Also, expect the frequency of communication
to vary. Some kids get swept away by the activities of college life and neglect communication with their family. Others may
call every day until they feel more at ease in their new life. It depends on the personality and college experiences of your
Plan the big day.
If possible, give your child some latitude
about whether you accompany him to the campus. If you accompany your child, be flexible. Talk with your child ahead of time
about your plans and expectations.
Once on campus, brace yourself for the brush-off. Many first-year students are
eager to start their new lives sans parents. Your child may be ready for you to leave before you're ready to go. On the other
hand, some students unexpectedly cling to their parents. Again, it depends on your child's personality.
idea is to leave your child to unpack with his roommate(s) while you run to the store to pick up any necessities. That gives
your child some time to himself before a possibly emotional departure. Many colleges now offer parent orientations, which
give parents some information about the college and its programs. This can be reassuring to anxious parents—and can
give you the tools to guide your child in case of problems in those first weeks.
Home may seem very different without your child. If you have other children at home, remember
that siblings will also go through a period of adjustment. And give yourself time to adjust to daily life without your college-aged
child. You may grieve for a time or have a sense of time passing too quickly (or slowly). This is when talking to other parents
can be especially helpful. In time, both you and your child will adjust to her being at college--just in time for your child
to return for the holidays!
Written by Jennifer Gross.
Published May/June 2001 by NACAC.
Books for Parents of College-Bound
The admission counselors, high school counselors, and other professionals on the NACAC e-mail list recommend the
following books for parents of college-bound students:
- Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn
and Madge Lawrence Treeger. Written by a college dean and a psychotherapist, this book was mentioned the most by NACAC members
- When Your Kid Goes To College by Carol
Barkin. The author decided to write the book after sending her son off to college. She interviewed parents around the country
to get their perspectives on the college transition
- Almost Grown: Launching Your Child From High School to College by Patricia Pasick
- Empty Nest, Full Heart: The Journey from Home
to College by Andrea Van Steenhouse. Practical advice from a Mom and Ph.D.
- Don't Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years
by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller
- Campus Daze by George Gibbs
- The College Guide for Parents by Charles Shield (Published by the College Board)
Written by Jennifer Gross.
Published March/April 2002 by NACAC.
College Parents Learn to Survive the First YearBy Steve Gladis * Special Thanks to The Washington
It's been a torturous year waiting for test scores, grinding out trips to every college campus within a 500-mile
radius of home and reminding your child to submit applications to a half-dozen schools. Then finally the acceptance letters
come and as parents, you think your troubles are over. Think again.
You are about to embark on an odyssey over
which you have little control but in which you have enormous responsibility for financial, legal and, most of all, emotional
support. However, you're not alone. Every fall, thousands of parents say tearful goodbyes to their sons and daughters leaving
But here's a stunning statistic: During that first, most critical year, nearly 25 percent of students
at four-year institutions drop out. That is a significant financial and emotional cost to themselves and you -- their parents.
So, to assist you along the way, here are 10 tips to help you survive your child's first year at college:
roots and wings: Let's start with the toughest one first. Providing a touchstone, a link back to stability during a year of
continuous adjustment, is critical. As parents, you can offer firm roots to first-year students being blown around by the
strong winds of change. At the same time, as students begin to stabilize, you have to let them go -- to give them wings. First-year
students need to make their own decisions.
Thus, the first year is a balancing act for parents -- both a time for
stabilizing -- yet, at the same time, for adjusting to their children's independence. Offering roots and wings is a difficult
task best done in stages by starting as early as possible -- perhaps over the summer before classes begin.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: With phone cards, cell phones, e-mail and instant messenger, there's no excuse for
not staying in touch with your college-bound student. Don't be surprised to get a lot of contact in the very beginning and
for it to taper off as the semester rolls on.
Typically, kids hold on to you through communication -- roots. And
as they let go -- get their wings -- they feel more confident and take you for granted. This is not a bad thing but a reality.
No matter where they are on their roller-coaster ride, communicate with them. Tell them what you're doing and ask them what
they're doing. It's not a sin to ask them if they're going to class, eating well and getting sleep.
In fact, if
you suspect a problem, send a letter or an e-mail about the issue before you discuss it. This will enable you to express your
concerns without the heavy emotion that often comes in a face-to-face meeting or in a phone call.
I learned this
from my wife, who is a master at well-worded and thought-through e-mails that pose important questions and offer honest, loving
advice. Kids listen despite what you might think. So tell them what you think, but only after you've done a lot of listening
3.) Fasten your seat belt: You're in for a roller-coaster ride, too. The smiley faces of the first few days
as kids meet their cool roommates and their interesting teachers will turn into frowny faces by mid-semester, if not sooner.
Students' idealized views of college -- parties, fun and sun -- will turn rudely into the reality of tests, compromises and
So don't get crazy when you get a call or an e-mail that reflects the elation of the first few weeks
or the frustration of the mid-semester despair. It is normal. Let me repeat this: It is normal.
tough: While you're on the receiving end of "This place really sucks," it's not always easy to hang in there. You
may feel helpless or at a loss for words. The important thing to do is listen. Eventually, if your child's concerns require
action, you, as a parent, will make that decision.
When my youngest daughter hit this trough in her first semester,
she announced that she wanted to leave the very university that six months ago she had done cartwheels to get into. We listened,
talked and listened more. We had a family meeting and listened more. Then I announced that we'd have another conversation
after the first year and that leaving during the first semester was not an option.
Some tears, a few raised voices.
We hung tough. Now a senior, my daughter announced how glad she was to have stayed at such a wonderful university. Hang tough.
Did I mention that such vicissitudes are normal?
5.) Ask for help: When in doubt, check your feelings with other
parents. Find parents who have already survived the first year of college. Talk to other kids, such as recent college graduates.
They tend to have the best hands-on advice, and you'll be surprised both by their wisdom and their delight to offer it.
Finally, if you ever sense that your child has a serious problem, don't hesitate to contact the school's counseling
office. As a rule, school counselors are excellent, confidential and very experienced in problems that might arise. Enlist
their help. They'll not only counsel you but they'll also make every attempt to get your child in for a listening session.
Remember, school counselors treat both what you say and what your child says in strict confidence. Translation: They won't
tell any party what the other said unless given permission.
6.) Embrace the quiet: After students leave in
August for school, their empty rooms, now-missing voices and even the lack of phone calls may at first be an emotional downer.
After all the activities dissipate -- the sports, the dates, the friends and the background noise of our kids -- we naturally
respond to the environmental change. But I will guarantee that at some point well into the semester, you'll wake up after
a refreshing uninterrupted night of glorious sleep to hear not a sound except birds chirping.
7.) Keep eyes half
shut: There's a story about an aging minister who gave advice to a young couple about having a long, loving marriage: Keep
your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut after marriage. I advise the same with adult children.
point, first-year students come home for a weekend break or for the longer, more challenging holiday break. The first visit
home will be interesting. Kids and parents aren't quite sure how to react to each other.
As best you can, treat
them like guests, not like big children. For example, forget curfews. They haven't had curfews for months and won't have them
when they go back to school. Respect gets you a lot further than rules, advice and criticism. It's not easy, but effective.
8.) Visit students carefully: Visiting first-year students at school can be tricky. Why? Simple: You're a parent,
with all the natural baggage parenting brings, and now you are invading their turf. So you need to be careful and deliberate.
I suggest the following formula for a successful campus visit: 1. Always announce your visit. Again, ask permission.
This pre-visit request will save everyone mounds of embarrassment and disappointment. 2. Stay only for a short time. I suggest
anything more than a few hours is overstaying your welcome, especially if it's on a weekend -- you'll likely get in the way
of a party or road trip. 3. Feed them. Take students out to dinner or lunch. They'll enjoy the relief from institutional cooking,
and it gives you all something to do as you exchange information and catch up. 4. Leave money. I suggest leaving $20. 5. Leave
town. If you've come a long distance, find an excuse to visit a nearby tourist attraction. That's it.
them to do the right thing: Research by sociologists suggests that children are value-programmed by the time they're 10 years
old. Certainly, by the time they've hit college, you've inculcated your values in them. I've proven this in numerous seminars
I've conducted with students and parents.
All the advice and counseling you've given your kids runs on a continuous
loop in their heads. They may not live their lives exactly the way you wish they would, but your lifetime of instruction will
not be ignored.
When I talk to students, I tell them about the red-face test. Whenever they're faced with difficult
personal decisions, they should consider this: If my parents were to see what I'm about to do on the television or on the
front page of the local newspaper, would I be embarrassed? If the answer is yes, I tell them to run from the situation.
Students know what's right and will usually do the right thing. Besides, when they're miles away from home, what choice
do you have but to trust them?
10.) Remember a simple prayer: The first line of the "Serenity Prayer,"
made famous by its use at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, offers consoling advice: "God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. . . . " Such
wise counsel can well serve any parent of a college-bound student: Serenity, courage and wisdom.