Your son or daughter is about to enter a time that is both exciting and frightening; a period of joy, pain, discovery, and disappointment. These students are beginning a period of their lives that will leave them very different from the way they were previously. Like it or not, you are entering this period with him or her. You will experience the same happiness and defeats that your student does secondhand, but just as vividly.
Of course, no one can ensure that you will completely survive your child's first year at college, but here are some guidelines that might help you make it with a minimum loss of sanity and a maximum strengthening of your new relationship. They are based on the experiences of other parents through the years. At most, these tips will prepare you to deal with some predictable first year conflicts. At the least, they will make you think about your relationship with your son or daughter and that can't hurt.
Tip #1: Don't Ask Them if They Are Homesick
The first few days/weeks of school 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 reminded of it (by a well-meaning parent), your student will probably be able to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. Most students feel the impact of separation from family and friends even though they may be reluctant to acknowledge these feelings.
Tip #2: Write (Even if They Don't Write Back)
Although freshmen 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. There is nothing more depressing than a week with an empty mailbox. Warning - don't expect a reply to every letter you write. The you-write-one, they-write-one sequence isn't always followed by college students, so get set for some unanswered letters. You also may want to send some care packages-little things mean a lot. Send homemade cookies or the local newspaper to help make home feel closer.
Tip #3: Ask Questions (But Not Too Many)
College freshmen are "cool" (or so they think) and have a tendency to resent interference with their newfound lifestyle, 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 supportive, depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-freshman relationship. Moreover, be a good listener. Help find solutions, but don't solve the problems. Remind him or her of available resources.
Tip #4: Expect Change (But Not Too Much)
Your son or daughter will change, either drastically within the first few months, slowly over the years, or somewhere in between. Change is natural and 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 effect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. You cannot stop change. You may never understand it, but it is within your power (and to your and your son's or daughter's advantage) to accept it. Don't expect too much too soon. Maturation is not an instantaneous or overnight process, and you might well discover your freshman returning home with some of the same habits and hang-ups, however unsophisticated, that you thought he/she had "grown out of." Be patient.
Tip #5: Don't Worry (Too Much) About Depressing Phone Calls or Letters
Parenting can be a thankless job, especially during the college years. It requires 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 a shrunken T-shirt all in one day), the only place to turn, write, or dial is home. In these "crisis" times, your son or daughter can unload troubles or tears and, after the catharsis, return to routine relieved and lightened-while you inherit the burden of worry. Be patient with these nothing-is-going-right-l-hate-this-place phone calls or letters. You're providing a real service as an advice dispenser, sympathetic ear, or punching bag.
Tip #6: Visit (But Not Too Often)
Visits by parents are another 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 new and 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 "surprises" usually are not appreciated.
Tip #7: Don't Tell Them That "These Are the Best Years of Their Lives"
Freshman year (and the other three as well) can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. They're also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and people. However, it is often only in retrospect that the good stands out. Any parent who believes 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 is wrong. So are the parents who think college-educated means mistake-proof. Parents who perpetrate and insist upon the "best years" stereotypes are working against their child's already difficult self development. Those who accept and understand the highs and lows of their child's reality are providing the support and encouragement where they are needed most.
Tip #8: Trust Them
Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect the most are second guessing your own second guessing.
Tip #9: Be Supportive
Your child's first year at college is a change for all of you. Keep an open mind. Show interest. Stay in touch.
As you already know, college life will present many new challenges to your son or daughter. He or she will make some big adjustments in growing to meet these challenges. Although each student's concerns vary, the most common adjustments and concerns faced by students during their college years include those on the following list.
- Making It Academically
- Peer Group Acceptance
- Concern About Roommate
- Learning About the Campus
- Parental Pressure
- Culture Shock
- Money Management
- The Dating Game
- Sharing a Room
- Sophomore Slump
- Commitment in Relationships
- Getting Involved
- Clear Focus/Direction
- Choosing a Major/Vocation
- Closure on College
- Leaving/Not Leaving
- Separation from Friends
- Getting a job/Career
- Developing a Lifestyle
- Fear of Failure
- Clarification of Values
- Increase in Tolerance
- Selective Involvement
(Revised from the Orientation Director's manual, published by the National Orientation Director's Assocation.)