Most college students like to think that they are “cool” and they may resent interference with their newfound lifestyle, but most desire the security of knowing that you are still interested in them. Family curiosity may add more stress than relief, depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. “I have the right to know” questions with ulterior motives or “the nag” should be avoided. Honest inquiries, however, and other “between friends” communication and discussion will do much to further the student-family relationship.
College can be full of discovery, inspiration, good times and new friends. Students can also experience indecision, disappointments and mistakes. It will take time for some students to accept that being happy, sad, confused, liked, disappointed and making mistakes are all part of growing up.
Family members need to understand that many college students do not get good grades, know what they want to major in, have activity-filled days or make lots of friends. But there are students who do experience all of these things. And there are many who experience bumps along the way. Being college-educated does not mean being mistake-proof. Parents who accept and try to understand their student’s experience are providing support and encouragement when it is needed most.
Your student will change. College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational and personal behavior and choices. It’s natural, inevitable and sometimes inspiring. Often, it’s a pain in the neck. You can’t stop change, you may never understand it, but it is within your power (and to your student’s advantage) to accept it.
Being a family member of a college student can be a thankless job. It’s a lot of give and only a little take. Often when troubles become too much for a student to handle (a flunked test, end of a relationship and a shrunken t-shirt all in one day), the only place to turn is you. Unfortunately, this is often the only time that an urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you never get to hear about the “A” paper, the new relationship or the domestic triumph.
Be patient with the “nothing is going right; I hate this place” communication. You’re providing a real service as an advisor, sympathetic ear or punching bag. Granted, it’s a service that may not feel good to you, but it works wonders for a frustrated student.
Although students are typically eager to embrace the college experience, most are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring. The surge of independence may be misinterpreted as rejection by sensitive family members, but most students still want to have some connection to their families. Sending email is an easy way for you to stay connected to your student – even if you’re living in the same house. Your student can check his or her email FREE from campus when he/she has a free moment. Even a little note to wish your student good luck on a test will be appreciated. However, don’t expect a reply to every email or message you send, especially during times of “academic overload” such as midterms and finals.
Most college students are still financially dependent on their family members to some degree. Sit down and discuss your family’s financial situation (even if you’re the parent, spouse, child, roommate or friend). Students need to know how much money will be available to them and how much of the fiscal responsibility is theirs.
Before classes begin, plan to sit down and discuss the rules of living on his/her own or living at home. Even if your student will continue to live at home during college, his or her schedule will change and your student might be leaving earlier in the morning or coming home later at night. Family members need to respect the individuality their children have worked hard to achieve, and students need to know there are rules and courtesies to be observed. Remember that the increased pressures on your student’s time may result in their inability to handle family responsibilities that they previously handled (such as caring for a younger sibling). Be aware of this and try to be flexible with these family duties, especially during exam times.
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 family member is to give your student your trust.
Revised from the National Orientation Directors Association’s Orientation Planning Manual.