Parenting a college freshman feels like walking a tightrope. You want to stay close with them and ensure they feel supported. But you also want them to start learning how to be a responsible adult and become more independent. And what makes it harder is that you aren’t there anymore. You can’t see with your own eyes what’s going on, like in high school.
Here are five tips to help you navigate this tricky and important time in your child’s development.
1. Let Go
To paraphrase a great quote: A parent is someone who makes themselves progressively unnecessary. As your kid transitions to college, this is the time where you really need to start letting go. Have faith that you raised a person capable of making healthy choices. Often times, letting go requires letting go of all your anxieties and need for control.
Remember: letting go doesn’t mean you’re ignoring your kid in their time of need. It just means giving them the space to finish developing into their own person.
2. Don’t Visit Too Often
How often is “too often” will vary, depending on the kid. Have a conversation with your college-bound teen about this. Maybe they don’t want you to visit at all their first semester, so they have time to settle in and figure things out on their own. Perhaps a short visit during parents weekend is enough. For most, I’d caution against visiting once a month or more. Visiting that often will make it harder for your kid to let go and fully integrate into their college experience. Of course, there are definitely exceptions.
Also, this goes without saying but I will say it: don’t drop by unannounced. Show your college kid the respect you’d show any other adult. A major exception: if your child is seriously struggling with their mental health, is not taking care of themselves, and needs someone to step in and help them.
3. Give Space
Going along with the “don’t visit too often” point, don’t call and check-in too often. Give your college kid some emotional space. Sometimes it helps to set some ground rules before your kid lands on campus. For example, how often do you expect to talk to them? Daily? Weekly? Biweekly? Under what circumstances do you absolutely want to hear from them? If they fail a test? If they want to join a fraternity or sorority?
Let your child take the lead on how much space they need. They’ll have a better sense of what they need in order to feel like they can fully integrate into their new community. And, really, that’s the big goal. You want your child to feel connected to their college, feel like they belong, and want to be there. That’s one of the biggest factors in whether or not a student graduates.
4. Hold Back on Giving Advice
When your child calls you with a roommate problem or complaining about a professor, it is so tempting to just jump in with your advice. After all, you’ve lived through many of the issues your college kid is going through. You survived college and have the benefit of hindsight.
However, most likely, your college kid just wants someone to lend a listening ear. They’re not looking for advice; they’re looking to vent. If you slip into advice-giving mode, you’ll probably get a very frustrated response from your kid. Maybe even actual anger.
You may get these calls more frequently the first semester or year of college. That’s because your child probably hasn’t found “their people” yet. Once they do, they’ll likely turn to their friends for that kind of support. But, in the meantime, that’s your role to fill. So, unless your child directly asks for advice, practice your active listening skills.
5. Avoid Rescuing
Of course, your college kid is still going to need support and guidance. They don’t magically download all the adulting skills they need once they turn 18 or get admitted to college. So don’t be surprised if you get phone calls asking for instructions, advice, or help. However, be mindful that you don’t give your child all the answers or rescue them from tough situations.
It’s hard to see your child struggling, but this is how they’ll learn and grow. Encourage your child to problem solve on their own. So, when your teen or emerging adult comes to you with a problem or situation, instead of jumping into action or suggesting the next steps, ask, “How would you like to handle this?” This helps your child take a beat and shift their stance to the issue. They take ownership of the situation and outcome. They also get to exercise their own problem-solving skills. And they become more independent!
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Want support in parenting your college kid? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee for a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.