by David Onesta
Like teaching a child to ride a bike, sending your student off to college requires a delicate balance of knowing when to hold on and when to let go. Dr. David Onestak, director of the James Madison University Counseling Center shares advice heard often from “veteran” parents on how “new” parents can help students survive the turbulent waters of freshman year.
- Convey confidence. Students’ bravado as they head off to college normally masks fears and doubts. Parental encouragement is more important than students typically acknowledge.
- Avoid “New Leaf Syndrome.” Rather than turning over a new leaf, the transition to college frequently causes old problems to reemerge. Students with a history of mental health concerns should maintain relationships with their providers and continue with prescribed therapies. Help your student take greater ownership of health-related matters such as taking over-the-counter medications, making an appointment, and learning the basics of health insurance.
- Keep the lines of communication open. When parents respond too harshly to a student’s mistake, the student may no longer offer important information about grades, roommate problems, or dating relationships. As a result, minor problems may become major crises.
- Don’t rush in and solve problems. Students often don’t step up to responsibility until parents step back. Students need the experience of solving problems on their own.
- Be realistic about grades. Students are going to be faced with difficult and demanding coursework. Not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college.
- Use technology to connect, not monitor. Talk with your student about how and how often to touch base. If you are using tracking devices to monitor your student, consider relinquishing them. Doing so communicates that the world is not continuously dangerous and that you trust them to make good decisions.
- Don’t rush your student into a major or career. Most eighteen-year-olds do not have the wisdom required to be definite about such an important decision. Pushing them into a major or a career in which there is no interest is a recipe for problems.
- Talk about finances. Let your student know what you will and will not contribute to college expenses. Help them to develop a budget. If your student requests a credit card for “emergencies,” a good rule of thumb is: If you can eat it, drink it, or wear it, it’s not an emergency.
- Inform your student about important family matters, even if the news is not good. While there is no need to share every family issue, keeping developments from students can make them anxious as they imagine what else might be happening back home without their knowledge.
- Remind yourself that the character you worked to develop will continue to guide them. Students often experiment with values that might be more permissive than the ones at home; this is a normal part of developing identity and independence apart from their parents. Try to bend a little.