by Laci Weeden, from Georgia Tech
As high school graduation approaches, many parents and supporting adults are already thinking about next year with a combination of excitement, trepidation, optimism, and uncertainty. While knowing precisely what the months and year ahead hold, it will unquestionably be a period of adjustment.
Although your role and the dynamics of your relationship will unquestionably shift, you have a unique and important role in partnering with colleges to ensure your student’s success. We encourage families to stay connected while also allowing space and time for students to develop and grow in their new environment. Like so much of life, this is a delicate and ever-changing balance.
I like to think of the transition from high school to college like a tandem bicycle. When your student was younger, and their feet didn’t even reach the pedals, you steered, pedaled, and determined the path and destination of the bike, like in the picture above. As your student grew, you began to feel them pedal and you listened as they shared their thoughts on the journey.
Now that they are ready to head off to college, it’s time to switch seats. Your student is now on the front of the bike and ready to take the lead, so naturally your roles will begin to switch as they steer their own course, find their own path in life, and pedal hard toward their goals and dreams. But don’t forget, you are right there on the bike, too – pedaling, supporting, and cheering them on!
Here are a few tips to help your student and your family with this transition.
- Establish and agree upon a time to catch up and check in with your student before they leave for college.
- Be happy and excited about the new college experience. If your student knows or can sense that you are worried, they are likely to be less confident.
- Send care packages and cards from home, they love cookies!
- Listen closely- sometimes beyond the words they say.
- Encourage them to work on time management and create good study habits.
- If they struggle, remind them that they have your support, but encourage them to find solutions on their own when possible.
- Offer advice, not demands. Remember that your student is an emerging adult who will need guidance, but not commands.
- Remind them to utilize all the resources around them. (And you feel free to reach out to campus resources yourself, if you need support.)
- Encourage them to take advantage of campus and local opportunities.
- Encourage your student to get exercise, eat healthy, and sleep. Health and wellness are critical to satisfaction and success.
- Remind your student that you are proud of them, you trust them, and you love them. They really do need to hear this from you as some days are just hard.
- Know that both of you will change and grow. You will probably find that a rewarding new adult friendship will emerge as they get into their second and third year of college and beyond.
- Help any family members at home with the transitions, too. For some younger siblings, the transition can be confusing and a bit lonely. For parents and guardians, you will need to make some adjustments to a variety of things such as household chores, grocery shopping, and computer maintenance.
- You have a new role as a parent and family member of a college student; you are becoming a mentor. Seemiller and Grace (2019) stated that Generation Z views their parents as trusted mentors and “eighty-eight percent say they are extremely close with their parents” (p.94). This is a shift from when Generation X went to college due technology and the ways we communicate, differing parenting styles, and the rising cost of college (Sax & Wartman, 2010). Your student will be dealing with adult responsibilities and challenges, and you can serve as a trusted advisor in this process.
- College is a time to let your student take all the good advice you have shared with them over the years and put it to the test. When your student succeeds, celebrate with them! When your student struggles or is in pain, listen and offer support. Asking open ended questions will encourage dialogue and assist in their adjustment to campus life.
- Your student will be developing critical thinking skills, learning from people who are different from them, and learning to be a global citizen, all while their brains are still developing. Provide your best care and support when needed for those challenging times and use the campus support resources available to help your student develop a plan of action and to develop resiliency.
As you well know, parenting is not an easy role. But you have done an outstanding job helping your student get to this point. Ultimately, as they transition to college, try not to worry too much. Trust the advice, values, and support you have provided. They’re going to do great- and so are you!