Parents serve as anchors to disperse news from home. Whether or not your student writes back regularly, e-mail from home is often read and reread. Students’ own identities feel shaky in the constantly changing external and internal worlds in which they operate. Recognition and acceptance from home can restore a sense of continuity and self-worth.
You should remember that young adults often call parents when they are “down” and call friends when they are “up.” Therefore, parents may receive a skewed view of the psychological well-being of their student.
Your role in the relationship is changing, but the relationship is still one of lifelong connection. Establish a supportive, firm role of adviser.
Parents may be accustomed to saying, “Just do the best you can” — assuming that this will result in outstanding grades. Parents may not realize they have uncommonly high expectations about academic performance until their student hits an unexpected academic snag. Students also have very high expectations of themselves and are very tuned into parents’ reaction to grades.
Remember, most students change their minds about majors three or four times during their college career. Matching interests and abilities to reality is an arduous process. Talking about becoming a doctor since age 12 is not the same as becoming one!
When it comes to values, many parents think that their example speaks for itself and communicating honestly and directly about their own experiences and concerns is redundant. However, students do care what their parents think. These discussions serve as a grounding to refer back to when faced with difficult choices at school.
It is important to regard these conversations as “teachable moments.” Staying calm and expressing concern may open a complex discussion where you can be a real resource. Viewing yourself as a mentor and a model at these moments will guide difficult discussions.
College-bound students enjoying newfound social and psychological independence may paradoxically experience an increase in financial dependence. Students accustomed to having a part-time job, access to a car at home, their own room, etc., may encounter a new and/or confusing financial dependency during the college years. Although conscious of the need to give their students space to make choices and mistakes as autonomy is developed, parents often send mixed messages about finances.
College represents a tremendous financial investment. In other areas of life, control of an investment of this magnitude would be considered crucial. Some parents are tempted to exert intrusive controls that actually impede developing autonomy.
A system that allows your son or daughter room for financial choices and responsibility is important. Consider the following steps:
Note for parents interested in further reading: The preceding section was adapted from Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years by K. Coburn and M. Treeger (Quill, 2000).