Parent Posts

Building an adult relationship with your college student

Our guest contributors, the Day One College Success team of Janet Byington and Steve Safigan, have a combined 50 years of experience working with young adults in professional and personal settings. Janet and Steve are committed to finding simple solutions to challenges that confront families today. For more information on Master Parenting and how Steve and Janet have seen these 5 steps (and more) implemented in relationships, visit

By Janet Byington and Steve Safigan

Do you want to know why it’s easier to transform our relationships with our college-bound students at exactly this point in their lives?

Like this? Get timely and helpful tips in your inbox each week!
High School Parent | College Parent

Right now, as our teens prepare for college, they are going through the biggest transition of their lives since birth. At the same time, we are going through the biggest transition with our children since they were born.

This gives us a unique opportunity to transform our relationships with our young adult children, right now, and this transformation can support their success and positively impact our relationships with them for the rest of our lives.

The college years are the very best time to intentionally transform our parenting skills and start developing a new adult-to-adult relationship that will give our students the self-confidence to successfully launch into adulthood.

Here are five simple, repeatable tools for your parenting toolbox — options to keep you from getting stuck in an adult-to-child relationship with your college student. If you know how to change, you will change. If you change, your student will change. It’s exactly that simple, and that hard.

Tool # 1: Share the love.

Parents are not psychiatrists, financial managers, physicians, car salesmen, or any of the roles some teens expect us to be (well, some of us are one — but usually not all — of those professions). We do the best we can on any given day with the knowledge we have. The college years are a time when young adults start to rely on outside experts instead of coming to us to solve every problem.


Top 5 things to say to your college student:
1. “What do you think?”
2. “I’m confident you can figure this out.”
3. “I’m sorry that happened to you, but I know you’ll figure out a way to overcome your sadness and find happiness again.”
4. “I can’t tell you what to do, but I can suggest some options for you to consider so you can make your own decision.”
5. “I love you. Always.”

College is also a time when students learn to relate to older adults without parents running interference for them. Parents have an opportunity to step back and allow students to solve their own issues, whether it’s with the school registrar, a coach or employer, or the customer service representative. Students can use these experiences to establish independence, competence and confidence in their own abilities.

Tool #2: Tighten the purse strings.

College is the very best time for students to learn money management. This is an essential skill for them to take into adulthood, whether they remain single or one day marry and have a family. Parents want the best for their children. The best thing we can do for our students is to teach them to live within their means, or better yet below their means.

Most people learn how to live within their means by learning what it’s like to be broke. During college, students can and should learn to budget their money by trial and error. Eating ramen noodles for a week won’t kill them, but it will teach them to save more for food next month.

College students also start learning about credit cards and loans. Now is the time to teach them the advantages of avoiding interest payments and help them understand how quickly those can get out of control.

Tool #3: Step back…so they can step up.

Life doles out natural consequences all the time. As adults, if we stop showing up to work, we get fired. Suffering the consequences of bad choices in college is better than suffering the consequences as an adult. Yes, it is painful for us to watch our students experience pain, but if we relieve the pain of a consequence then we actually cheat our students out of learning a valuable lesson they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

College kids have to struggle and learn that actions have consequences during the years when they don’t have mortgages to pay and children to raise. College campuses have more excellent, accessible resources to help students get back on track than students will have at any other time in their lives.


Top 5 ways to draw your student closer:
1. Offer options instead of solutions to a problem.
2. Wait to be asked before giving advice.
3. Understand and tolerate your student’s different values.
4. Value privacy.
5. Learn to communicate via text, Skype, FaceTime, or the preferred app of the month.

Tool #4: Make room for a mentor.

Many college students depend on their parents for unconditional emotional support, empathy and advice. This is to be encouraged, up to a point. If we find ourselves actively managing our students’ daily lives, however, then it’s time to step back and let them learn to handle difficult situations independently.

We can encourage our college students to find trusted other adults or wise older friends with whom to share their challenges and problems or — if the problem is more serious — a trained professional. Naturally, our own emotions are deeply invested, and we’re often tempted to fix our students’ problems rather than guiding them in how to do this for themselves. Separating from their problems does not mean separating from them. We can be in touch, aware and supportive.

Tool #5: Keep it short and sweet.

LOL…s2u…lyvm… Often the short, simple response is best when dealing with young adults. When our students come to us for advice, we can make a conscious effort to make every word count, offering options, withholding judgment, and using as few words as possible. It’s not what we say but how we say it that matters most — our tone of voice, body language, and approach.

Being a parent is the hardest job in the world. We love and care about our students. As they move out into the world, we want them to be successful in relationships and in work and family. But almost more than that, we want them to stay in touch and always want to return home — we want to love and be loved by them all our lives long. These simple tools will help you put your relationship with your college-age children on a firm adult foundation. Good things will follow.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

College Cupcake and Birthday Cake Delivery to campusRecent Articles

Get our newsletter

Email Submitted

Weekly Tips to Help Your Student Succeed