Tips for Parents

How Often is Too Often: Reaching Out to Your College Student

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By Lorena Roberts, Uloop

Once your child leaves home to become a college student, things change. Not just physically, without their presence in your home, but also in the relationship you have with them. If you were the mom or dad in high school who packed their lunch every day, brought things to school when they forgot them at home, and stood on the porch at 11:59 p.m. to make sure they made curfew, your entire life as a parent is about to change.

Now that your college student has left home, they’re learning how to take on the world on their own terms. They’re learning how to stand up for themselves, how to manage their time, environment, and social life. Being a college freshman is exciting, but it’s also quite the learning curve. Try to remember what things were like when you were a college freshman before you start calling and texting your college student every day.

Here are some ground rules you might consider following if you’re wanting to reach out to your college student:

Every day phone calls are overkill.

Depending on the kind of relationship you have with your student, you may want to be more or less aware of the number of phone calls you’re making on a daily basis. Even though my mom and I are really close, there are definitely days when I don’t necessarily want to tell her what’s going on. The coolest thing that she’s done throughout college is that she’s let me initiate phone conversations. It’s much less intrusive for her to send a text message and wait for me to reply instead of blowing up my phone every few hours, wondering how my classes are going. When I need her, she’s there.

Text messages that go unanswered are okay…

Just because your college student doesn’t answer your text message right away, doesn’t mean they no longer care about you and your relationship. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to tell your parents. Especially in the beginning. How much of my new life should I share? What if my parents don’t approve of my choices? What if talking to them makes me homesick? These are all thoughts that college students might have when it comes to communicating with their parents. Don’t pay too much attention to text messages that go unanswered. They’ll respond when they feel comfortable. No need to keep sending “r u ok?” messages. I promise they’ll answer…eventually.

If your college student is calling you every day:

Maybe you’re more worried about how often your college student is reaching out to you. Maybe you’re scared that the amount of homesickness they’re feeling is unhealthy, and the (maybe too often) phone conversations are just making things worse. Here’s the advice I can give you:

If your college student is calling you often, be thankful. They’re simply wanting to share all the exciting things that are happening to them with you! There are definitely “red flags” that you can be looking for when they do call you: are they down in the dumps? Do they talk about all the friends they’ve made? Are they talking about going to class, meeting new people, and studying things they’re interested in?

If you’re concerned that maybe there’s too much communication going on, encourage your college student to try new things! Tell them you can’t wait for them to call and tell you all about a new event they attended.

Do not let yourself become overly involved.

The worst kind of parent in college is the one who gets way too involved in things like disputes with professors over grades. It’s way too much for you to be the kind of parent who emails your child’s professor, asking for extra credit. At this point: you should not be involved. They are an adult. 

Your job now is to support them in their endeavors. Support them in their decisions. Answer your phone in the middle of the night when they need you. Encourage them to seek out help on campus, taking advantage of the resources that are offered to them (the counseling center, etc.)

According to, you should be fostering your college students ever-growing independence. You should be guiding them in the right direction, not driving them.

Becoming a parent of a college student is so much different than being the parent of a high school senior. You no longer have to stay up until your child’s curfew to make sure they’re tucked in all safe and sound. You no longer have to give them gas money (hopefully) and drive by the local Waffle House to make sure their car is in the parking lot. You no longer have to watch over them like a Guardian Angel, but instead, you must be accessible to them when they need you. They’ll look to you for support. Maybe once a week, maybe only a few times per semester. Start telling yourself that “no news is good news.” You’ll be thankful you didn’t spend four years cyber-stalking your student just to make sure they’re okay.

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