Tips for Parents

How to Help Your Student Without Helping Too Much

It’s a given that most college parents want to help their kids out as much as possible. It’s only natural — parents know that success in college can be a great start to continued success in life.  Parents, however, may want to think twice about writing a blank check when sending their kids off to college.

According to an article in the The New York Times citing a University of California, Merced, study, the case has been made that students whose parents contribute more financially to their college education may actually perform worse than their counterparts whose parents are tighter with the purse strings.

Dr. Hamilton found that the students with the lowest grades were those whose parents paid for them without discussing the students’ responsibility for their education. Parents could minimize the negative effects, she said, by setting clear expectations about grades and progress toward graduation.

The article raises an important question for the parents of students attending college: How helpful is too helpful?  There is a fine line between releasing your child of all responsibility and allowing him or her to flounder helplessly.

The difference between high and low performance depends on many variables, including the student’s drive, abilities, focus, and time management skills. Parents wanting to give their kids a fighting chance in college need to reach beyond the check book and give their kids a variety of tools for success.

Don’t cram when it comes to life goals:  Talk to your kids about college, life goals, and interests long before they begin filling out applications.  So what if your child wants to be a surgeon this week and a tennis pro next week?  Very few kids (or adults, for that matter) know what they want to be when they grow up. Challenging a child to learn about (and rule out) possible careers while there is still time will help eliminate that overwhelming fear that arises when they finally make the jump into college.

Create a culture of responsibility: Financial responsibility, social accountability, even keeping a room tidy can be a culture shock to some college students. Students who have a solid foundation of responsibility and accountability are less likely to find themselves distracted by dunning calls, social drama, and ant attacks.  In addition, the same brain cells used in keeping a check book balanced will also trigger when it comes to getting assignments in on time.

Realize that tyrants aren’t particularly inspiring: It’s understandable, given the price and importance of education in the modern world, to go overboard on expectations and demands.  After all, you’re doing this for them, right?  When the impulse arises to rant and rail about how your child is “wasting their life” choosing this major or joining that club, stop for a moment.  Take a chill pill.  Try to remember yourself at that age, and show some compassion and patience. College can be a time of challenging, even frightening, transition for some students.  You won’t be doing them any favors scaring or shaming them to death.

Explore alternatives to traditional education:  Traditional classes may be unsuitable for some college students.  Work with your child and their college to find innovative solutions to those challenges.  Perhaps the college offers distance learning via the Internet, or night and weekend classes.  Perhaps a year or two of community college might provide a healthier transition from high school to university.  You may even want to consider International Study as a way to inspire and excite.  Remember that there are many paths to an education, and not all of them require a traditional classroom.

Don’t be afraid to let them fail: As hard as it may be, sometimes the worst thing you can do is bail your kid out of trouble.  It is through failures that we learn the most in life.  Encourage your child to reach beyond their comfort zone, knowing that failure is a normal and natural part of life.  Let them learn, while still in the relative safety of the academic life, that there is no shame in failure will establish a strong foundation of courage in their lives.  A person who never fails is a person who never dares.

College isn’t easy, for student or their parents.  But with a little effort and a lot of love, you can help your child thrive both in school and in life.

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