Tips for Parents

When should parents intervene?

By Jo Calhoun

A crucial developmental task for college students is learning to handle independence, solve problems, and self-advocate.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Parents are important to supporting this growth, which is why you may receive regular messages from the university reminding you not to rush to the rescue when your student has a problem.

Still, there are times when parents should get involved. If you suspect that it’s one of those times for your student, start by contacting the administrator closest to the situation (academic, residential, athletic, etc.). Premature calls to the President, Chancellor or Provost will always be directed back to that person.

These three rules of thumb may help you decide if the time is right to intervene:

1) Step in when it’s an issue of safety. Your student’s safety always comes first. If your student is having a major health crisis, physical or emotional, the Student Affairs staff will welcome your assistance and your presence. When students are hospitalized, nothing helps more than having parents present. Decisions need to be made quickly, and ailing students may not be able to make them alone. (If your student hasn’t completed a HIPAA health information release form, find out how to do that here.)

2) Consider what you want to teach your student about the nature of the world. Parents often intervene prematurely when their student is involved in a conduct violation. College is a relatively safe place for students to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Although painful and embarrassing, participating in a campus judicial proceeding for a minor behavioral violation can be an excellent educational experience for students. Sometimes students on probation are not allowed to participate in organizational leadership, study abroad, or other campus privileges. Again, painful, but not fatal. Parental intervention in these matters communicates to students that they cannot be trusted to manage their own behavior.

However, if a student is involved in a major conduct violation that might involve suspension, expulsion, or criminal charges, parents’ involvement is not unusual. If you choose to intervene in such a circumstance, do not expect to attend campus judicial proceedings or to try to influence sanctions imposed on your student. Colleges are ethically and legally obligated to follow their written policies and procedures. It is fine to have respectful conversations with college administrators to clarify processes and timelines. Focus on expressing your continuing love and support for your student during a trying time.

3) Presume good will. When you intervene to support your student, assume that college officials will be your allies not adversaries. Student Life professionals are passionate about student development and success. The common ground you share is your student’s well-being. These administrators can help you navigate university processes, clarify options, and provide ongoing support to you and your student. Even if you are upset, focus on establishing a partnership with these professionals who are in close relationship with your student. They will help you.

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.

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