Adjusting to College: Four Tips for Parents

It is every parent’s fear—unspoken in many households, whispered in hushed tones in others. Your child is leaving for college soon, and the pressure is building. The dread consumes you—the unknown looms. Misery loves company, and rest assured that you have plenty. Every parent is going through the same thing that you are.

And parents will do whatever it takes to help their child succeed. Here are a few tips to consider.

1. Show Your Child How

Don’t do it for them.

One more time: Don’t do it for them.

The urge to help too much is strong, and you’ve got to learn to resist. Don’t pick your student’s classes. Don’t proofread their work. The student must learn how to function on campus, and this will never happen if your child knows that mommy or daddy will get it done for them.

Instead of taking the lead role, help in a covert way. Study the campus website, review your orientation materials, and be aware of the services available. Here are some practice scenarios you may encounter and how to handle them:

Scenario: Your child asks you what classes they should take next semester.
Solution: Every student has an academic advisor; suggest that the trained professional might be a better source of advice than you.

Scenario: Your child complains that a calculus professor is “way over their head.”
Solution: Suggest that they give the campus tutoring center a try.

Scenario: Your child is confused about their choice of majors.
Solution: Mention that the campus has a career services office that might be able to help.

2. Don’t Hover

We live in the age of instant communication. However, there is no need to remind your student of our technological advances each and every day. Resist the urge to call their cell phone, to IM, or to e-mail on a daily basis. Let the child breathe a little. Let your student call you. Remember, they miss you too.

A few dos and don’ts might be in order here. Do: send cards and letters, visit on occasion, and, of course, send money. Don’t: arrive unannounced to tidy the dorm room, provide a daily wake-up call, or phone at midnight on a Saturday under the pretense that you just want to “chat.”

3. Have Expectations

You had rules and expectations when your student was in high school, and there is no reason you can’t have them now. Make it clear that you expect regular class attendance; that you expect the best effort the child can muster; and that you won’t take a call from the dean of students regarding a disciplinary matter with a laugh and a smile.

4. Remember Your Past

Remembering what it was like to be young, to be starting this great adventure, is a key ingredient in helping your child succeed. Empathize, at least to a point, if your student tells you that “pledging is taking so much time I can’t study.” Understand that what seems insignificant to a 45-year-old may be a very big deal to a teen. If you want to keep the lines of communication open and remain a steadying influence, then you have to learn that biting your tongue is sometimes the best option.


This article was written by Wesley Ammon

Wesley Ammon is the director of the University Academic Advising Center at Mississippi State University.

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