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Suggestions for Parenting Your College Student

Young men and women enter college at an age when they are beginning to go through a number of important changes. The late adolescent/early adult is usually concerned about establishing independence, occupational and social identity, and working out a code of values and personal morality. The transition to college provides a new environment and living situation which accentuates these processes.

However, these changes are not always smooth and may require some adjustments in parenting skills. It is not atypical for college freshmen to go through mood swings, from very excited to very discouraged. Many students experience feelings of homesickness during their first term. It is helpful to provide these students with support and give them time to gain a sense of security in their new environment. Many other students will react in the opposite way and not wish to visit home as a means of demonstrating to themselves and their friends their independence and good adjustment to college. Parents may need to negotiate their needs for more contact with this latter type of student. Almost all new college students feel that they become more adult, and voice a desire to have their parents interact with them in a more adult-to-adult fashion rather than the previous parent-to-child interaction. They will, however, still occasionally want to receive a large dose of nurturance.

Parents can help facilitate the adjustment of their student to college. It is important to simply listen to students’ successes and concerns. Students find it helpful to have their parents specifically focus on their efforts as well as their accomplishments. It is also helpful to be patient, supportive and encourage students to come up with their own solutions. Suggestions should be withheld unless they are specifically requested. Finally, parents should encourage the use of the various campus student services and focus on nonacademic experiences as well as on grades and course progress.

Parents can expect to experience some positive and negative emotions themselves. Some of these feelings will be tied to their own concerns about their student, but many feelings are more related to the changes in their own life situation. Some helpful ideas for parents are to develop a support network, reexamine their allocation of time to work, family and leisure, and to work on developing an adult-to-adult relationship with their college aged student.

Suggested additional readings:

  • How To Survive in an Empty Nest: Reclaiming Your Life When Your Children Have Grown, by Lauer (1999)
  • Almost Grown: Launching Your Child From High School to College, by Pasick (1998)
  • Empty Nest, Full Heart: The Journey From Home to College, by Van Steenhouse & Parker (1998)
  • When Kids Go to College: A Parent’s Guide to Changing Relationships, by Newman & Newman (1994)
  • Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Today’s College Experience (5th ed.), by Coburn & Treeger (2009)
  • Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years, by Johnson & Schelhas-Miller (2000)
  • When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parent’s Guide, by Berkin (1998)
  • The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life, by Kastner (2002)
  • Letting Go (5th ed.): A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Levin-Coburn (2003)
  • I’ll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students, by Bane & Bane (2006)
  • You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, by Savage (2009)
  • The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, by Cohen (2011)
  • Lecture Notes: A Professor’s Inside Guide to College Success, by Freeman (2010)