By Cindy Bleuler Tucker
It’s finally here. A day you dreamed of for 18 years. The tuition is paid, the dorm room is decorated, and you have met the roommate and the resident assistant. Now comes the moment of separation. How do you leave your child in the right way? How do you and your student keep your relationship close and how do you encourage them to have a successful first year of college? Having traveled this bumpy road just a couple of years ago, I have compiled a list of don’ts and do’s, based on trial and error (and lots of advice!)
Don’t have an emotional, tearful goodbye as you leave them. Now is not the time to reminisce about the first time you held them and their first day of kindergarten, working yourself into emotional despair. They need to know that you’re going to be O.K. so they are free to start getting to know their roommates and getting used to a new life. This is also not the time to go over rules or try to reiterate 18 years of advice.
Do have heartfelt talks before they move to school. Make a list of what you want to talk about so you get it said before moving day. Arrange some alone time with your child since you won’t be seeing them as often.
Don’t get upset if they are not quick to text or call you back. You may not hear from them every day. Between classes, studying, a new social life, and possibly a job, they are very busy and have to learn to juggle their time.
Do have a system of communicating. If I call my daughter and she doesn’t answer, I text her if I need to talk to her soon or if there is information I need. That way, she knows to get back with me as soon as possible. Otherwise, she knows I just wanted to talk and she doesn’t have to call back me back right away. She does the same for me. We also try to let each other know good times to call. Be sure to mail letters and care packages. College students love to get mail. I like to put together packages with a theme-one March I made a St. Patrick’s Day package filled with green items-green tea, Andes mints, etc.
Don’t panic if they call homesick crying and try to come to their rescue. Now is not the time to plan a trip to see them. Talk and sympathize with them. Listen to them and encourage them to give it some time. Don’t make light of their feelings or minimize their struggles. Guide the conversation to strategies for getting involved on campus. Encourage them to give it at least a year if they are not adjusting to campus life. The first semester especially is difficult and it may take that long to make friends and get used to the freedom and demands of college. If they push to transfer mid year, they need to be aware that it is more difficult to adjust mid year. Friendships are already developed and most campus activities designed to welcome new students occur in the fall.
Do encourage them to spend their weekends at school during the first four weeks. If they insist, try to work out a compromise. If money is an issue, they may not have a choice. Also, once they get adjusted to living away from home, plan occasional visits and take them and a friend out to dinner. Let them know their new friends are welcome to come with them.
Don’t expect them to spend all their time with you when they come home. They want to catch up with their friends from home. Plan a family time and give them notice so they can make their own plans. Encourage them to set up doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and car maintenance to coincide with home holidays. Keep them informed of extended family events and special social activities back home so they can plan their visits at that time.
Do encourage them to explore campus activities and community activities such as a local church. Now is the time to try new things. If they choose to pledge a fraternity or sorority, explain the commitment involved. You may want to have them pay some of the expenses, such as dues.
Don’t pressure them to join an activity in which they have no interest. They may not want to take part in the same activities they did in high school. No matter what fond memories of your college days you recall to them, they may have no wish to go Greek or be in the Drama Club.
Do ask open-ended questions about their classes, the material they are covering, and their reading requirements. This can spark a lot of interesting discussion.
Don’t get worried if they suddenly want to change their major and it is something unrelated or impractical. Let them explore their options and have a discussion about possible career choices and what is involved in a particular area of study.
Don’t just hand out money every time they ask. Budget out a certain amount each month for food or basic expenses and expect them to live within a budget. Have an agreed upon list of what you will and will not pay for.
Do have access to their account and keep tabs on expenditures to guide them on use of checks and debit cards. Some parents issue credit cards to be used in case of emergencies; others choose not to do this. I suggest waiting until the student is working enough to pay their balance and discourage using credit in most cases.
Don’t take action with roommate issues or difficulties with professors unless it is a serious problem. Let your student resolve the issues themselves. If your child is in physical danger or if illegal activity is involved, intervention may be necessary.
Do hold them accountable for unwise choices. If they spend too much money, don’t bail them out. If they fail or lose a scholarship because they partied too much or skipped class, maybe they need to drop out for a while and get a job, or work part-time and make up the difference. If they are caught in illegal activity, let them bear the consequences which may include fines, legal expenses, and loss of driving privileges.
I hope these suggestions will help parents navigate their child’s freshman year with success. Most students experience some heartaches and setbacks, but these serve to mold them into responsible young adults. Letting your child go but being there to be a sounding board and advisor is the beginning of a lifelong rewarding relationship with your now adult child.