It’s time to step back and let students figure it outBy Nancy Corbin
Director, WWU Counseling Center
Adam George and his mom, Beth, at Summerstart 2009. Beth said she's excited for Adam as he starts his freshman year. "I'm totally confident in his ability to make it," she said.
Parents of college freshmen find themselves in challenging times of parenting. Your students are sure looking like adults in some ways, but in other ways their adulthood is still emerging.
College freshmen are learning how to set priorities and create goals – and take action in line with those priorities and goals: Do I go to class today? Should I study tonight, or watch a video with a friend? Should I buy that cool tech gadget now, or wait until the price goes down? Or maybe not buy it at all since I can’t anticipate what expenses might arise later in the quarter?
Parents aren’t involved in most day-to-day decisions their college students make. Yet, parents can sometimes find themselves involved when the consequences of those decisions create larger issues in the student’s life. “Help! I only have $15 to last the rest of the quarter.” Or, “I think I may be getting a D in my chemistry class.” We may have a great parent lecture for such an occasion, but is that really what is most helpful at the time? The answer depends on what parents know about their student’s personality, goals, motivation and problem-solving style.
Parents often ask us, “How much do I stand back and let my student make her own decision even if it is not the decision I would want her to make?” “How can I help him become a thoughtful and confident problem-solver?” We encourage parents to begin conversations with their student about important issues before their student goes to college – and before the issue rises to a crisis point. If parents can be calmly clear on what they expect of their student before problems arise and emotions get intense, students are in a better place to make proactive and realistic plans and decisions.
And when students need help from their parents in solving a problem, stepping back from providing an immediate solution can often create the most valuable learning experience for the student.
We encourage parents to keep these suggestions in mind:
- Stay calm and help your student look at the situation practically while being aware of their feelings.
- Avoid blaming and the litany of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” about things that have happened in the past.
- Encourage students to identify possible actions that he or she can take to solve the problem.
- Ask questions that help them think through possible outcomes of various choices.
- Re-state your support as well as the limits to what you will offer in the future.
Finally, humility and humor are important qualities for parents of a college student these days. Recall some of life’s most important lessons and how you learned them. For most of us, the path to maturity had a few missteps that turned into valuable life lessons.
- "When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parent's Survival Guide," by Carol Barkin
- "You're on Your Own (But I'm Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years," by Marjorie Savage
- "Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years," by Helen E. Johnson
- "Been There, Should've Done That: 995 Tips for Making the Most of College," Suzette Tyler
- "Almost Grown: Launching Your Child from High School to College," Patricia Pasick
- "Empty Nest...Full Heart: The Journey from Home to College," by Andrea Van Steenhouse
- "The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life," Laura Kastner
- "I'll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students," by Margo E. Woodacre Bane