Moving to college for the first time is both an exciting and frightening journey. This journey will probably make your student a different person, but don’t forget that this is a journey for you as a parent as well. You share in the happiness, sorrow, success and failure. You aren’t letting them go, you are letting them grow. Here are some tips to let them grow.
1. Don’t ask if they’re homesick
The power of suggestion is amazing. The minute you ask if they are homesick, they are. We know the first few days and weeks of school are activity-packed and overwhelming. The challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes up a majority of a freshman’s time and concentration. Students will certainly miss you, but homesickness is usually a desire for the comfort of a familiar routine. Try not to tell the student how much you wish they were eating dinner with you at their favorite restaurant. Offer support rather than open arms to run back to. Remind your student to enjoy the experience. Encourage your student to take advantage of campus resources. Look over the Missouri State Guide for Parents for information on campus resources.
2. Send mail and care packages
Although freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence , most are still anxious for family ties and the security those bring. Most freshmen, although they might never admit it, are eager for news from home and their family. It may seem mundane, but there is nothing more depressing than a week of an empty mailbox. Though they may not answer your letters, they will be grateful for them. Encourage family members to also send letters. When you move your student in, leave some note paper and stamps as a small gift for them. Remind them family members like to get mail also. Send care packages. Every student loves to get a package, the bigger the better!
3. Ask questions
But not too many. College freshmen are trying to be “cool” and tend to resent interference with their new lifestyle, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is still interested in them. Family curiosity can be viewed as comforting or obnoxious, depending on the attitudes of everyone involved. Try to avoid the “I have a right to know” questions with ulterior motives. Honest inquiries will do much to further the parent-student relationship. Ask open-ended questions instead of questions that encourage a one-word answer. Questions such as “What are some ways you plan on maintaining your physical health at Missouri State?” will start the conversation.
4. Try not to worry (too much) about panicky phone calls
Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle (a flunked test, the end of a relationship, etc.), the only place to turn is home. You are their rock in a storm. Unfortunately, this is the most common time that students get the urge to communicate, so you never hear about the paper that got an A or the great date last night.
Try to be patient with those “nothing is going right, I hate this place” phone calls, letters or emails.
- Be reassuring.
- Explain that you are there for them, but won’t necessarily come drive them home.
- Tell them you have faith in them.
- Remind them of campus resources such as the Bear Claw for tutoring.
You are providing a real service as as an advice-dispenser, sympathetic ear or punching bag. It may heighten your worry radar, but it works wonders for a frustrated student.
Visits by parents (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and dinners out) are another part of the events that freshmen are sometimes reluctant to admit gratitude for but appreciate immensely. These visits give students the chance to introduce some of their important people to each other. Parents can become familiar with new activities, commitments, living environment and friends. Invite their friends to join you for dinner or another activity. Encourage your student to plan the visit. This gives him the opportunity to showcase his “home away from home.” Spur-of-the-moment, surprise visits, however, are not usually appreciated. It’s best to schedule a visit with your student. Plan to visit during Family Weekend (September 12-14)…you may even get to see a clean room!
6. Try not to say “these are the best years of your life”
Freshman year is full of indecision, insecurity, disappointment and, most of all, mistakes. It’s also full of discovery, inspiration, good times and friends. It takes a while for some students to accept both the positives and negatives of growing up and accepting themselves. It sometimes takes longer for parents to realize this. Any parent who believes that all college students get perfect grades, know what they want to major in, have activity-packed weekends, thousands of friends and lead carefree lives is mistaken. “College educated” doesn’t mean mistake-proof. Perpetuating the “best years” stereotype is working against the student’s already difficult experience. If you accept and understand the highs and lows of reality, you’ll provide the support and encouragement needed most.
7. Take time to discuss finances
Most college students are still financially dependent upon their parents to some degree. Sit down and discuss your family’s financial situation. Students need to know how much money will be available to them and how much fiscal responsibility is theirs. Discussion about credit cards is especially important. Students are bombarded with credit card applications promising free stuff:
- Teach them how to see through the empty promises as credit card companies target students.
- Show them exactly what 21% interest means.
- Set spending limits.
- Warn about frequent trips to the ATM.
Remember that once students move to campus, you won’t be able to tell them “no” when they want something.
8. Expect your student to change
Freshmen are especially eager to try out different identities while trying to find their individuality. They will change, and that should be a positive thing. Students are at college to learn and grow as educated citizens. They may come home with different-colored hair, but there also may be a subtle maturity in their conversations and new found passion about a studied subject.
9. Prepare for their return
When the academic year ends and your student returns home for the summer, plan to discuss the rules of living at home. Parents need to respect the individuality their student has worked to achieve. Students need to know there are rules and courtesies to be observed at home no matter how independent they were at school.
10. Trust them
Finding yourself is difficult enough without feeling that the people whose opinions you value the most are second-guessing you. One of the most important things parents can do is let their students know they trust their judgement and will be there if that judgement creates less than desirable results.