What Can I Do to Help My Student From a Distance?
Your parenting job is not over; it is simply changing. You are entering the launching phase of parenthood. As students enter into adulthood, it’s important for parents to begin acting as coaches and advisers, helping their sons and daughters make good decisions, without “telling them what to do” or “rescuing” them. Here are some ways that you can express your care and enhance your student’s growth into adulthood as well as his or her experience at Southwestern.
Adapted, with gratitude, from You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years by Marjorie B. Savage, 2003.
1. Listen to his or her concerns.
Even though your almost-adult is experimenting with independent choices, he or she still needs to know that you’re there and available to talk over every day events and difficult issues. If your student needs help or support, the subject is more likely to come up if you are not inquiring pointedly about what time he or she came in last night. Listen to the melody, not just the content. Do not trivialize any of your student’s concerns or emotions. Much of what he or she is saying is, “I’m changing and I’m scared,” even when the content is “I know what I am doing.”
2. Stay in touch (but not too much)!
Remember the names of roommates and friends that are mentioned often. Encourage your student to send you pictures of his or her room and friends. Be interested but not intrusive. Send photos of family activities and pets, and care packages at exam times.
3. Negotiate frequency of communication.
Parents need to stay connected to their sons and daughters, and college students need to respect the fact that parents want to check in with them periodically to see how they’re doing. Talk about how often you’ll speak on the phone, visit each other or send e-mails. Set a pre-determined day and time to call, once a week or so. Sunday evenings are often best. If an uncharacteristically long amount of time passes with no word, it’s not a bad thing to check in and make sure everything is going smoothly.
4. Be willing to cut the cord.
Encourage an appropriate level of independence and self-responsibility. Let them use their own judgmental to decide what is best for them, and trust them to make good decisions. Teach them life skills such as how to do laundry, live on a budget, set up a checking account and manage their time.
5. Help your child problem-solve.
If your student calls home with a problem, stay calm. Practice reacting to such “melt-down calls.” For example, you could say, “I’m sorry you are having a rough time. How are you going to handle it?” Then coach, don’t rescue. Coach them in talking things through with their roommate or making their own phone calls to the professor. Encourage your student to see the University’s services instead of relying solely on you for help. On-campus professionals have a wealth of experience to quickly help in resolving your student’s issue.
6. State your concerns.
It is okay to ask if they have thought about study habits, sexual conduct or alcohol. As parents, you can send a clear message to your student that they can choose not to drink, and if they choose to use alcohol, they should do it moderately, legally and appropriately. Don’t glorify your own “youthful drinking days,” if you had them.
7. Don’t overburden your student with your own emotional issues.
What you want is to be useful to them, and you will need to find someone else to help you with how you feel. They want to know you care, but they don’t want to know too much. Keep them informed, but grant them a little distance from any family problems that arise.
8. Encourage smart financial practices.
Most students come to college with a fairly detailed plan about how tuition, room, board and books will be paid for, and what their family’s expectations are about spending money. Work together to set up a budget plan for the year. Warn your student not to apply for every credit card offered. Smart money management is a lifelong skill that will benefit your student.
9. Be realistic about academic achievement and grades.
Southwestern attracts bright students from all over the country, but not every first-year student who excelled academically in high school will be a straight-A student here. Developing or refining the capacity to work independently and consistently and to demonstrate mastery can be more important than grades, as long as the student meets basic academic requirements set out by the University. Instead of focusing on grades, ask your student to discuss class projects and papers to you. Again, these are choices that each individual student makes, though certainly it is appropriate to coach your student in setting his or her long-term goals.
10. Keep Cool.
Students tend to share their good times with friends and rely on family for their difficult times. While a “melt-down call” may be troubling, it is a sign of trust. They are allowing themselves to be vulnerable with you. Try not to be overly reactive to their venting, or jump to intervene. To determine whether an issue is a serious problem needing additional intervention, consult Southwestern University Self-Help Links and Resources Page.
11. If your student does experience difficulties at Southwestern encourage him or her to take advantage of the wealth of resources available for students.
The small and personal environment of the University offers many sources of help. For academic issues, talking with a professor or academic adviser is probably the first step, but the Center for Academic Success is also available to help. For stress, relationship problems or more serious concerns, the Office of Counseling Services is available and free for students. The Office of Student Life can assist with a variety of concerns. Resident assistants are available to help ease adjustment and direct your student to the right resources on campus.
For more information on campus resources, see the Quick Reference of Departmental Contact Information at the back of the Parent Handbook, or contact the Office of Parent Relations at email@example.com or 800-960-6363.