Connected, Yet Not Too Close for Comfort: Guidance to Parents With College-Bound Children

College Decision Domino Effect

SATS. College applications. High school graduation. All benchmarks that lead up to leaving for college. Students feel a mix of excitement, anticipation, and uncertainty as they enter this brave new world. For parents, watching their children take that exciting next step can be liberating and rewarding, but also emotionally trying. Many parents, face the challenge of staying connected to their child, a college freshman living away from home for the first time.

Staying Connected

In their book Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to the College Years, authors Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger discuss how 'students may not actually tell their parents how important it is to hear from their family. They may not even realize it themselves or admitting it may belie their independent stance and their attempts to separate. But students do rely on the connection with their parents, which Coburn and Treeger describe as an 'anchor' a place for a 'safe harbor, rootedness, and stability.  

This is a common theme for both parents and students, more so now than in years past. This generation is an interesting one, because students are so connected to their parents, observes Alwina Bennett, assistant dean of student affairs at Brandeis University. They share more information with them, and that appears to be a mutual relationship. Parents are also more integrally involved in their children's education.

Communicating with Technology

The sprint pace of evolving technology is also a factor. 'In the past 10 years, with the advent of the Internet and e-mail, parents are becoming as sophisticated as their children, Bennett notes. Technology can enable parents to maintain a close relationship and stay in touch without being too invasive.  

There is no exact formula for the amount or type of communication that is appropriate with students. It is part of a delicate balance, the balance between independence and family ties. Most families admit that the initial few months are the hardest, as both students and parents adjust to their new situations. But the initial adjustment works itself out, paving the way to a stronger and more mature relationship between parent and child.  

Make A Plan. Talk with your child before he or she leaves for college to determine what works. Having a set time every week for either a call or an online chat is a good place to start. Stay flexible. Students' schedules and their needs are bound to change as the school year unfolds.  

Let Your Child Determine How Long to Talk. While difficult, it's important to let the student set the parameters, as he or she is trying to find independence and balance.   Don't Forget Snail Mail. The most technologically savvy students still love to get regular mail, such as a letter, postcard, or a small care package. Even the most mundane things still allow students to feel a physical connection to home.  

Lend an Ear. Students often call their parents to complain and/or vent, rarely following up when everything is better. This 'dump and run' phenomenon, as Bennett calls it, can be difficult for parents, as students may not always share the good news as readily as the bad. Bennett says to realize that 'students are not necessarily asking you to solve their problems; they are asking you to listen.  

Stay Informed Through the University's Parents Office or Association. Many schools have offices that work specifically with parents, and they often send out updates on what is happening on campus. While it's not direct communication with your child, it is an easy way to stay clued in to what is going on in your child's world.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

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