Coping With Students' Leaving for College
As you prepare to send your students off to begin the first year of college, or to begin at a new college, there are normal changes that might affect your family in this process. While some of you may have had a student leave home before, keep in mind that the adjustments you and this student face will be unique. Your student will spend the coming years exploring life, including academic interests, careers, and all the excitement that college has to offer. An anonymous college student once wrote the following advice to parents of new students. You may find these hints very helpful in managing your student's first year at Michigan.
Tip #1 – Don't ask them if they're homesick.
The power of association can be a dangerous thing. (A friend once told me "the idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me, what with all the new things that were going on, until my mom called one of the first weekends and asked 'Are you homesick?' Then it hit me.") The first few days/weeks of school are activity-packed and friend-jammed and the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a new student's time and concentration. So unless they're reminded of it (by a well-meaning parents), they'll probably be able to escape homesickness.
And even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.
Tip #2 – Write. (Even if they don't write back.)
Although new college students are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can in those first weeks, most are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring. Most first-year students (although 99% won't ever admit it) would give anything for some news of home and family, however mundane it may seem to you.
There's nothing more depressing than a week of empty mailboxes. However, don't expect a reply to every letter you write or e-mail message you send, especially during times of "academic overload" such as midterms and finals)
Tip #3 – Ask questions (but not too many).
Most first-year college students desire the security of knowing that someone from home is still interested in them. Parental curiosity can be alienating or supportive depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-student relationship.
Tip #4 – Don't worry (too much) about stressed-out phone calls or letters.
Parenting can be a thankless job, especially during the college years. Often when troubles become too much for a first-year student to handle (a flunked test, ended relationship, and shrunken T-shirt all in one day), the only place to turn, write, or dial is home. Often, unfortunately, this is the only time that the urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you never get to hear about the "A" paper, the new friend, or the domestic triumph. In these "crisis" times, your student can unload trouble or tears and, after the catharsis, return to routine, relieved and lightened, while you inherit the burden of worry.
Be patient with those nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place phone calls or letters. You're providing a real service as an advice dispenser, sympathetic ear, or punching bag. Granted, it's a service that makes you feel lousy, but it works wonders for a frustrated student.
Tip #5 – Visit. (But not too often.)
Visits by parents (especially when accompanies by shopping sprees and/or dinners out) are another part of the first year events that new students are reluctant to admit liking, but appreciate greatly. Pretended disdain of those visits is just another part of the first-year syndrome. These visits give the student a chance to introduce some of the important people in both of his/her now-important worlds (home and school) to each other. Additionally, it's a way for parents to become familiar with their student's new activities, commitments, and friends.
Spur-of-moment "surprises" are usually not appreciated. It's usually best to wait for Parents' Weekend or another prearranged weekend to see your student and the school; that way you may even get to see a clean room.
Tip #6 – Do not tell your student that "These are the best years of your life."
The first year of college can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. It's also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and exciting people.
It took a while (and the help of some good friends) for me to realize that I was normal and that my afternoon movie/paperback novel perceptions of what college was all about were inaccurate. It took a while for me to accept that being afraid, confused, overwhelmed, and making mistakes were all part of growing up. Those parents who accept and understand the highs and lows of their student's development are providing the support and encouragement where it's needed most.
Tip #7 – Trust them.
Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing.
One of the most important things my mom ever wrote me in my four years at college was this: "I love you and want for you all the things that make you the happiest; and I guess you, not I, are the one who knows best what those things are."
She wrote that during my senior year. I'm sure that it would mean as much to your student now as it did to me then.