Going to College for the First Time

Student Caring: Going to College for the First Time

Student Caring: Going to College for the First Time

Listen to Podcast Episode No. 19  

Going to College for the First Time 

What I wish someone had told me—as a parent

Daniel de Roulet

 

Having been a college student, a professor, and a father of college students, I have reached that point where I believe I can share things I wish I had known.  I don’t want to step on your toes, parents of first-time students–you’re free to make your own mistakes, and that’s part of learning.  But sometimes it’s nice to avoid a few mistakes of others.

Okay, parents, chances are you are feeling and acting out conflicted emotions, especially if your son or daughter is the first in your family to attend college.  Likely you are planning on how to use the space they have vacated at home while wondering how all those years so suddenly went by.  There are a few things you can do, however, to make the transition to college easier for your son or daughter, their younger siblings, and yourselves.

Get a dog.  I’m just kidding.  Don’t get a dog as a child replacement, for a number of reasons.  Some friends of mine just got a dog, after never owning one before, and they tell me that they can no longer relax in their own house.  The only thing that seems to be clear is that acquiring the dog seems to make them appreciate how easy teenagers are.

1. Acknowledge the changes. If you are married, spend some time with your spouse thinking about the successes you have experienced in getting your daughter or son to college. If you are a single parent, give yourself a few hundred extra pats on the back for what you have accomplished, and share those accomplishments with family. Then, alone or with someone you trust, admit the sense of loss you might be feeling. If you’re a spiritual person, recommit your son or daughter to God’s care. This is all part of letting go, and letting go well is vital to your son or daughter’s college experience and adult life.

2. If your son or daughter is living at home, treat them as if they are living at college. More students have to live at home to save money. More students struggle because, living at home, they feel torn between two sets of responsibilities: being a family member, and being a successful student. Allow them to treat college as a full-time job. Don’t allow home responsibilities they had in high school to bleed over into college life—babysitting, help with the family business, help with major projects at home. Expect them to keep their living spaces clean, and work out a cooking arrangement. Don’t invade their private space. Work out an agreement about what they will share about grades. Federal law does not permit parents of adult student access to grades through the university. (One of my sons never shared his grades with us. He graduated in four years with a 3.93 out of 4.0 grade point average (GPA)—we found out about the GPA on graduation day, when we noted that he was graduating with honors. So don’t worry—some people are just private.)

3. Allow your student to live a separate life. This is hard simply because your life changed so radically when you had children, and they have a way of taking over your schedule and changing your perspectives about what is important in life. Letting them go to live a separate life is a good action; not letting them go will drive them away or could make them unhealthily co-dependent on you. Don’t rent an apartment next door to them, don’t call too much, and don’t pressure them about coming home. Find positive ways of letting them know you care; think of expressing your care as you would for adult friends.

4. Be creative in caring: Send care packages focused on food. (Okay, your adult friends would think it was weird if you sent them boxes of food, but imagine the joy with which your son’s or daughter’s residence hall mates will greet a food package.) Perhaps include a couple of movie passes. Or a dog. (No, not really.) Don’t send things that will embarrass them or try to direct their activities. Sending unexpected cash is always appreciated, but should be done sparingly. Be prepared for some new ideas: I think that parents are often terrified about what college will “do” to their children. The truth is they will come home with some new ideas and perhaps startling insights into familiar things (like their town, their friends, even their family) because, developmentally, this is what happens at this age. They have been trying to fit new ideas and experiences into the way they have always looked at the world. Now, they’re embracing those ideas with more enthusiasm and their ideas of how the world works are changing as well. This is fine, even though they will have come to the conclusion that you are not as smart as they thought you were. Actually, if your students return after the first semester and do not seem to have been influenced by ideas at college, I would be worried about how they have been spending their time.

5. Be prepared for some new ideas:  I think that parents are often terrified about what college will “do” to their children.  The truth is they will come home with some new ideas and perhaps startling insights into familiar things (like their town, their friends, even their family) because, developmentally, this is what happens at this age.  They have been trying to fit new ideas and experiences into the way they have always looked at the world.  Now, they’re embracing those ideas with more enthusiasm and their ideas of how the world works are changing as well.  This is fine, even though they will have come to the conclusion that you are not as smart as they thought you were.  Actually, if your students return after the first semester and do not seem to have been influenced by ideas at college, I would be worried about how they have been spending their time.

More to come in our next blog / podcast.

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