Tips for Parenting a Freshman
Your student, along with about two million others across the nation, has entered a time that is both exciting and frightening. It is also a time of growth and change, and parents often experience vicariously much of the emotion that accompanies this transition.
Parenting a freshman means watching, waiting, and worrying through ups and downs. With the goal of helping you strengthen your relationship with your student while keeping anxiety at a minimum, here are some suggestions from “Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years” that may help you along.
Don't Ask if He/She is Homesick
The power of association can be a dangerous thing. “The idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me 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 the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a freshman’s time and concentration. So, unless a well-meaning parent reminds them of it, they’ll probably be able to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. And even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.
Write (Even if They Don't Write Back)
Although freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence at first, most are still anxious for the security of family ties. This surge of independence may be misinterpreted by sensitive parents as rejection, but most freshmen (although 99 percent won't ever admit it) love receiving news of home and family, however mundane it may seem to you. Most freshman would appreciate their parents and family to send some form of communication at least once a week.
Ask Questions (But Not Too Many)
College freshmen have a tendency to resent interference with their newfound lifestyle, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is still interested in them.
Extreme parental curiosity can be obnoxious and alienating. "I-have-a-right-to-know" toned questions should be avoided and are often interpreted as a lack of trust. On the other hand, honest inquiries and other “between friends” communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-freshman relationship.
Don't Worry (Too Much) About Upset Calls, Texts, or Emails
We all know that parenting can be a thankless job, especially during the college years. It's a lot of give and only a little take.
Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle (i.e., a flunked test, ended relationship, and shrunken T-shirt all in one day) the only place to turn, write, or dial is home. Unfortunately, this may be the only time that an urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you don’t hear about the A paper, the new boyfriend, or the domestic triumph.
Be patient with those nothing-is-going-right, I-hate-this-place phone calls or emails. You're providing a real service as an advice dispenser or sympathetic ear.
Visit (But Not Too Often)
Visits by parents (especially when accompanied by shopping or a dinner out) are another part of the first-year events that freshmen reluctantly admit liking. These visits give students a chance to introduce some of the important people in both of their now-important worlds of home and school to each other. Additionally, it's a way for parents to become familiar with (and, hopefully, more understanding of) their students’ new activities, commitments, and friends. Get to understand your student, find what helps them feel comfortable and transition more effectively.
Avoid Telling Your Student that "This is the Best Time of Their Life"
The freshman year (and the other three as well) can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointment, and most of all, mistakes. They’re also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and good people. It is often only in retrospect that more good than bad stands out.
Those who believe that all college students get good grades, know what they want to major in, always have activity-packed weekends, thousands of close friends, and lead carefree, worry-free and mistake-free lives, are wrong.
Because freshmen come to college with larger-than-life expectations, it takes them a while to accept that being unhappy, afraid, confused, disliking people and making mistakes is normal, predictable, and part of growing up. Those parents that accept and understand the highs and lows of their student's reality are providing the support and encouragement where it's needed most.
Encourage the Use of Campus Services
The administration, faculty, and staff of the university are sensitive to the needs of students. Nearly any service a student may need is available on campus, and it is important that parents and family encourage that they be utilized. Help encourage them. With everything from fitness facilities and tutoring centers to health care and counseling services, there is little excuse that students cannot find what they need.
When parents encourage their students to use campus services, it shows a vote of confidence in the institution and helps students to connect.
Finding yourself is difficult enough without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are always second-guessing you. A wise mother once wrote to her college student, “I love you and want for you all the things that make you happiest; and I guess you are the one who knows best what those things are.”
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