Orlando psychologist and therapists at GroundWork Counseling understand that a child heading off to college is an important life transition for both the teenager and his family. GroundWork Counseling’s Orlando family and marriage therapist offers the following tips for first time college parents.
- How often to call? It is important that you give your college student the time and space to think for themselves. It is normal for your freshman to feel lonely and homesick. They are in a new environment with different expectations. There is no need to shield them from it. Reassure them that they will settle in and that you love them too.
Giving your student the space to be independent is also part of this New Normal. Do not call or text your student every day and pepper them with questions about what time did you wake up, what classes did you have today, what did you eat for lunch, did you have your five portions of fruits and vegetables today, did you brush your teeth…you get the idea. Do not hover, or as the jargon calls it, be a “helicopter parent.”
Instead, tell your student that you miss them, and for now you will feel better if they contacted you every other day or so to give you an update about how things are going. It is reasonable to ask about when their classes are scheduled and when they have work shifts if they are working. You can set a regular time when they will call, e.g. Tues, Thurs and Sunday at 9 pm. It is simple enough to set recurring reminders on the smartphone. Ask your student to text you ahead of time if they need to reschedule a regularly-scheduled call home.
If there are no preset times, check their master schedule for a time you know they are free. Text them first and ask if this is a good time for them to call you. If they are not available right then, ask when would be a good time. Then wait for that time. Be understanding if they are late calling you – it is GOOD that they are busy doing something else rather than calling their parent!
Put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to call someone if the first thing they do is lay a guilt trip on you because you don’t call often enough or call later than promised? Give it time. This is a process. Eventually the two of you will work out a routine that works for both of you.
This rule of not hovering extends to text messaging also. Limit yourself to two texts per day, and neither one of these texts can burden your student with how lonely or pathetic you are without them!
- My room: If possible, do not make any changes to the student’s bedroom or portion of the bedroom for the first 6-12 months. They still need to have a home with you. Eventually it can become a sewing room or a storage room after you discuss your ideas with your student. For now, it should remain “their” room or “their” space.
- How often should the student come home: Assuming that the student can reach home by road within a few hours, you might expect to see your student frequently. Again, give your student time to settle in. Require them to remain on campus on the weekends, so they have to figure out how to use their leisure time. This will help them pursue new friendships and participate in new organizations. At college orientations, parents are often encouraged NOT to allow their student to come home for the first two-three weeks, so they HAVE to deal with settling in.
Most universities arrange Weeks of Welcome, with lots of activities scheduled during the first few weeks of the semester. Encourage your student to participate in these activities to meet new friends. It is very difficult for students to meet friends during classes. Unlike high school, classes begin at different times, there is no assigned seating and students usually leave immediately when class is over. Therefore the dorm/apartment and organized activities are good places to meet new friends.
It is a good idea for the family to visit the university for Parents Weekend. This is an ideal time to catch up with your student on their turf. Let them show you around. You can also attend athletic events/football games at the university. Your student will probably sit in the student section during the game, but you can always meet for a meal before or after the game.
- Welcome back: Your student will most likely appreciate a small celebration welcoming them back home. A special food, a visit to the ice-cream store, a favorite candy with a love note from you and their siblings – something that says “You are still a cherished part of this family, we are glad to have you back for a few days.”
- Expectations during visits home: When the student does come home to visit, expect some changes. They will want to sleep in. They might want to catch up with high school friends in town. They are no longer used to a curfew. Meanwhile, you will probably want them home the entire time, being with you. With these different sets of expectations, conflict is inevitable.
Instead, before your student comes home or soon after they do, discuss these expectations. What is wake-up time? Have you planned any family activities? How much free time to they have to spend time with their friends? Do they want to spend time with their siblings without the parent(s)? By when do you want them home at night? Be open to negotiation. If you have done your job right in raising an independent young person, your student should have the confidence to speak up for what they want! Your part is to hear them out and engage in a negotiation.
- Curfew during home visits: This is an area that deserves its own discussion. Your student might object to any curfew at all, saying they are now adults who live without a curfew at university. It is reasonable for you to say something to the effect of “I know you are used to being free to come in at any time of the night. And that is fine with me when you are away, because I don’t know that you are out. However, when you are with us, I know you are out, and I worry when you are not back by a certain time. I can’t even fall asleep because I worry. So let’s talk about what would be a reasonable time for you to come home.” You might decide to set a curfew that is a couple of hours later than during high school, and you might ask that they text you before they start the drive home.
- “Home”: Be prepared for the punch to the gut when they say “It is time to head back home” and they mean university housing. Again, this is good news! They are handling the transition successfully. You can pretend to be tremendously wounded and pantomime being hit by an arrow. But laugh as you exaggerate your pain — your student must be free to make a new home, and therefore they must know that you are able to handle the separation too.
Orlando psychologists and therapists at GroundWork Counseling know that sending your first child off to college is a very big step, and it is an excellent opportunity to work together to handle the transition. Understand what your freshman needs from you. Orlando psychologists and therapists recommend that you show your love and support. Talk to your peers if you need help with dealing with your own worries – do not allow them to hold back your student.
Above all give yourself time. It will get easier. You can do it!