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Parent/Student Pitfalls and Effectively Communicating Through

September 5th, 2017


During these last few weeks of summer, hundreds of thousands of college students will be heading back to campuses nationwide.  If you are a parent, moving your student onto campus is a bittersweet experience. If your child happens to go to school in the heart of a major city, you will face the daunting task of finding a parking space while you rush to unload clothes, electronics, and that favorite pillow. In the midst of the emotional rollercoaster called drop off, you won’t have the time (or the fortitude) to try to have a serious conversation with your student before pulling away from the curb with tears streaming down your face. Talk to them about two very important things before heading to drop off: communication and vacations.

Some believe that those two issues will “take care of themselves” but often, if not discussed, they lead to some challenges and uncomfortable situations. Whether you are a first timer, grizzled veteran, your student is a freshman or heading off for their senior year, take a few minutes to talk about these important topics. Honestly, these things weren’t on my radar until a few years ago and I am the father of one graduate and one son heading into his junior year.  Trust me, if these things are not discussed, you and your child will have completely different expectations. You want to be involved without being suffocating. When your son or daughter is home for break you want the opportunity to spend time with them. 

For communication, agree on the frequency along with the method. Identify what is or is not okay. Does a text message suffice or does it need to be and actual phone call or facetime? Make sure that you’re both on the same page so there are no surprises or hurt feelings. It may sound a little strange but creating a contract between you and your student is not a bad idea. If they are not sticking to the agreement, make sure to address that immediately. Don’t wait for a vacation or until they are home to let them know this is important to you and that you expect them to stick to the deal they made.

Well in advance of breaks and vacations, create a plan that both parties are on board and comfortable with. Identify what the specifics are long before they get home! For example, at Thanksgiving, maybe you have family coming to town on Wednesday and Thursday, and your child’s attendance is required for those big family gatherings. Having a plan well in advance not only paves the way for you to have them at notable events and times, but also allows them to make plans with their friends. Just like anything else in life, planning will make things go more smoothly. Don’t assume because your family has done the same thing every year, that your “young independent adult” will continue that without discussion.

These suggestions and information are not completely mine nor are they super original. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Michael Miller speak to student and parent groups at Orientations for more than 15 years. One of his topics is how to be involved in your college student’s life. He explains parental roles over the last several generations and how they have changed. Despite more than 50 percent of college students today listing their parents as one of their best friends, there remains friction between the two groups. Particularly in the areas of effective communication. Parents today are involved in their kids’ lives to levels unseen by previous generation; and students, while they still want a certain amount of support, also want a lot of freedom. Conversations with an agreed upon plan goes a long way to keeping the peace within the family. Thank you, Michael, for your insight on this topic, it certainly has helped me.

I wish you all the best as you say good bye to your offspring as they head off to college. I know it’s not easy, so take this advice and smooth the way to effective communication before any bumps in the road can occur. A little time spent now, may save a lot of hurt feelings later.

Congratulations to the classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 (and 2022 for those in 5-year programs). Enjoy your time at college, but don’t forget those folks at home who have helped you along the way and are anxiously awaiting updates on how you are doing.

Have a FUN year! 

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