Balancing Communication… Parents can help
As you are enjoying the fleeting weeks of summer, you are undoubtedly preparing for fall and all that comes with it. For students, fall means going back to school. Whether your student is new to college or a returning college student, you as a parent can play a vital role in their success. Here are some thoughts on how to be a supportive part of your student’s college experience.
The college years are filled with friends, fun and excitement, but there also can be moments of indecision, disappointment and lots of hard work. A solid support system is very important, and parents can be the foundation of that support. Staying connected with your student, yet allowing your student enough space and independence to make decisions and work through challenges, is an optimal goal. Staying in regular contact is a good idea, and today there are more ways to keep in touch than ever. Whether you connect through text message, Twitter, Facebook or even the actual phone conversation, the important thing is to find the balance between “I wonder if my parents still love me?” and “Mom, we just talked two hours ago.”
You may not always get an instant response from your student, but he/she will know you want to stay in contact, and there will be appreciation for you reaching out, too. Snail mail is more infrequent these days, but there is really something special about receiving a note, card or a package from home. This cannot be matched by electronic communication. Don’t hesitate to send that “care package” – students do like them, along with regular mail.
The college years are a time of growth and development, and students often experience changes in thoughts, behaviors and beliefs. While change is a normal and necessary part of life, some change is healthy and some is not. Trust your instincts. If you suspect that some of the changes you are seeing may be signs of something problematic or unhealthy, suggest that your student take advantage of the services available on campus, such as the Health Center or Counseling Center. The University employs competent and caring professionals who are available to help your student through physical or emotional difficulties. A recommendation from you may be just the push they need to seek assistance rather than try to handle a problem on their own.
Students often involve parents when they have a roommate conflict, disagree with a campus policy or question a grade they receive. While faculty and staff are always happy to speak with parents, it is infinitely more productive if the student has those conversations instead. While the temptation may be for you to pick up the phone and try to solve the problem, it will be better for your student in the long run if you encourage them to make contact with the faculty or staff member and then follow up with you. This will allow you to stay in the loop yet empower the student to take control of the situation. This will boost your student’s confidence and help them build communication and problem-solving skills that will serve them well throughout their college and professional careers.
Finally, if you are able to do so, visit your student on campus. It’s probably not a good idea to pop in unannounced, though, and don’t visit every weekend. Plan to attend Family Day in the fall (Sept. 21, 2014) or Honors Day in the spring (April 26, 2014). Both are great occasions to come to campus. Depending on your student’s interests, there also will be opportunities to attend sporting events, musical or theatrical performances, or other campus activities. You may also want to plan a visit for a time when there are no special activities planned, and you can just go shopping or out to dinner. However you choose to reach out to your student, know that they appreciate your love and support. The role you play makes you an integral part of their college experience and will be a special part of their college memories for years to come.
Adriane Thompson-Bradshaw, vice president of student affairs, has worked with parents and students for more than 26 years at ONU.