Parenting A College Freshman: Letting Go In A World Of Over-Connection

Posted On: Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Redefining the roles and rules of parenting a college-bound child: How to balance connection and communication with appropriate distancing.

As August unfolds, over 3 million students will be stepping onto college campuses for the first time, ready to begin the new and exciting experience of living on their own. For many of these students, "living on their own," translates to less parental involvement.

From a parent's perspective, "less parental involvement" creates many new challenges including discovering new ways to be in relationship with your kids that will afford them the opportunity to grow into independence and academic success. To that end, many parents are looking forward to this milestone with a great degree of anxiety and trepidation!

Several decades ago before the Internet existed, most children going off to college were wished good luck and goodbye and sent on their way to figure it out. Mail, now referred to as snail mail, took days to arrive and telephone calls were expensive.

Today, things are very different for several reasons. First, parents are much more engaged in their children's lives and their education, due in great part to the fact that we are all so connected. In our fast-paced world where the umbilical cord has been replaced with the fiber-optic cord, we can connect instantly through texting, e-mail, Skype, Instagram and many other modes of online communication. Today, parents of college-age kids stay connected almost on a daily basis to check in or check up.

Second, entrance requirements are much more stringent than they were a decade ago; and tuition has drastically increased. Like any other investment, parents want to know that the financial commitment they are making is worth the academic return on their investment.

So, in this age of connectivity and concern, how does a parent create a balance between proper encouragement and appropriate distance? Here are three suggestions to get you started.

Set the rules for communication. How much communication is too much communication?

In a survey conducted by Clark University, 52 percent of college-bound students reported communicating with their parents almost daily. Thirty-two percent of these students believed their parents were more involved than necessary. One student reported that his mother had the syllabi for all his classes and would call to remind him when assignments were due.

It might be a good idea to talk to your child before they leave for college to discuss how often he or she wants you to call. Also, talk to them about how much they want you (or do not want you) to play a role in their social networking life. If you want to remain a "friend," this will require rules of engagement.

Tender your resignation as manager of their life and become a consultant

Now is the time for your child to develop an awareness of his or her level of competency. At this stage of development, your goal as a parent should be to encourage and support. Help them develop a good, sound, support system at school through advisors, faculty, and administration that can help them navigate their way through making good, healthy choices.

Listen, but don't give advice. Help them by asking questions that will guide them to their own resolutions. It's important that they begin to learn to trust their own judgment outside of the inner family circle. They may stumble and fall every now and again, but that's how they learn to get back up and try again.

Always, always point to their strengths and what they're doing well. It's a lot more effective than focusing on what they're doing wrong.

Share in the joy of their first day and then wish them well

Going off to college is a huge milestone. It's important that you share in this experience with them. Take them to college, join in all of the orientation events that require parental attendance and then let them partake in the other activities on their own. When it's time to say goodbye, you'll probably be feeling a wide range of emotions from sheer pride to separation anxiety. Try to leave them on a happy note. Don't spoil it for them or yourself.

Remember, you will always be Mom and Dad. Nothing will ever change that. It's difficult to believe; but the more you are able to let go, the more they will want to come back and be an active part of your life.

Still, it's not unusual for parents to struggle with this transition. When you've been defined as Mom and Dad for so many years, it may take a little time to figure out who you are and what your purpose is when being Mom (or Dad) is no longer a full-time job. If you are struggling, seek the help of a professional.

It's not only your child's time to grow and flourish; it is also your time!

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.