How Involved Should Parents Be When Their Child Goes Off to College?
Having a child leave for college is bittersweet for many parents. Parents look forward to seeing their child grow into a responsible, secure adult. Yet, parents, especially mothers, hope to be included and needed during their child’s first year of college. So, just how involved should you be as a parent?
Assuming you have done a reasonably good job rearing your child, we can look at what you can do to help keep your child on track to becoming a secure responsible adult. The transition from being a successful senior in high school to a successful college freshman is considerable.
Many universities encourage parents letting go of college students. They ask parents to loosen their control and influence over the student. These institutions of higher learning will likely preach some variation of the theme that students will find their own way and parents should step back. And be sure, your student will be quick to point that recommendation out to you.
This may be good advice for the subset of students who have over-controlling parents. It is also good advice for the child who has proven during their high school years that they are trustworthy and make good decisions.
However, many parents will want to continue providing structure similar to that provided during the senior year in high school. The critical element is to lessen control as their college student demonstrates they can be accountable in the new setting.
The parent who holds control too long takes the risk of alienating their student. The parent who relinquishes influence entirely or too early risks seeing their offspring stumble and fall over serious obstacles that could have been avoided with mutually respectful guidance.
In some respects you can compare the college freshman to the professional who attends their first convention away from home. Both may wish the phrase “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” were true. Unfortunately, many otherwise responsible students (and conventioneers) find themselves in a new environment that challenges their responsibility as well as their integrity.
We would never put a new teen driver on the road without seeing first-hand evidence that they can drive responsibly. We would have them take drivers education, start them out in the driveway with us as a passenger, then move practice to side streets until we knew first hand they had the skills to be on the road alone. As demonstrations of their responsibility grew, we would gradually allow them to branch out with longer trips, friends in the car, dating, etc. And so it should be with college.
We want to ensure that the road our children take is safe, one in which they know the rules, they have the necessary skills to responsibly navigate and the independence and confidence to feel secure.