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Parenting Your College Student from Afar

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Feb 18, 2014 10:13:00 AM

When your child leaves home for college, it's a transitional time for the student and the parents. Lots of work has gone into getting her this far, and you want to insure the transition is a smooth one. College planning, for parents, consists mainly of arming your young adult with the skills necessary to succeed independently in this new phase of life. For students, it means knowing how to apply the skills and knowledge to get the most positive outcome from the experience. There are many practical skills college students shouldn't leave home without. Below are some ways to help your fledgling leave the comfort of the nest and soar.

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  • All young adults should know how to handle common auto emergencies like jump-starting a car, checking the oil and changing a flat tire. While enrolling them in an auto service like AAA is always a good idea, circumstances may arise where they still need to know how to do these tasks themselves.
  • Your student should also promise never to text and drive or drive if they are impaired. Discuss with them ways to avoid common but dangerous driving pitfalls and allow them to take an active part in the problem-solving process. Offer some possible solutions, from downloading free cellphone apps that convert texts and replies to audible voice mail while driving to establishing a reciprocal arrangement with a sober friend to agree to provide rides if your son or daughter consumes alcohol or other substances.
  • College students should also know how to balance a checkbook. This is a basic life skill everyone should learn, and if your child errs in her accounting and has to pay a few hefty bank fees, don't be in a big hurry to rush in with an open wallet. Experiencing the consequences of financial mismanagement, although difficult, can help your child associates it with negative repercussions, incentivising them to be more careful in the future.

Knowing When to Back Off

It's a real balancing act learning when to intervene and when to sit back and let your college student problem-solve on their own. It helps to realize that your ultimate goal is for them to emerge with a degree and the life skills necessary to cope out there in the world without a safety net. The following are situations your child should be encouraged to handle on her own.

  • Problems with roommates or others in the dorm should not require parental intervention. If your child is experiencing problems, encourage them to talk over the situation with the Residential adviser or adult in charge of the dorm.
  • Issues with their classes and professors should also be handled independently by your child. Encourage her to make an appointment to discuss any issues with the professor and to avail herself of free tutoring services if she's falling behind in her class work.

When to Intervene

  • If your child is having serious adjustment problems and has drastic personality changes, i.e., a former extroverted, fun-loving teen turns withdrawn and isolates herself, encourage her to use the free counseling services on campus. But if you suspect something seriously is wrong, by all means intervene and get her the help she needs.
  • Eating disorders are serious problems. If your child is losing or gaining a significant amount of weight -- not the dreaded "Freshman 15" -- you may need to step in and seek medical advice for her. 

The most effective form of parenting involves keeping the lines of communication open to your student at all times so she feels comfortable sharing details of her life with you. Remember that the best relationships between parents and young adult children involve mutual respect.

Topics: Parents and College Planning