Parents of College Students: Your Child is Off to College, Now What?

By Megan Kenslea
StudentAdvisor.com Staff

off to college

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve recently had to deal with that bittersweet goodbye of sending your child off to college. If it’s your first child going away to school, it may be even more difficult to adjust after achieving this milestone. As the eldest of three children, my parents and I have gone through many “firsts” together. From soccer practices to the prom, we navigated the scary waters of suburban adolescence together. Though we hit some bumps along the way, we made it to high school graduation on the whole unscathed. College was a different story.

After just one semester of freedom at school, my parents and I started to fight about everything. Nothing was off-limits: from what classes I was taking to how much money I was spending, it seemed like every conversation ended in a shouting match. I thought they were being unreasonable; they probably thought I was a nightmare. I had a whole new life at college, and I wasn’t sure how my parents fit into it.

It’s taken three years, but we’ve managed to work through a lot of problems that we had freshman year. Hopefully you can avoid the bumps in the road that I did and maintain a positive relationship with your child all through college by following these bits of advice:

Stay in touch – on their terms.

If they’re lucky, they’ll be so caught up in the excitement of freshman year that they might forget they have parents all together. Don’t worry if they don’t call you back right away – in most cases, that’s a good sign.  Whether it’s a weekly phone call, regular emails, or a sporadic Skype session here and there, let your student figure out what ways of communication work best for them. Don’t be afraid to nag them a bit if they fall completely off the grid, but it’s important to let them adjust to their new surroundings without having to worry about calling mom back every five seconds.

Understand that their social lives have changed.

For most college freshmen, it’s the first time living away from home, and with that comes the first taste of freedom. Different students will have different reactions to their newfound freedom, but their first visit back home will be rough for both of you. Family rules that worked in high school probably won’t anymore. Instead of laying down the law right away, talk to them and work out new rules that you both think are appropriate. Curfews, family time, cars, and computers are all things you should talk about. Be flexible, but also make sure your child knows the consequences for breaking the rules.

Let your student take control of their academics.

Lots of parents want to be involved in their child’s academics, and with good reason. With the cost of college so high, it’s natural to want to make sure your student is making smart choices, but there is a line between offering advice and meddling. Feel free to give them advice about choosing a major, picking courses, or talking to professors – if they ask you for it. Things you should never do? Call their professors, edit (or write) their papers, or call them constantly about studying for test. Your student will learn the hard way that pulling an all-nighter is miserable – and be the better for it.

Teach them how to manage money.

College is the perfect time to teach your child how to manage a budget and spend responsibly. A great way to do this is to help them create a budget. If you’re going to give them spending money, figure out how much you can afford each month and help them budget for expenses like laundry, food, school supplies, and personal care items. If your child will have a car on campus, make sure to allot for gas, insurance, and maintenance fees, too. If you’re not giving your child money, you can still help them figure out how much money they’ll need to make or save each month. Make sure to talk your child about overdrafts and credit card debt, too – before the bills pile up.

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