This is the first of two posts which consider your college student, what she may be experiencing in the transition to college, and what your new role may be in the college experience.
You may be here because you have a son or daughter in college now or about to enter college. This blog is designed to give you information, and food for thought, about the experience of being the parent of a college student.
It’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s begin in a general way by thinking about who this college student is, and what your role in this college experience might be.
This college student is the son or daughter you’ve raised.
First and foremost, this student headed off on this grand and scary adventure called college is the son or daughter you raised. Although it sometimes feels as though you may not know or understand his behavior, you’ve had many years to instill important values and teach life lessons. Your student will take to college with him the tool chest of lessons, experiences and values you’ve given him. Trust him. Trust the years you’ve spent with him.
This college student has a clean slate.
There is something wonderful about the adventure of beginning college. This student headed off to college is a young man or woman with an opportunity to have a clean slate and build a new life. Many of us might welcome the opportunity to have a fresh start. Your student may have spent many years in the same area, school, or neighborhood. He is known by everyone. His family may have connections in town, he may have siblings ahead or behind him, he may be known as an excellent student, an athlete, a loner, or a class leader. There is something safe in this knowledge, but also something restricting.
At college he will have a fresh start. He can re-create himself. This can be a wonderful, and an intimidating thing. There’s no reputation to fall back on, but there’s also no history clouding your opportunities. Some students thrive on the experience of this fresh start and some are taken by surprise. As parents, it is important for us to recognize that this is a stressful time. Encourage your student to take advantage of the clean slate that he has to invent the self he wants to be.
This college student is working on independence – and responsibility.
This college student is someone who will be working on achieving independence. This is one of the most thrilling aspects of the college experience for many students – and also one of the most frightening and difficult to navigate. Some students will struggle with how to navigate their independence as they try to learn that along with the independence comes the need to be responsible for themselves.
Perhaps you have worked hard during the high school years to help your child achieve the independence and personal responsibility that she will need in college, or perhaps she will have a lot to learn. Again, as parents, it is important that we recognize the struggle she may face. Don’t jump in to help too quickly. Encourage your student to try to solve problems for herself, understand when she doesn’t share as much with you as you might wish for, and support her when she falters.
This college student needs a refuge.
Finally, for now, (not really finally, because there’s lots more we’ll address in the future), your student is someone who will need a home base to which he can return to recharge his batteries. He will need a place, and a family, where he is accepted unconditionally and which allows him down time. He will need a place where he doesn’t have to “reinvent” himself and where he can let his guard down completely.
When he calls, or comes home, be prepared for a range of possible scenarios. He may have lots to tell you. He may have nothing to say. He may want to spend his entire time with his old friends, or he may want to do nothing but sleep. Home is the refuge. Be there for him, but trust him to take the lead. Be there for him, but recognize that your role may have changed since he was in high school. Be there for him, and enjoy getting to know him all over again.
In our next post, we’ll consider more about your role as a college parent.