This is the first post in a three part series about phone conversations with your college student. In the next post, we’ll consider how your phone conversations might change as the semester progresses. In the final post of the series, we offer some suggestions for maximizing your phone conversations with your student.
Regular phone conversations with your college student are a great way to stay in touch with what is happening in your student’s life – and for her to stay in touch with life at home. Even if you keep up with each other via e-mail, Facebook, or some other electronic medium, there is nothing quite like hearing each other’s voice. However, just because the technology allows us instant contact, it doesn’t mean that every conversation will be satisfying. Here are some suggestions that will help to maximize your conversations with your college student.
Make it routine.
Consider setting up a regular time for your student to phone you. Let your student phone you, rather than you calling him, so that he will choose a time when he is available for a conversation. Reaching him on his cell phone while he is at dinner with his friends may not yield the most meaningful conversation.
One dilemma is finding the balance of how much contact is the right amount – once a week often works well. While it may seem reassuring, as a parent, to talk to your child daily, after those first few days of transition are over, moving away from daily conversations will help your student settle into life at college and begin to leave the daily routine of home behind. Talking weekly, even if briefly, will allow you to touch bases and check in.
If your student resists phoning home once a week, suggest that he do it for you. It will keep the door open for communication. Some students naturally phone home when they have a problem, or are feeling sad or homesick, or have something wonderful to celebrate. For others, this may not be as easy. When you set up a regular schedule, your student has an opportunity to phone home “because my parents insist” and it becomes a regular time to talk. He doesn’t have to admit that he just needs to hear your voice, or see phoning home as a sign of dependence. For some students, who are working hard to demonstrate independence, this is important.
Chatterbox or stony silence.
You may find that some weeks your student will have lots to tell you and you will have a long, informative and meaningful conversation. Other weeks, the conversation may be brief. Some of this, of course, will depend on your child’s personality and your relationship, as well as what has happened during the week. Cherish those conversations with there’s lots to say, and recognize that sometimes there just may not be much to talk about – or your student may be too busy to take time to talk.
Some suggestions to keep things going smoothly.
Here are a few suggestions for you to keep in mind as you engage in these phone conversations with your student:
- Sometimes your job may be just to listen. Depending on what your student is telling you, try to decide whether she is asking for a response or advice or just wants an ear.
- Recognize that sometimes your child just needs to vent. Things may not seem as bad tomorrow as he paints it today. You may be getting the brunt of a bad mood, or anger, or a complaint about something at school. Listen carefully, but keep things in perspective. Although you may lose sleep worrying all night, your student may move on quickly and cope with the situation.
- Listen between the lines. If your child sounds upset, try to determine whether this is a momentary mood, whether she is overwhelmed, sad about something specific, homesick, or just plain tired.
- If your student in excited about his activities, celebrate with him. Ask for details about what is going well. This will help you visualize his life away from home.
- If the conversation this week is brief, accept that sometimes that’s all that’s possible – or necessary. Once again, read between the lines. If it seems brief because he is upset, or not sharing something important, you may want to prompt a bit to try to draw him out. Sometimes you may need to let it go and then check back a day or so later to see if things are better. (They often are completely different twenty-four hours later.)
- If you ever have serious cause for concern about your child, let someone at school know. You might contact a Dean of Students, Class Dean, Residence Life office, or Counseling Center depending on the administrative structure of the school.
- Think a bit about your end of the conversation. Share news from home. Be honest in sharing concerns or issues. Be honest about anything going on at home, in the same way that you want your student to be honest about things happening at college. But be careful about sharing problems or issues at home that your student can do nothing about. Don’t ever make her feel guilty about being away.
- If you get the “Can’t talk now, I’m off to do something with my friends” conversation, celebrate the occasion. It means that your child is active and involved in his life at school. That’s the way it should be.
You’ll be there to listen next week.