Helping Your College Student Avoid “How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears

Things happen.  As college students work at their increasing independence and responsibility, as they learn that some of the choices that they are making are good choices and others are not, as they strive to find balance, as they struggle to accept consequences for their actions, things happen.  Some of these things are good things, affirming that your student is growing and maturing and making wise decisions.  Some of these things are not as positive, and some may have serious consequences.  Some students have poor or even failing grades, some face college judicial or even legal consequences, some face health issues, some face social problems, some face serious money issues,  and some simply feel that they’ve made all of the wrong choices at this point in their life.

Whatever may be happening for your college student, it may be magnified at the midpoint in a semester.  The reality of midterm grades may be a wake-up call.  The urgency of the remaining few weeks may hit.  The immediacy of a break or holiday at home with family may dawn.  The tensions are increasing as the semester progresses.

No matter what your college student may be experiencing or feeling right now, the second thing that many students worry about may be “How will I tell my parents?”  As parents, we like to think that our college students can talk to us about whatever may be bothering them.  However, for many students, concern about family reactions to college difficulties may be adding to an already difficult time.  This may be especially true for families that are, or have been, close.  Our college students don’t want to disappoint us.  They don’t want to let us down.  They don’t want to fail at their new found independence.

One of the most important things that you can do for your college student, especially at the midterm “moment of truth” may be to keep all channels of communication open.  Even before you have any hint of possible trouble, set the stage for your student being able to talk openly with you.

Think about your listening skills.  Listen carefully to whatever your student may tell you, and listen between the lines.  Don’t grill your student, but ask some questions that show that you are hearing what she is saying. She may be offering some hints, hoping that you will pick up on them. She will be listening carefully too, right now, for your attitude about whatever she is telling you.  She may take her cues from you about how much she is willing to share.

If your student shares something with you that disappoints you, be honest.  Let him know that you are sad, or angry, or worried, or fearful, but don’t scold.  If your student is having trouble, the last thing he needs to hear right now is a lecture.  He has probably already given himself that same lecture.  Be honest in sharing your feelings, but then move on to how the problem can be addressed.

Your student is the one who needs to deal with the problem, but you can help her think through what she can do.  Ask her if the problem is fixable.  Ask her whether she wants to fix the problem.  (If she doesn’t, then a different conversation about whether college is the right choice right now may be needed.)  Ask her who she needs to talk to at school. Ask her what she can change at this point.  Don’t giver her ultimatums or provide solutions.  Help her to think through how she will address the problem and take control.  This is part of her growing independence.  Ask what you can do to help, but remind her that she needs to take responsibility.  Although at some level she might like you to take charge, she will be pleased that you are treating her as the adult that she wants to be.

Let your student know that you are there to support him as he deals with his issue.  It is fair to express your feelings, thoughts, opinions and even limits; however he then needs to make his own decisions. It may not be easy to let him know that he has your support – no matter what happens – but this will allow him to continue to be open and honest with you as he addresses his issues.  He will be looking to you for your attitude, not only about the area of concern, but also about him.  What he may need more than anything right now is simply your support – not necessarily of his actions or choices up to this point, but of him.

Let your student know clearly what you mean by support.  This does not mean that you will continue to endorse poor choices.  You may need to have an honest conversation about limits.  Will you continue to pay tuition if he continues to fail most of his classes?  Will you insist that she live at home while she learns to balance her time and priorities?  Will he need to pay his own rent if he insists on living off campus?  Does he need to get a job to pay for his credit card charges?  Remember that support does not necessarily mean acceptance of poor choices or actions.  It does mean recognition of your student’s need to make decisions about his life.

Your college student needs to know that you will be there for her.  If your student is in trouble – of any kind – she will worry about how to tell you.  But she needs to know that she can tell you and that, while you may not approve, you will be there for her.  Set the tone in all of your conversations.  Listen to her.  Respect her need to make her own choices (even if you don’t approve of them).  Share your feelings honestly.  You will be laying the foundation of good communication through many life situations for years to come.

Related Posts:

Twelve Things You Can Do To Help You Listen To Your College Student

Helping Your College Student Make Sense of Midterm Grades

College Parents, Hold That Advice!

Helping Your College Student Living at Home: What Can You Do?

Yes, You’re a College Parent, But What Exactly Does That Mean?

8 thoughts on “Helping Your College Student Avoid “How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears”

  1. Estelle – It’s best not to compare results of appeals. Usually the committee or board which evaluates appeals takes each case separately. Decisions to reinstate are based on many things including, but not limited to, GPA, history and academic record, extenuating circumstances, and plans to make things different if the student returns. If you cannot be readmitted now, make a plan for what you will do for a semester or a year to gain experience, gain perspective, and possibly earn a few credits at a local college. Then apply for readmission at another time. You may find that the time away is extremely beneficial.

  2. i have a question here i have being dismmised from college due to low cpa and i have appeal why i still can’t get reinstated while my friends her result is worse than me but she pass through

  3. Deborah – this sounds like a difficult situation for your daughter. She may have an option to withdraw from the class (which is different from dropping the class at the beginning of the semester) if it truly feels as though she cannot do the work. She should certainly try to talk to the professor to see if he has any suggestions about how to be more successful. If the professor won’t take the time to talk to students at all, your daughter might try talking to the department chairperson. A tutoring center might also help. Sometimes peer tutors have taken the same courses and may be able to offer suggestions specific to that professor.

  4. Page – It is always so difficult to watch our children struggle. Good for your daughter, though, for attempting difficult courses rather than taking the easy route. A year or two at community college may be a very good thing – not only for her GPA, but also for her confidence. If she has a few successful courses done, she can think about transferring to another school. They will value some successfully completed college courses. Good luck to her – and to you.

  5. My daughter and her classmates are having problems with a professor at scsu(hbcu) he gives timed assignments for homework.No notes durong class and not liking to discuss problems that his students are having. To me he is a bad professor who is taking my child money amd not teaching anything. What do we need to do. Drop date has ended.

  6. Hi my heart breaks for my daughter, I’m trying to stay positive for her. But she always took L2 college courses in high school she is a senior now and has a 1.85 gpa . she has worked so hard from having reading challenges now she doing physics getting 96 on there tests! she made the honor roll for the first time in senior year 1st quarter and didn’t the second. but now she going to have to go to community college which i understand is probably best choice but just feel terrible that she isn’t going to be attending regular colleges with her girlfriends, which i might add i believe is smarter than these girls, one took low class but got higher scores so might have lifted that gpa but this same girl struggled in school along side of my daughter they are best friends and shes going to a university that excepts 3.2 and up? i dont understand how this all works .just wondering i guess is should my daughter reapply so the can see she is working so hard in her senior year? thanks for taking the time to read

  7. You’re so right, Monica. It helps when we think about listening and creating the right atmosphere for our student to talk as an active way of relating to them. Being the right kind of “receiver” of information is important. Thanks for your comment!


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