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.