As college parents we want the best for our college students. Many college parents have spent years planning for and working toward their student’s college experience. They would never intentionally do anything to harm their student’s chances of making the most of their years in college. However, there are some things that parents do, often for what seem like good reasons, that may have unintentional negative effects for their student.
If you’re brave enough, check this list below and consider whether or not you may be guilty of any of these habits. Certainly, no parents are guilty of all of them, and many parents may not be guilty of any of these habits. Unfortunately, all are actions that some parents take at one time or another. The list may seem harsh, but it gives us all pause, and food for thought.
- You have too much contact with your college student. It may be hard to believe that there can be too much contact. You are concerned about your student. You want to know that your student is doing well. You want to know that your student is happy. You miss your student. You want to fill your student in on life at home. And so you call or text your student – maybe several times each day. Your student calls you to discuss all of their decisions. You like continuing to be involved in your student’s life. However, a major part of the college years is the increasing independence that the student experiences. Sometimes holding on too tightly may hinder that growing confidence and independence.
- You don’t let your student make their own mistakes. Sometimes, as parents, you can see the mistake coming. You know a poor decision at the moment that it is made, or being considered. You see your student heading down a dangerous path. Certainly, you should help your student avoid serious mistakes that can have dire consequences — especially if they involve health or safety. But many mistakes, although they might be avoided, are important life lessons. Students need to take responsibility for themselves, and that often involves bearing the consequences of their actions. Letting students make their own mistakes, and learn from them, is an important part of these college years.
- You encourage your student to come home often during the semester. If your student’s college is close enough to make it feasible, it may seem like a good idea to encourage them to come home on weekends. Perhaps your student would like to keep a job at home. You want to make sure they are sleeping and eating well. You may feel that they should maintain contact with friends at home. You may feel that they can study better, or avoid partying temptations, at home. But students who come home often for weekends are less engaged in their college experience. They have less time to make new friends and get involved in campus activities. Students who are less engaged in their college experience are at greater risk for leaving school and also often receive poorer grades.
- You burden your student with problems at home. You certainly want to help your student stay in contact with home life, and you need to be honest with them about major issues happening at home. But be careful that you don’t overburden your student with issues about which they can do nothing. Remember that your student is trying to adjust to being away. This will be more difficult if they feel guilty about not being at home.
- You ”help” your student by taking care of school issues for them. Perhaps you know that a deadline is approaching and your student hasn’t dealt with something. You know that your student should make a deposit or turn in a form or write a letter. A reminder to your student may be helpful, but doing it for your student may not. Or perhaps you know that your student has difficulty getting up in the morning so you call them each day. Although you may be helping your student get to class in the short term, you are not helping them gain the independence that will serve them well in the future.
- You pay bills late, file forms late or miss an important parental deadline. When bills are paid late students often have ”holds” placed on their accounts. This may prevent your student from registering for classes or choosing a dorm room. This difficulty is compounded if your student doesn’t know that a bill is unpaid or a form unfiled. They may be frustrated when they don’t understand why they can’t do what they need to do.
- You are not completely honest on your financial aid forms. When you complete the FAFSA or the Profile or any other scholarship information, double check that your information is entirely accurate. If there is a discrepancy, your student could lose their financial aid or scholarships.
- You try to act as your student’s academic advisor — telling them what classes to take or how many credits they should carry. You may have ideas about courses, and you should certainly discuss your student’s schedule with them, but let the professionals at the college do what they are trained to do. They may know more about certain classes or sequences of courses. They have seen students with too many credits who are unable to do quality work. They have seen the students with too few credits lose focus or need an extra year to complete college. Weigh in, but remind your student that they need to work with their advisor to plan their course of study.
- You ”heavily edit” your student’s paper, or write your student’s paper, or write a letter or e-mail in your student’s name. Consider carefully the message that any of these actions send to your student. Consider carefully whether these will help your student in the long run. Yes, they may receive a better grade on a paper or in a class, but what is the lesson learned?
- You forget that you and the college have the same goal: your student’s success. If you do need to contact the college — through phone, e-mail, or in person, try to be patient and understanding if you don’t get an immediate answer to your question — or you don’t get the answer that you had hoped for. Sometimes the person to whom you talk may not be the person with the answer. Remember, too, to be completely honest in any information that you give to the college. Don’t harm your student by trying to make excuses for them or giving inaccurate information. The college can’t help if they don’t know the reality of the situation.
Even the best intentioned parent may make an occasional mistake that may affect their student. We all do the best that we can. Taking a few minutes to think about the bigger picture or possible consequences of some of our actions can help us avoid what might be some costly mistakes for our students.