Information for the parents of college students
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Three Things You Should NOT Ask Your College Student to Share With You

Your soon-to-be college student is busy getting ready to head off to college.  You want to make sure that both you and she have all of the information that you both need, and you want to help her prepare.  So you ask her to share some pieces of information with you – so you can help and give advice.

This makes sense and sounds like a good idea.  And sharing some information is important.  But there’s a line between helpful and intrusive.  Here are three pieces of information that may cross the line – for different reasons.

The roommate information form

If your student will be living on campus, she will probably have a roommate.  Colleges work hard to make roommate matches that make sense and have a good chance to work out.  In order to do this, the college will ask your student to fill out a matching profile, lifestyle questionnaire, or roommate profile.  This form will ask about lifestyle preferences that may make a difference in a living situation such as: Are you an early riser or late-to-bed person? Do you study with music or in silence? What type of music do you prefer? Are you generally messy or a neat-freak? Do you smoke?  What are your interests?  Do you prefer to sleep in the dark or with a light on? Window open or closed?

Why sharing this information isn’t a good idea

Roommate matches are potentially only as good as the information on which they are based.  It is essential that your student fill out this questionnaire honestly and completely.  It is important that your student fill out the information about who they really are – not who they wish they were.  It is possible that there may be some information that your student needs to share on the form that she may not wish you to see.  As difficult as this may be for parents, the accuracy of the information is most important.

What can you do instead?

Although you’d like to take a peek at the form, or perhaps even just save your student work and fill it out for her, it is important to let her handle this and send it herself.  Do talk to your student about the importance of being honest on the form and do have a conversation about living with a roommate and how to be a good roommate.  You might even help your student think about how to handle the inevitable conflicts that might arise.  But let the information on the form be between your student and the college.

Your student’s passwords

As high school parents, you may have had access to your student’s school portal and school information.  So it may seem natural to ask your student for her new college passwords so that you can monitor information, her assignments, and her official school e-mail.  After all, you want to help her stay on top of all things college.

Why sharing this information isn’t a good idea

When your student heads to college, FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act) rules change and students are now in control of their educational information.  So your student now needs to give you permission to access college information such as grades, schedule or financial information.  Although giving you passwords that allow you access is obviously a form of permission, it is unofficial.  Each time that you use that password to access information or check e-mail, you are in effect “pretending” to be your student.  Most colleges strongly discourage students from sharing their passwords.  You may put your student in the position of ignoring a college rule or recommendation before she even begins.

Another important reason not to ask your student for her passwords is the message that this request may send to your student.  It may send an unintended message of distrust.  Are you saying to your student, even as she begins her college career, that you don’t trust that she can handle things on her own?  Your student may miss an announcement, deadline or assignment, she may not see an e-mail or forget to reply to one, she will make mistakes, but that is part of the learning curve of being a college student as she learns personal responsibility.

What can you do instead?

Many colleges have now created a Parent Portal or Student Shared Information Page.  Make use of this resource if the college provides it.  In most cases, students need to go into the college system and officially grant permission for parents to access certain information.  You may receive permission for financial information, grades, or general announcements.  In some cases your student may grant information for some parts of this information but not others (for instance financial information but not grades).  This can provide an excellent opportunity for conversation with your student about what you need, why you believe you need it, and other alternatives to sharing information with you.

Use this opportunity to reinforce with your student the importance of online privacy and security.  Talk to your student about why you are not asking her to share her passwords with you. Discuss the importance of online privacy and not sharing passwords with others.  As students do more and more online, understanding the importance of cyber security is especially important.

Budget information

As your student transitions to college and to being increasingly responsible for her life, a financial budget is an essential tool.  Many students may not know the importance of creating a budget for daily expenses or how quickly small expenses can add up.  You may need to help your student think about a budget which includes income and expenses.  But once you’ve talked to your student about the importance of a budget, about principles of budgeting and possible categories, it’s time for you to step out of the process and let your student build her budget.  Don’t ask to see the results.

Why sharing this information isn’t a good idea

As with the roommate information form, a good budget is only as effective as the honesty with which it is completed.  If your student plots expenses with priorities to please you, or does not include expenses she doesn’t want to share with you, the budget will be doomed before it is put into place.  If your student doesn’t want to share with you how much she spends on clothing, or food and alcohol, or gasoline or travel, she may leave these items out of her budget.  If your student wants to impress you with how much she gives to charity or puts into savings, she may increase those items.  A budget is a very personal statement about lifestyle and priorities that your student may not be ready to share with you at this time.  But having an honest budget that works is crucial to staying in control of your life.

Instead of asking to see the final budget, talk to your student about your own spending and some of your budgeting priorities.  Give your student an opportunity to ask questions and share whatever makes her comfortable.  Have conversations about priorities and values.  Listen a lot.  Be a sounding board.  But make it clear that your student does not need to share the final information with you. This will allow her to evaluate her lifestyle realistically and create a budget that works for her.

Take the long view

Taking a step back in these three areas may be difficult.  We are used to being in the loop of our students’ lives and it is not an easy task to give up that control.  But taking a step back from asking your student to share these pieces of information does not mean taking a step back from the conversations and lessons you’d like to share with your student.  Use these three situations as open doors for listening and sharing values and you will be even more confident in your student’s ability to handle whatever comes her way.

This can be another step toward your trust in your student, the respect that you show to her, and the responsibility she will feel for her choices moving forward.

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