Growing Young Adults: What parents need to know about your children at college

By: Daniel R. Schwarz,  The Huffington Post
October 1, 2015

In an article published by the Huffington Post, Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English Literature Daniel R. Schwarz speaks to parents about what they need to know about the college experience. Here are a few highlights: 

1) Your son or daughter is in college as an individual, not as part of the family team. While you want to be supportive and give advice when asked, you are not captain or coach of your student's team. That role belongs to your offspring, namely the student enrolled in college.

If you have overly managed your child's high school career and created anxiety preceding and during the college admission process, this is your chance to redress prior mistakes and be encouraging without being overbearing.

Let your student, now a young adult, solve his or her own problems. If you have raised him or her well, he or she will have the confidence to make good decisions, but like all of us, your student will make mistakes and experience disappointments and learn from them. You need to encourage your son or daughter to remember the three R's--resilience, resolve, and resourcefulness--and perhaps practice them in regard to your college student rather than showing your own anxiety, disappointment, and frustration.

College students are young adults and need to take the initiative to solve roommate issues, housing problems, course registration, and challenging assignments. It may be hard to let go, but what college should be doing is turning adolescents into adults who make decisions, and if you intervene that will not happen. (I recommend Marshall Duke's "Starting College: A Guide for Parents: 2013").

2) As much as you want to share this experience, hovering over your daughter or son (what is known as being a helicopter parent) is not the best way to help her or him grow. I advise limiting calls and emails so that your student has a sense of being on his or her own. Giving occasional advice if asked is ok, but it is often best to hold your tongue and, especially, your desire to write emails every day or, as is the case with some parents, several times a day. While one rule does not fit all, calling more than once a week is excessive, and so is emailing more than a few times a week. To be omnipresent is not the best way to be either helpful or close.

But you do want to listen to your son or daughter to be sure your student is pursuing goals for the future and taking his or her academic work seriously. Too much talk about partying, homecoming, fraternity and sorority social life and not enough about courses is a warning sign. While extra-curricular activities are fun, and in some cases-- acting in plays, writing for the school newspaper, and, in rare cases, playing on college teams--are part of professional goals, you do need to notice when these activities begin to take precedence over academics.

One of the best ways to share the college experience is visiting when your son or daughter is competing on varsity teams, acting in a play, or being part of a musical performance. But on these occasions, it is important not to give too much advice to him or her, or worse yet, any advice to the coach or the theatre or musical director. These are the very occasions for parental restraint.

3) However, you know your daughter or son and if he or she is showing signs of depression or anxiety or panic--rather than the usual complaining about how much he/she has to do or how his/her roommate is inconsiderate, etc.-- then you should contact the college's psychological services or the advising center. Unless you feel it is a life-threatening emergency, I would not rush to campus.

4) As much as you are tempted, do not do your son's or daughter's academic work. It is time to let go. At the same time, your young student may want to share the excitement of his or her academic work. Especially if the student takes the initiative, discussion of course material and books the student is reading for his or her courses can be mutually satisfying and may be helpful to your child. But this sharing is different from doing the student's assignments. In more cases than one might think, the parents have been helping their student in high school, even doing the student's homework and editing their papers.

A few years ago I taught a freshman who had attended a private day school and had had so much help from parents--who also provided tutors for courses in which she was an A student-- that doing her own work was a major adjustment. In a different case, I had an Honors student who let her father edit her thesis after I had signed off on it; the father systematically turned active voice into passive and made other "corrections" that resulted in a lower grade than the one she would have received.

Read the rest of his advice in The Huffington Post.

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