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August 2022 Parent & Family Newsletter | Off to College: Ways to Support your Student

Off to College: Ways to Support your Student
by Mark J. Forest, Ph.D. – Assistant Vice President for Health and Wellness

Sending your child off to college can be both an exciting and stressful time for many parents. For many students, this will be their first time living away from home independently. Exploring new interests, developing friendships (and romances), making decisions, and expanding their intellectual and interpersonal capacities are all part of the college experience. The hope of course is that they will have the foundational emotional maturity, fortitude, and requisite skills necessary to navigate this new phase of their lives. While most students do, there will inevitably be challenges along the way that may require additional support from parents, the college, and others. But how much support should parents offer their child? Finding the balance between “doing for” your child and “encouraging self-reliance” is not always clear cut. Here are some basic tips to consider, along with several links to articles you may find useful. 

Let Go
Rarely an easy thing for a parent to do, letting go means trusting in that idea that you have raised a child you believe will do the right thing and make good decisions. Your child will need to learn how to live independently and deal with a variety of life circumstances on their own – and they can’t do that with a parent hovering too closely. You are only a phone call or text away and can provide help when necessary but part of how we learn, grow, and develop resilience is struggling with challenges.

Encourage Self-Reliance
Don’t be too quick to try and solve a problem for your child. Encourage them to at least attempt to resolve the issue on their own. What do they think they can do to address the problem? Who on campus can they contact to help them navigate the problem? Most colleges have a myriad of support offices dedicated specifically to address student concerns: Dean of Students, Career Services, Accessibility Resources, Financial Aid, Mental Health Services, Academic Support, the list goes on but I think you get the point. And on a similar note…

Know Your Resources
Most colleges go out of their way to provide students and parents with all of the campus resources available to support students. This information is shared during orientation, welcome week, through emails, digital bulletin boards around campus, flyers, social media posts, etc. Become familiar with these resources so you can steer your child to them as issues develop. Always encourage your child to reach out to these resources on their own – don’t do it for them. Keep in mind the classic proverb give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. 

Stay in Touch (but not too much)
It is very easy these days to stay in touch. There is phone, text, visits (over 90% of TCNJ students are from NJ), and even (gasp) letters! It is important to allow your student to become immersed in the college experience without needing to constantly check in with you multiple times a day. I realize there is great variation here depending upon established communication patterns within the family, but the point is to give your child some space and time to adjust. Again, resilience is built by pushing through and overcoming challenges and adversity. A quick text to check-in every other day or so will let your child know that you are thinking about them and are there for support without being overly intrusive.

There Will Be Mistakes
Know that your child will make mistakes along the way. It is inevitable and expected when someone is faced with new challenges. Nobody is perfect. Your support and encouragement will be appreciated and can go a long way in helping your child to persevere through whatever challenges they face. Classes can be difficult, relationships don’t always go the way we intend, sport teams sometimes lose, lapses in judgment occur. Encouraging your child to stay true to themselves and have both patience and perseverance can help. It has been said that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. As parents, you want to protect your child from unnecessary pain and harm, however attempting to shield them from disappointments, frustrations and loss is not really possible and can stymie their ability to work through these feelings on their own. A good rule of thumb is to intervene when your child is in real danger, otherwise give them space to work things out on their own.

Parents can also expect to experience some positive and negative emotions themselves when their child goes off to college. Some of these feelings will be tied to their own concerns about their student, but many feelings are more related to the changes in their own life situation. Some helpful ideas for parents are to develop a support network, reexamine their allocation of time to work, family and leisure, and to work on developing an adult-to-adult relationship with their college aged student.

Here are some additional links to articles you might find useful:

10 Ways Parents Can Support College Freshman:

9 Tips on How to be a Good College Parent:

How Parents Can Support their College Students’ Mental Health: