For Parents and Families: My Student is Heading Off to College – What about Me?

Posted by: Ann Gleason, Dean of Students; Deputy Title IX Coordinator

Johnson Hall seen from front drive

Your student or family member has been accepted to college – what an exciting time for the both of you! The months before your student starts college can be busy, challenging, fun, and sometimes stressful as you both prepare for the college experience.

Along with senior events and celebrations, this pre-college time also gives you opportunities to have important conversations about what you both expect in the coming months and years and to consider your role as a parent or family member in supporting your student’s success.

What is your role when your child attends college?

Students continue to grow and develop as adults and build skills in self-reliance. This is a gradual process through college (and beyond), and the timeline varies depending upon the student.

As your student becomes more independent, you should expect changes in your dynamics and communication. You may have heard the term “helicopter parent,” which refers to a parent hovering over a student while they are navigating classes and campus life. There’s another term for parents who take on an even greater (but not positive) role in a student’s life: “snowplow parent.” This term is used when a parent or family member attempts to remove obstacles and challenges in a student’s path to ensure success without frustration or failure.

Neither approach is helpful. To become healthy, successful adults, everyone needs to experience challenges, mistakes, and uncomfortable feelings in order to learn how to manage emotions, solve problems, and learn from missteps.

To help you visualize your role, imagine your student driving their own car on their college journey. If their car gets a flat tire when they’re on the road two hours from home, would you drop everything to travel to meet them and change the tire? Or do you encourage them to call a friend, a tow truck, or AAA to assist – or, better yet – encourage them to learn how to change a tire so they can change it on their own?

As your student gains independence, they will move from being more dependent on you to becoming more self-reliant. This is a shared goal, and essential to them becoming a strong, thriving adult.

How can you offer support?

Your student still needs your support while in college! Some effective ways to support them include the following:

  • listening without “fixing”
  • encouraging decision-making and problem-solving
  • encouraging the use of campus resources/offices
  • leaving room for mistakes
  • respecting boundaries

What can you do this summer prior to New Student Orientation?

Consider these questions and conversation starters this summer to begin thinking and talking about the logistics of independence and adulthood:

  • What are you most excited/concerned about when thinking about college?
  • How often and how will we communicate?
  • How will you manage and keep track of money?
  • Will you have a car?  If so, is there a plan for paying for gas, oil changes, etc.?
  • Will you work? If so, what is a manageable number of hours to work?
  • If you are commuting to campus, how will you make sure to engage in campus life outside of classes?

Heading to college is an adventure for your student. It is also an exciting time for parents, siblings, and the entire family. We look forward to welcoming new students and their families to the Meredith College community!

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