The Oregonian: Tips for parents, freshmen as everyone adjusts to college life
Author: Kathy Hinson
Posted: October 9, 2012


Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

Across Oregon's university network, this year's freshmen have just completed the first week of classes. And thousands of parents have spent a week feeling disoriented because there's one less kid at home.

It's a big adjustment for everyone.

Laurie C. Kelley, associate vice president of university relations at the University of Portland (and a veteran of the process, having sent several of her own kids off to college), has advice for parents feeling left behind -- and for kids striking out on their own.

The top mistake parents make? Trying to solve all their kids' problems, long distance. "You do want to be needed, but you're not giving them the sense they can do it" if you step in the minute an issue crops up, Kelley says. And your stepping in may keep them from connecting with the campus resources they need.

Encourage independence. Remember, your child's college education is only partly about classroom time. An equally valuable education comes as she learns how to navigate a large, complex system (the university) on her own. That will help prepare your student for later life tasks, such as fitting into a workplace, finding an apartment, buying a car. 

Kelley's advice for parents:

  • Don't call and text daily (or several times daily). Wait for your students to reach out. In most cases, they are making new friends and establishing a new routine. If they're unhappy, chances are you'll hear about it.
  • If your child calls and is super-stressed, hating a roommate or wanting to come home, etc. don't try to solve it. Be supportive and let him know you have confidence he'll figure things out. An hour after getting that frantic call, you'll still be worrying but your child will probably be fine.
  • If your best friend's kid is checking in all the time, but you aren't hearing from your child, it's OK. Everyone adjusts differently. Be patient.
  • Think back to when you went to college. Kelley says her college days were in the era of long-distance phone calls -- you might have talked to your folks once a week. Or you got a letter from home. Let your child figure things out for herself, the way you had to figure things out for yourself.

OK, so you're not calling or texting. What to do with your time?

If you've got younger children at home, they'll be in transition, too. Make sure to give them their space if they need it, or extra attention if they need that.

And focus on yourself. "Let yourself bloom with your newfound time," Kelley suggests. Go back to things you loved doing before you had kids, take up a new hobby, renew friendships.

Although it's natural to be sad that childhood is officially over, you're never done being a parent, she says. "Your life expands so much with them when they're adults. You can look forward to that and not just be sad."

What should kids know? Kelley urges students not to rely on parents to problem-solve. Ask the people on campus who are there to help, such as your resident adviser or hall director at the dorm. See the financial aid office for help with money, and the campus health center for your medical needs. Crowd-source solutions among your new friends.

Michele Toppe, dean of student life at Portland State University, says she and the director of counseling talk about "the W curve" as they prepare students and families. Any big transition, such as starting college, has many highs and lows back to back, making your emotional path resemble a capital W.

There's comfort in knowing the path will be jagged, Toppe says. "When there's a valley, there's a peak around the corner." Don't worry that you're so up and down; it's typical.

Toppe encourages students to get involved in campus life, in whatever way suits them. Some like big gatherings and clubs, while others prefer smaller groups or one-on-one relationships. "Comb the activity schedule, connect with peers in class, check out student organizations," she advises. "Just dive in."

Second, students should seek out mentors, whether faculty, staff, peers or people in the community. "We learn a lot from watching others who are doing things well," Toppe says.

Third, take care with your finances. Students who suddenly have autonomy with finances for the first time can overreach, especially with credit. One suggestion: Track everything you spend during your first month so you don't go overboard without realizing it. Then use that first, careful month as a template for your spending.

Finally, she passes along a tip she's heard from many students. "Have one set time each week to connect with parents, to Skype or call or whatever," she says. "It helps parents not call too much and interrupt too much."

Although it seems hard right now -- for parents and students -- this period of adjustment will end. Before you know it, students will be home for Thanksgiving or over winter break.

That brings up another tough transition.

"Prepare for your kid to be different," Kelley warns parents. Your son may show up with a beard, or your daughter may have a nose ring. Be ready to discuss what house rules are reasonable now that your child is living elsewhere as an adult most of the time.