Parent-child relationships: tips for college students

Parent-child relationships can be a tricky one during the college years.

Parent-child relationships can be a tricky one during the college years.

Good ole mom and dad … you love them and they love you. If you wanted to follow that sentence with a “but,” you are not alone. College students know that their four years in school are a time for learning and that includes learning how to become an adult. Your parents know this, too, but how you all handle that transition can be challenging at times. It is natural for parent-child relationships to change as you start to become more independent. But that doesn’t mean that some tips for college students wouldn’t be helpful as you navigate the tricky waters between dependent to adult in the eyes of your parents.

Ways to smooth the transition

So you are just starting out in college. What are some tips for college students on how to handle parents who aren’t ready to let go? Margo E. Bane Woodacre and Steffany Bane posted some advice in “Off to College? Enter Here: The Changing Parent/Child Relationship” for the National Association for College Admission Counseling:

Tips for students:

  • Stay in touch. Parents worry and you calling/emailing/texting can help with that.
  • Set up a regular call that is convenient for everyone.
  • Be careful about unloading. Sure you want to share your problems, but your parents will worry more about them than you and then get more involved than you’d like.
  • Remember when visiting home, you still have to respect mom and dad’s rules. 

Tips for parents:

  • Give your college student time to adjust to college in general or to a new semester.
  • Don’t call early on the weekends.
  • Consider communicating through email where you are less likely to convey an unintended negative tone.
  • Look for unusual behavior, whether it is “hints of chronic homesickness or persistent avoidance of communication from your child,” Bane Woodacre recommends. Arrange for help if needed.
  • Understand that when your student comes home, you will have to be prepared to give them a bit more independence.

Staying in touch

Technology today means never having to say goodbye to your parents—which they love (and you may not mind). But how do you know when you are communicating a little too much? “The Bond: Staying in touch when children go to college” by Mary MacVean for the LA Times on June 4, 2011, explains “The complicated dance toward independence creates all sorts of tricky moments for both generations.”

The problem stems partly from the fact that parents of today’s college-age students were urged to get involved in their kids’ lives and that there couldn’t be too much communication in parent-child relationships. This is good when the result is a close relationship, but the downside is that young adults don’t acquire the skills to make the leap to being independent. MacVean concludes, “By intervening in roommate disputes or sending daily text reminders of class work to be done, parents perpetuate a feeling that the students needn’t think for themselves because someone else was perfectly willing — even gleeful — to do it for them.”

Parent-child relationships in ever-evolving roles

The change in parent-child relationships starts in college, but it really heats up post-university. Recently graduated college students and their moms and dads need suggestions more than ever on how to handle these shifting roles. Dawn Turner Trice discusses those challenges in “Post-college parent-child relationships can be tricky” for the July 27, 2011 Chicago Tribune.  She asks, “At what point is the parent overstepping or even enabling? At what point is the kid taking advantage?”

Now is when good communication can really make a difference. College students may not always take their parent’s advice or make great decisions, but it is important that both sides understand there’s a learning curve involved in this transition. The territory that comes after graduation is new and uncharted for both sides. Parents may be able to offer help. But college students have to be willing to ask and/or listen.

How have you and your parents coped with your changing dynamic? Tell us how you have helped smooth this relationship transition in the comments below.

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