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You are here: Home Section Table Parenting Off to College: Advice for Parents of College Freshman
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Off to College: Advice for Parents of College Freshman

Back to college 618x412With move-in day just weeks away, many parents will soon be taking their college freshman to college and then leaving them there on their own. What should you say – and not say? How often should you call? How should you manage their spending?

Below is some advice from Julie Stonberg, a social worker at Westchester Family Counseling. Here, she gives her own thoughts about sending students off to college for the first time from her experience as a social worker and as a mother. This is followed by some DO’s and DONT's and from college students.

How do you believe parents can best prepare their children for the social pressures of their freshman year in college (e.g. drinking, finding supportive friends, rush process)? How can parents push their children to succeed academically without being too overbearing and adding too much stress?

[...] Now is the time to trust that all those years of daily parenting will kick in and they will begin to figure things out on their own. We have prepared them for this “launch” for the past 18 years! I think it is so incredibly important – as hard as it feels -- to show them that we believe in them, and that we have faith that they will be ok.

[...] One thing I have been talking about a lot with my daughter this summer before she heads off to college in the fall, is about being open to new people and new situations, not making hasty judgments, but instead really paying attention to how she feels about someone or some activity or class. This translates for sure to the Greek scene – we have talked about that idea that if you [have] trust in yourself and understand who you are and where you feel comfortable, you are most likely to wind up with a positive experience. Maybe the “coolest,” sorority or fraternity is not for you. That’s fine! Fin[d] one where you step in and feel at home. In the end it’s about finding a community that is right for you.

With regards to academics, I would say the best thing a parent can do first semester is not add to the pressure their child may already feel, especially if they are in a competitive school [...] You want him [or her] to be able to reach out to you and know he [or she] will get support and love, not questions about grades and assignments. If you really feel like something is not working you can always discuss it when your child is home for winter break, and get feedback from him [or her] in person about how it all felt and what could be done differently going forward. But it’s really important to stress (in this age of everything Instagram) that most kids find first semester and even the first year, to be a huge and not always smooth adjustment.

How can parents balance helping their children financially with pushing them towards independence?

In terms of finances, what has worked best for our family was to set up a checking account in high school where they had “allowance” transferred in automatically every week from my account. When my son went to college, his high school account transferred to a “College Checking Account” (basically the same idea) and we adjusted the amount based on a budget he kept the first few weeks of school. We re-adjusted it again when he went completely off the meal plan sophomore year, taking into account his realistic expenses (again a careful budget kept) and how much he had from summer jobs and other sources. When we sat down and looked at the budget together we were able to come up with a weekly amount that seemed reasonable to both of us and he has very rarely asked for any additional funds.

How often would you recommend parents checking in on their children (text, phone call, or visit)? And should this be initiated by the child or the parent?

Regarding checking in, I have friends that tell me their child calls on the way to classes every day. My son does not. In fact, when he does actually call on the phone, it is usually to discuss something less than pleasant – something that couldn’t be shared in a text or over a family Face Time session. I personally love texting. It’s a way to check in that puts very little pressure on him. I might text him something during the day that makes me think of him, such as “Cooked finally opened,” or some news about one of the teams he played on in high school, or something I heard about Game of Thrones. I usually get a short response, which lets me know he’s alive, and sometimes it turns into a longer exchange. For keeping in touch with teenage boys, I think text might be the best thing ever.

And, although my son and I are now in a fairly good rhythm, in the beginning I tried to give him some space, and let him set the tone. If your child sees a text or missed call from you every time they look at their phone, they won’t have the space to breathe, start to make decisions on [their] own – or miss you!! It’s hard, but try to take the extra time and space in your house and your schedule to enjoy some time with your spouse and friends, focus on a child still at home, or do some of the things you may have put on hold during the crazy full-time parenting years.

I guarantee that if you are busy and happy with meaningful activities, it won’t be long before you glance at YOUR phone and see the following: “Hi mom – wanna FT? I’m in my room….”

Do’s And Dont’s From Students Themselves

DO Send Care Packages: As excited as students are to go to college, homesickness can set in quickly. Even if it doesn’t, care packages are always nice to receive! These can include (but are certainly not limited to) candy, homemade cookies, and Spotify Premium and/or Netflix and/or Hulu subscriptions.

DON’T Plan Surprise Visits: Your kids love you and are grateful for you, but don’t expect a smile if you show up unexpectedly to their dorm rooms! There are homework assignments to finish, tests to study for, and social lives to maintain. Sporadic - approved - visits can be nice, but surprises are simply disruptive and ultimately stressful for everyone.

DON’T Take Over My Room At Home: You may think it’s funny when you joke about turning your kid’s room into a gym or a movie theater, but your kid probably isn’t laughing. He or she is going to college - which is not the same as moving out. Winter break is nearly a month long at most schools, and most students don’t want to have to crash in the guest bedroom and feel like an imposter in their own homes. Even swapping rooms with younger siblings vying for a bigger room is strictly unacceptable.

DON’T Make Vacation Plans For Thanksgiving: Yes, a skiing trip or beach vacation would be great! But it would be just as great during winter break - or any other break! Your child’s first Friendsgiving is a quintessential college freshman moment (even if it doesn’t happen at college). It’s the first time all their friends will be together since the summer, and a necessary time to exchange stories. However, be sure to plan all fun vacations for times your child will be home. With one less person to pay for and one less schedule to accommodate, you may think it would be the perfect time to indulge in a whole slew of extravagant vacations. Your children don’t want you to be miserable of course, but having too much fun can definitely send the wrong message.

DON’T Question Me On My Credit Card Bill: This is huge! Your kids are happy and thankful that you are footing their bills for the time being (and not in a “you’re nothing but an ATM now that I’ve moved out” way), but they can’t possibly be expected to defend every purchase. Can anyone really be independent if they can’t order from Shake Shack five times in one week? Buy hundreds of ping pong balls? Spend $500 on headshots for rush?

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