by Georgia Orcutt
The time has finally come! Here's how you can prepare for your son or daughter heading off to college:
1. Read all about it. Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger (Harper Perennial, 2003), now available in a fourth edition, has helped many a parent. The authors, a dean of students and a counselor at Washington University in St. Louis, offer lots of practical information, along with reminders of how much college has changed since we parents attended.
2. Recognize this stage of life. Come to terms with the fact that your child is starting off on a journey toward autonomy. “College-age children are still evolving adolescents needing to try on different aspects of their developing selves,” says Susan Geist, M.D., a psychiatrist in Newton who has helped numerous families deal with college issues. “Parents’ interest and curiosity about their lives remains important to the college child, but without criticism or judgment of the way they are living their lives.”
Geist recommends that parents try to follow their child’s lead regarding frequency of contact. There is no general rule, as each parent-child relationship is different. Flexibility around phone calls, emailing and text messaging will help keep communication open.
3. Get ready to listen. “College kids often complain to parents about a variety of issues, including homesickness, challenges with peers and time management,” Geist says. “Although it is tempting to try to alleviate the pain a parent hears from the child, what is most helpful is to listen to the complaints, be sympathetic to them, but not rush in and attempt to solve their problems. It’s their life and they realize they are the only ones that can live it.”
Your college-age kids may want to talk to you about thoughts, feelings, concerns or problems – both to feel as if you know what’s going on in their lives, and so that they feel less alone – but they generally aren’t asking for advice. If they do directly ask for advice, feel free to give it, but accept that they may not heed it.