Cutting the Cord Again – How to Assist Your Young Adult’s Transition to CollegePosted by hclibrary on Oct 18, 2012 in Mental Health, Parenting | 0 comments
By Cherise Tasker
Whether you went to college or not, you likely have certain ideas in mind about what your young adult’s experience will be. Now is the time to step back, clear your thoughts, and be ready to listen to what your son or daughter is going through. Your young adult needs you to be there for her/him in new and different ways. The best way to be there is to prepare yourself to understand what s/he is going through. Be ready to hear what is actually going on rather than assuming what is going on or what you think should be going on filtered by your expectations.
I referred to the two books recommended by my son’s school: Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger and The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development by Richard Weissbourd. The first provided milestones I could watch for in my son’s progress into and through college. The second asked me to consider the psychological components behind what my son might go through as he proceeds to adulthood.
Communication with your student at this time may be unpredictable. At times, she may call frequently, at other times you may not hear from her for weeks. Time and again, one hears that “no news is good news.” For some of our students, this is true; for others, this may be cause for possible concern. On the other hand, frequent communication by some students may indicate that they need their parents’ attention or are homesick. Often, our young adult children just need to hear a familiar voice. They are in a new world with different schedules, friends, and expectations, and they need our empathy and support. Many never had to share a room and now are adjusting to living with a stranger. All are contending with different levels of academic demands than they had in high school. We must accept that we will see our students’ progress in fits and starts. For example, once they are comfortable with new friends, they then have to contend with college midterms for the first time.
This is a time to encourage our young adults’ intellectual exploration and development of self identity. The temptation is to view the college years as a time of independence, but it is more complicated than that. Yes, your son has to learn where his classes are just as he did in middle school, but in these classes he will try on the lenses through which he may see the rest of his life. Your daughter may be practicing opening yet another gym locker, but the sport may become a career.
Appreciating a college student’s peer group and professor-mentor influences can help when responding to his questions about how to solve a problem. We may know the solution we would like to see, but our students must arrive at their own solutions. We can ask them open-ended questions that allow them to look at their own personal values as well as what they have seen in their new friends and what they have learned in their classes. A child’s solution might be different than our own, but if s/he can separate out the influences involved in the decisions, s/he has the opportunity to make a better-informed choice.
Coburn and Treeger report that students want to be supported rather than told what to do. They want to know their parents are thinking about them. They appreciate care packages. They enjoy private conversations with one parent or sibling at a time. Most kids want to hear about what’s going on back home. Parents should convey interest in classes, but be careful to avoid the impression that they care only about the grades. (Freshmen can feel a good degree of uncertainty about their academic status because, unlike high school, graded assignments and teacher feedback is not as frequent.) Our young adults want to know that we trust them to take care of themselves. We should make every effort to empathize that college can be rough and understand that students “need to experiment and handle the consequences.” We need to follow our kids’ lead in conversations so we can learn what’s truly on their minds.
There will be times when our students should seek assistance from campus resources. Serious concerns including mental health, eating disorders, substance abuse, assault, and illness may require professional intervention. Even in these situations, however, parents should try to continue to empower their young adult children — to listen rather than judge and support rather than rescue.