Parenting a College Freshman

Your student, along with two million others, is about to enter an exciting and also frightening period of joy, pain, discovery, and disappointment. These students are beginning four years of their lives. They'll leave as much different persons than they began. And, like it or not, you're entering this period with your son or daughter. You'll experience the same happiness and defeats as they do - second hand - but just as vividly or achingly.

We have provided some guidelines that might help you make it through your child's first year with a minimum loss of sanity and a maximum strengthening of your new relationship.

Don't Ask Them If They're Homesick

The power of association can be a dangerous thing. (A friend once told me, "The idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me, what with all the new things that were going on, until my mom called one of the first weekends and asked, 'Are you homesick?' Then it hit me.")

The first few days/weeks of school are activity-packed and friend-jammed, and the challenge or meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a freshman's time and concentration.

So, unless they're reminded of it by a well-meaning parent, they'll probably be safe to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. And, even if they don't tell you within the first few weeks, they do miss you.

Write (Even If They Don't Write Back)

Although freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can in those first few weeks, most are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring.

The surge of independence may be misinterpreted by sensitive parents as rejection, but most freshmen (although 99 percent won't ever admit it) would give anything for some news from home and family, however mundane it may seem to you.

There's nothing more depressing than a week of empty mailboxes. (Warning: don't expect a reply to every letter you write. The you-write-one, they'll-write-one sequence isn't always followed by college students, so get set for some unanswered correspondence.)

Ask Questions (But Not Too Many)

College freshmen are "cool" (or so they think) and have a tendency to resent interference with their new found lifestyle, but most still desire the security of knowing someone is still interested in them. Parental curiosity can be obnoxious and alienating or relief-giving and supporting depending on the attitudes of the person involved.

"I-have-a-right-to-know" tinged questions with ulterior motives or the nag should be avoided. However, honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-freshman relationship.

Accept Change (But Not Too Much)

Your student will change (either drastically with the first few months, slowly over four years or somewhere in between that pace). It's natural, inevitable and it can be inspiring and beautiful.

Remember that your freshman will be basically the same person you sent away to school, aside from interest changes and personality revisions.

Don't expect too much, too soon. Maturation is not an instantaneous or overnight process, and you might well discover your freshman returning home with some of the habits and hang-ups, however unsophisticated, that you thought he/she had "grown out of." Be patient.

Don't Worry (Too Much) About Manic-Depressive Phone Calls or Letters

Parenting can be thankless job, especially during the college years. It's a lot of give and only a little take. Often when trouble becomes too much for a freshman to handle (a flunked test, ended relationship and shrunken T-shirt all in one day) the only place to turn, write, or dial is home.