Transitions to college— Tips for parents and students - Part 1

Parents also have to make adjustments when their children become college students.

The first month of college for most freshmen has passed.  The transition from the comfortable stability of living at home and attending high school to college life is not always an easy one for both parents and students.  The Department of Education reports that only 59 percent of freshmen attending a 4-year university actually graduate. It is essential for parents to understand the challenges of this transition from not only their students’ perspective, but also from their own, so that they can help provide the proper support.

The New York University Child Study Center’s article by Jess P. Shatkin, MD, MPH, Transition to College: Separation and Change for Parents and Students, highlighted the impacts and challenges that a student’s move to college has on parents and on the student.  This is Part 1 of 3 in a series by Michigan State University Extension that will focus on parent’s feelings as their children transition into college life. 

Children moving on to college is a major step towards adulthood!  As a parent, you may go through the emotions of the “empty nest” phase because there is a void that your child filled in your home; you may feel left out of your child’s life, and ultimately you are relinquishing control to your adult child.  Those are some pretty huge changes in your life.  How can you cope with your role change?  Shatkin’s article offers several tips to help with this shift including:

  1. Shatkin suggests that you redirect time and energy that you once spent on your child to your own personal issues.  You may need to take stock of what those interests are, but you have the opportunity to reawaken your personal hobbies, activities and possibly even your career.
  2. Play a new role in your child’s life.  Your parenting style must now change to an adult-adult relationship, rather than the adult-child relationship.  Accepting that your now adult child may want more privacy in certain areas of their lives is part of changing the parenting dynamic. 
  3. With this new parenting style, it is important to guide, not pressure your child.  Respectful communication about expectations should be done, however it is important to recognize that your child has their own interests and ambitions. Be careful not to place expectations of your unlived dreams on your child.
  4. Allow for mistakes!  Your child should be making independent decisions.  Both parents and college students should be fully aware that mistakes will be made.  Learning from mistakes is still learning!

The next article will focus on the student’s transition to college and strategies they can use to help them successfully navigate their new journey.

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