Evolution of a College Student and their Parents

By Courtney A. Faunce, M.A.

You have spent the past seventeen to eighteen years growing a human. You are a parent living in 2018, aka a completely new world compared to when you were in high school. There were good times and bad, you have been doing your absolute best. No one knows your kid like you do, and no one loves them more. Watching your child graduate from high school is a huge milestone and one of the most proud and happiest moments yet to come. So, what happens when school is out for the last time, prom is over, graduation photos are taken, and you find yourself asking “Where did all the years go?” …

During this transitional time, not only is the student faced with inevitable change, the entire family may need to redefine roles and adapt. This process of transitioning from adolescent years to young adulthood will look different for every student and every family. Over the years as a counselor working with students, families and educators, I have observed a few key features that should be a part of an ongoing conversation with your college student. These include the following:

Empowerment, Confidence, and Self-Identity

Real World Living skills

Independent and Critical Thinking Skills

Character Building: Work Ethic, Professionalism, and Integrity

Self-Advocacy and Personal Accountability

Decision Making Based on Personal Value System

Freedom from Fear of Failure:  Vulnerability

Future Oriented Thought, Optimism, and Hope

Refining Family Roles and Boundaries

Open-mindedness and Adventure

Self -Care “Do what you enjoy, not just what builds a resume!”

 

The development of your child into a young adult is happening right before your eyes in ways you may have never planned or expected. For parents and family, a major cross road arrives when we finally must let go. This may include allowing your student, now emerging adult, to make decisions that are out of your comfort zone. It may mean having to say, in an assertive yet loving tone, “No… Not today… Not anymore….” Our natural instinct as parents and caregivers is to find the solution and fix the issue in the easiest most convenient way possible. However, the total amount due and the cost of over protecting our students may be immeasurable. Here are some general tips for a smooth transition during this critical time:

 

1.     Keep up the effective communication. Be honest with your student in a way that educates and demonstrates a healthy mutually respectful relationship. We wish to facilitate empowerment by demonstrating we believe in our students and we value them as individuals. Remind your student that they are loved and you are proud, after all most likely your approval and unconditional love still means so much to them.

2.     Be there. Time is currency and we need to spend it wisely. No matter if your student is relocating to an out of state campus or local post-secondary school, continue to make time for phone calls, facetimes, and holiday/school breaks.

3.     Be there… when you can. At the same time, know your boundaries. Empty-nesters especially may need to rediscover new or old hobbies, interests, and community activities to reengage with now that your student is off living the college life. Give yourself permission to focus on you. Establish positive healthy boundaries and be willing to accept you student’s new boundaries.

4.     Know when to hold back. Up until this point, parent involvement was encouraged since it is a primary indicator of student academic success and social adjustment. Now that your student has made it to the world of higher education, parents are only welcomed on campus during parent weekends or moving in or out of dorms. And possibly for sporting events. Instead, it is more supportive to suggest to your student to utilize campus resources and the professor’s office hours themselves.

5.     Enjoy the small things. As the research consistently shows, mindfulness has profound positive effects on our wellbeing and sense of peace, joy, and balance. This time of transition, although stressful, is also a major milestone for your student and the family. Going back to basics by practicing gratitude for the simple things and the tiniest moments is crucial.

As a disclaimer, every family going through the transition of their child to young adulthood will have different experiences and needs. It is easier to do all the research and put together a plan, than to put advice into action. Ultimately, you as a parent are in transition as well and change can be scary. When we encourage our students to face their fears, and set forth into a new world, we must also do the same for ourselves. Cherish the growing pains and embrace the journey.