This year, both our kids will be entering new schools. We are excited for them, especially Anna who is starting her school career as a kindergartner. She is excited, a little nervous, and really loving her new pink binder - an item that wasn't on the supply list, but apparently she just had to have it.
When we've been out shoppping for school supplies, I couldn't help but be curious about the shoppers who were clearly preparing for college. I wondered where they were going to school, what their summer orientation was like, and whether they realized half the things in their cart probably won't be used. This is what the profession of student affairs, where I worked for many years, does to your brain.
I've also been watching my higher education colleagues post various pictures and status updates about how excited they are to welcome the Class of 2020 to their campuses. For parents, watching their children graduate from high school and then quickly become college freshmen can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. As someone who has welcomed thousands of new students and their parents to campus, I offer you some food for thought:
1 Throughout the year, but particularly in those first two weeks of the semester, colleges and universities work very hard to create a series of informative and engaging programming for students. Why? So that parents don't linger and students don't rush home the first chance they get. I have seen parents stay in hotels, try to attend classes, and come to residence halls to pick up laundry and drop off food all in the first week or two of classes (not kidding). Give each other some space to figure out your new normal. And this includes not being your student's alarm clock via text or phone call too.
2 Over the years, many colleges and universities have developed Parents Programs because, well, the "Helicopter", "Stealth", and I believe the new one is called "Lawnmower" parents kind of necessitated it. However, that doesn't mean the programs and services they provide aren't valuable, so take advantage of them. Parents are provided with newsletters, updates on programs, and other information so that they can stay abreast of what is happening on campus and not feel like they have to constantly nag their students. Plus, for parents who want to be more involved with initiatives, they can get to know campus staff and meet other parents.
3 The transition to college can be difficult for students - academically, socially, and psychologically. And, that difficulty can often come as a big surprise. Students have a plethora of support programs and services to help them on campus and they need to be the ones to advocate for themselves when problems arise. Give your sons and daughters the opportunity to solve issues on their own first and only get involved when the issue or your student requires it. Trust me when I tell you, I never liked a conversation that started with, "Please don't tell my daughter I called."
4 If a problem does arise, please make sure you've read all the critical literature that has been provided to you and your student before contacting the appropriate administrator. When a student accepts a college's invitation to attend their institution, that student is saying they agree to adhere to all student handbook, code of conduct, and academic regulations. "I didn't know" is just not something anyone wants to hear - not professors, not residence hall directors, no one.
5 Lastly, don't fall down the black hole of websites and social media platforms that rate every college, professor, academic program, residence hall, dining plan, human being that walks on campus. It's dangerous and unhealthy. Each student will have their own unique experience and will make decisions based upon those experiences. However, this is one link I will share. Emory University's psychology professor, Marshall Duke offers some suggestions on how to handle parenting in the college years.
Congratulations to all the parents with students heading off to college this year! Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!