Parents, Guardians & Families
Entering college is a significant developmental milestone for students and their families. It is a time of transition for young adults and their parents/guardians.
Understanding Developmental Issues and the Transition to College Life
Getting accustomed to your student’s growing independence may take some adjusting to, both for you and for your student. It may be helpful for you to reflect on some of the many changes taking place for your student during this time of life. These include:
- University Counseling Center Services
- Greater Independence: Students must learn to take care of themselves in important new ways, and they must be increasingly self-reliant while still depending on parents in many ways. Their need for support from family may alternate, seemingly unpredictably, with their need for distance.
- Developing Intimacy: Typically, students develop strong ties with peers, important intimate relationships with both friends and romantic partners, and greater self awareness within relationships.
- Changing Family Roles: Within the family, students need to renegotiate important aspects of their relationships, including family roles and boundaries. This last task is often the most difficult for students and their parents to navigate, and can be challenging when dealing with issues such as control and sharing of information.
- Intellectual Growth: College is a time of life in which students experience rapid intellectual growth, and explore different ideas, opinions, and ways of thinking. The student in your life may express thoughts and feelings that you strongly disagree with, or their intellectual development may spark related interests in you.
- Identity Development: Students at this age are exploring different facets of identity, and may experiment with different styles and behaviors. This is part of developing a sense of themselves as unique individuals with value and importance.
Tips for Parenting Through the College Years
Again, every family is unique, as is each individual within it. Everyone is likely to have their own experience of this life passage, with their own particular challenges, joys, expectations, and concerns. However, there are a number of ways you may help to nurture your relationship with your college student, so that it can be as growth-promoting and satisfying for both of you as is possible. Here are some suggestions for working toward that goal:
- Set clear and reasonable expectations about academics: Your student may have been a super-academic achiever in high school, but may not get straight-A’s in college. To some extent, your own expectations continue to influence the expectations students set for themselves. Help them to accept that doing the best they can is terrific, even if they do not make the Dean’s list. If they truly do need academic assistance, encourage them to seek it out.
- Be a good listener: When problems arise at school – which they will – listen carefully to what your child says. Support them in exploring options and finding their own solutions, without taking it upon yourself to solve the problems for them. Remind them about the resources that are available at school and encourage them to seek those out for further assistance.
- Be emotionally supportive: Be positive and encouraging but don’t push them to follow a particular course of action, or pressure them about majors or grades. You can be clear in expressing your own opinions, but trying to impose them on your student is likely to create conflict rather than positive changes.
- Stay in touch: It can be tricky to walk the line between maintaining connection with your child and giving them space they need at this age. Email, letters, care packages, and phone calls from home can help fight homesickness. Express interest in your child’s experiences at school, and ask them about classes, activities, and friends. If your budget allows, a little spending money, or a gift card in a small amount from a local store, can help your student get a special meal off-campus or pick up a small specialty item to brighten up their day.
- Ask them what they need from you: When you are not sure what to do, it’s okay to ask your child what they need from you at that moment. They may want you to just listen, for example, while they “vent” about something, without having you respond or be “helpful”; perhaps they need sympathy, a hug, a visit, a phone call, or some distance.
- Get the support you need: This can be a confusing time, and may even sometimes feel like a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. One day your child may reach out for your support, the next day reject any offer of help. You may find yourself having many different feelings, such as relief when your child leaves home for college, anxiety about things they are experiencing, sadness and loss about being separated from them, etc. These are all natural reactions, and won’t last forever. Meanwhile, stay in touch with your own supportive friends and relatives. Talk with other parents who have been, or who are now going through, the same thing. Take good care of yourself, including doing things you enjoy, getting adequate rest and nutrition, exercising, and using health coping skills to manage stress.
Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health
How can counseling services help parents?
- Counselors are available to speak with parents by phone or in person by appointment, regarding concerns or questions they may have about their son or daughter.
- Counselors can answer questions regarding the specific services the center offers.
- Counselors can help parents obtain referrals to clinicians and resources within the community.
- If you would like a counselor to contact your student, you can fill out a referral form.
What services are offered?
- Individual counseling
- Couples counseling
- Family counseling when appropriate
- Educational programs and outreach
- Substance abuse evaluations
- Drug and alcohol education
- Crisis intervention
- Office of Disability Services
- Practicum/Internship opportunities
What do services cost?
- All services are free to enrolled Texas Southern University students
What about confidentiality?
- Confidentiality is an important component of counseling relationships
- All services provided to students are confidential
- Laws prevent therapists from sharing information regarding a student’s counseling without the student’s permission
- Confidentiality doesn’t prohibit therapists from discussing ways parents can be helpful to their son or daughter with issues they may be facing.
What are some resources for parents of college students?
- Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller
- Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Colburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger
- The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen