For parents who have been hyper involved in their students’ lives, letting go when they leave for college can be a challenge. The key, said experts, is to step back and help your student find their own solutions.
Knowing about the available resources, especially with the uncertainty that comes with COVID-19, can help you point your student toward information and assistance without being directly involved.
“Parents often serve as a vital conduit of information to their students,” said Beau Seagraves, the University of Georgia’s associate dean of students. “Students, whether or not parents realize it, listen to their parents and seek guidance and direction from their parents as they navigate challenges.”
One of the biggest changes for students making the transition from high school to college is navigating the academic system. An easy step is to encourage your student to explore Athena — the online portal used for things like registration, placement test scores and final grades. It’s a good idea to click on all the tabs and links to see what can be accessed.
Parents should encourage students to find information independently — not do the research for them. Ask questions such as “Where have you looked for help?” and “Who can help you and how do you contact them?” instead of jumping in to find answers yourself.
It’s not you; it’s them
Your child is in college, not you, experts reminded parents. “Parents are welcome to make the initial contact with Student Care and Outreach, but we will always want to connect with the student to ensure the student has an opportunity to share their own experiences and goals,” Seagraves said.
Adjusting to the freedom — and responsibility — of life on campus can be daunting for students. Parents can help students by directing them to ways to start helping themselves. Remember to listen to your student about their experiences.
If your student is experiencing stress, don’t brush it off. “Don’t relive the glory days of your college career,” said Liz Prince, director of health promotion and the Fontaine Center at the University Health Center. “This is your student’s experience.”
Think before you ask
Parents need to strike a balance between expressing interest in what’s going on with students and stepping back to allow students to resolve situations on their own. One way to do this is to phrase questions effectively, said Jennifer Hester, associate director of outreach and collaboration counseling and psychiatric services at the University Health Center.
This can be as simple as checking in on basic needs, such as asking about sleep, meals and exercise. "Consistently highlight and positively reinforce small successes,” Hester said. This is more effective than focusing on what a student hasn’t accomplished.
How you ask questions matters. “Avoid ‘why’ questions because they impose shame and blame,” Hester recommended. “Instead, a parent could ask, ‘Can you help me understand what led to that decision?’”
Keep your stress out of it
Be sure your student is aware of resources on campus, but don’t badger them about using the resources.
Another key strategy, Hester and other experts said, is to keep your issues out of the conversation. “It’s important for parents to have their own outlets and not to disclose their own worries and anxiety to the student,” she said.
Respect their privacy
Students and parents alike should know about what information is protected under FERPA privacy guidelines. University employees will not — and cannot — discuss academic and other information with parents unless students have given permission in advance. You can find more details about FERPA under the “general information” tab at reg.uga.edu.
When parents call Student Care and Outreach wanting details about what’s going on with students, the staff “often cannot provide specific context” because of privacy laws, Seagraves said.
But that doesn’t mean the office won’t help parents understand university policy and available options. “We always provide general information to parents and address their questions or concerns without violating a student’s privacy,” Seagraves said. “We also encourage parents to have their students contact our staff directly so we can address their specific needs.”