The days are long, the years are short.
No parent knows this more than the one who is in a packed car right now, taking their child to college for the first time. Wasn’t it just yesterday that you dropped your kid off at kindergarten and worried if they would make a friend?
It’s time to let go, which is especially hard if you’ve been as my kids would say “up in their business” for 18 years.
Especially, if you’ve been that helicopter parent, now’s the time to land and let your kid take off. Last year a SMU study showed just how bad helicopter parenting can be on kids years later
The push and pull between adult and child that happens so acutely during senior year of high school and freshman year of college prompted mother-daughter team Margo Ewing Woodacre and Steffany Bane Carey to write the book “I’ll Miss You Too: The Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students”. Woodacre tells us: “It’s a tough thing, to really let go and trust.”
Here are some key things experts suggest parents and children hammer out before college starts (or ASAP for those of you in the car or who have already dropped off kids):
How will they pay for things? If they are not already on a separate bank account, get them on one now and have them start managing their funds. Will they need to work? How much money will they need to make? How much money will you give to them? What will happen if they need more money or overdraw their bank account? Will they have a credit card, and what will it be used for?
Do they know how to do laundry, make a bed and feed themselves? Seriously, check on this. If they’ve never run a washing machine, teach them; even if you have to go down to the dorm laundry room and show them there. Send them with some quick easy microwavable recipes for basic meals. Teach them about basic cleanliness and make sure they have the supplies in their dorm room to do it. Then let go. You’ve done your best.
What about the car? Are they bringing one with them? Where will they park? Do they know how often it needs to be tuned up or how to change a tire or whom to call in a roadside emergency?
How will you communicate? Do you expect daily phone calls or texts or do they just need to check in once a week, like we did when we went to school? You want to be in touch, but you also want to be wary of them not connecting with friends at school because they are always calling mom. If you’ve been that helicopter parent (and you know you are) that has known about every test and every social dilemma for the last 18 years, it’s time to get out of their day-to-day business.
What are the expectations about grades? What will happen if they fail a class? What grade-point average do they expect to have compared with what you’re expecting? How will they stay organized and on top of their assignments? Where can they go if they need academic help?
Talk about the bad things that can happen. Don’t lecture, but help them form a plan for when they’ve been drinking too much. Talk about the importance of safety in numbers and having friends who look out for you.
When will they come home and when will you visit? If you have a kid who is staying close to home, you need to set these parameters now. You don’t want the kid who comes home every weekend and doesn’t engage in college life. If your kid is prone to that, perhaps have a once-a-week or once-every-other-week dinner with him and invite him to bring his friends. You’ll make sure your child is connecting with people at college, but you won’t entirely cut him off, either.
What happens when they get sick? Does your child know where to go on campus for medical attention? Does your child know what to do about insurance and have his insurance card? Do they know how to get their medications?
What do they need to do before they get to school? Create a checklist of all the items they need to buy, all the arrangements that need to be made. Make them responsible for getting those things done.
How much time do you expect to be with them during school breaks? They want to be with their friends; you want to be with them. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
What are the rules when they come home? Is there still a curfew, which might seem silly after three months of no curfew? Can they just agree to let you know their plans and timing? When do you expect to see them? You’ve got to get on their calendar before they come home.
What will you do with yourself? This is an excellent time to find a new hobby, take up volunteer work or learn a new skill. You’ve earned a little you time.
Remember, while your child is in classes this semester and beyond, remember to resist the urge to handle everything for them. That might mean that if he runs out of money that month, you don’t refill his bank account. It might mean that you don’t ship her half the contents of her room that she forgot. It also means that you never ever ever get involved in solving his academic problems.
Ellen Bremen, a professor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash., wrote the book “Say This, Not That to Your Professor.”
Her best tips for students:
Don’t make excuses. A professor doesn’t care why you have to leave early, come late, miss class or turn in assignments late. An advance warning is nice if it comes with a proactive statement such as, “I’m going to miss next Thursday, but I have already read the chapter for that day and completed the assignment. Can I call you if I have more questions?”
Be proactive early. Need a certain grade to make your scholarship? Talk with the professor in the early weeks of class and ask what you will need to do to make that grade. Many professors also will read drafts of papers and give suggestions, if done in advance.
Turning in work late is better than not turning in any work at all. Most professors will include in the class syllabus the way late work will be handled, but if it’s not addressed, students should ask.
Be respectful of professors’ time. Don’t expect a professor to email you right back on a Saturday afternoon. Professors also might tell you on the syllabus or on the first day of class what their response time to emails might be.
Office hours are there to be used. Professors want you to talk to them. Most professors‘ contracts require them to make themselves available to you. You also can email them or call them to set up a time outside office hours.
Don’t like your grade? You have resources. Talk to the professor in a professional way first; then you can go to a department head.
Be respectful in the way you talk to your professor. Some professors don’t mind being called by their first names; others think it’s disrespectful. You should find out how your professor wants to be addressed.
The relationship you build with your professor can help long after class ends. It’s good training for the relationship you will later have as an employee with your boss. Professors also can cut through red tape if you need a class but can’t get it or need access to school resources. They also often have ties to your future career and can help with references or alerting you to jobs.
“I wish this book was handed to every single student walking in, ” Bremen says. “It’s a lesson in interpersonal communication.”
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