Information for Parents
As a parent of a college student, both you and your child are experiencing an important transition. We've compiled the following resources to support you.
What Kinds of Changes Can I Expect to See in My Child?
When your child transitions to college, they are likely to try on new roles in an attempt to become more independent. Your child may want your help one day and reject it the next. This may be frustrating, as it’s hard for you to know what to expect.
Try to provide steady emotional support so your child knows you are there when needed. Respect that your child is trying to make good decisions, and be available for whatever level of support or guidance he or she seeks from you.
Independent Decision Making
Your child may want to make decisions or solve problems in ways that are different than what you suggest. This can be hard for parents who want the best for their children and believe they know what’s best.
It can be very difficult to step back as if you were not invested in their success, because you are. Share your concerns, and also confirm your awareness that as emerging adults, they are responsible for solving their own problems. You can act as a coach or guide, but remember that your child may not always take your advice. Ask what kind of support your child needs, and trust what is requested.
College requires that students take responsibility for themselves. They must manage their own challenges, including monitoring their own academic tasks, handling their own finances, navigating their own relationships, taking care of their own health and wellness, and making big decisions regarding their major and intended career.
If these responsibilities are fairly new for your child, they may feel overwhelming. Balance your support with encouragement, and trust that your child can navigate these transitions and emerge successfully. Try not to engage in excessive “rescuing” along the way.
Your child will be exposed to a host of new people, perspectives, cultures, ideas, and experiences in college. Students are expected to broaden their horizons and learn in ways that stretch them beyond their comfort zones. They do not have to internalize beliefs or value systems different from their own, but they must respect them and demonstrate civility as they learn and grow. This exposure can be at once freeing and stressful.
Students sometimes have difficulty adapting to the new environment and expectations of college. They may struggle with their academic requirements, with their interpersonal relationships, and even with their own mental health. They don’t have to struggle alone.
Multiple resources are available from the Division of Student Affairs to assist students in their adjustment to college. Familiarize yourself with these services so that you can refer your child to seek help appropriately. Be encouraging and supportive, and openly express how much you believe in their ability to succeed.
How Can I Support My Child Through These Changes?
Make sure your child knows you are available to listen, provide support, and offer guidance as desired. Try to avoid judgment and excessive advice-giving. Be patient as your child experiments with new ways of being, even if you disagree with some of his or her choices. Seek to understand your child throughout this learning and growing process. And be aware of signs that your child may be experiencing significant emotional distress or a potential mental health problem.
What Potential Signs of Distress Should I Be Aware Of?
Students can experience emotional distress for a variety of reasons. Many students are able to get through stressful times on their own without significant impact on their emotional or behavioral functioning.
Some students, however, have more difficulty coping with distressing situations and/or struggle with mental illnesses. In such cases, you may see some of the following symptoms:
- Uncharacteristically poor work
- Dropping grades
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive absences
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Isolation from family and friends
- Extreme defensiveness
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Irritability, agitation, or restlessness
- Inappropriate responses and/or disjointed thoughts
- Intense, dramatic, or volatile emotion
- Anhedonia, loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Physical harm to self
- Verbal or written references to distress, including suicidal/homicidal thoughts or plans
You likely know your child better than almost anyone else. If you notice behavior that is unusual for them, and if you feel concerned about these changes, trust your instincts. Talk openly and supportively with your child, and refer them to seek counseling.
I Think My Child Would Benefit From Counseling. How Do I Make a Referral?
Talk to your child privately. Share your observations with statements such as: “I’ve noticed that you’re spending more time alone.” or “You’ve seemed sad lately.” Express your concerns with statements: “I’m concerned that you might be struggling and could use some help.” Familiarize yourself with the services available at the Counseling and Wellness Center and share this information with your child. Normalize help-seeking as a healthy behavior and encourage them to do so.
What Services Do You Offer?
We offer individual, couples, and group counseling, and crisis intervention services. Students who are currently enrolled full time in classes are eligible for short-term counseling and group sessions.
I Would Like to Know How My Child Is Doing. Can I Call His or Her Counselor?
We know you care about your child’s well-being. It is natural to want to know how they’re doing. Please rest assured that our staff is highly trained and dedicated to providing quality care to your child.
But your adult child has a legal right to privacy and confidentiality that we must respect. As a result, we cannot give you information about your child without your child’s written permission, except under emergency circumstances.
If your child is a minor (under 18 years of age), we encourage you to extend this expectation of privacy and confidentiality to your child and allow them to engage in counseling on their own. Older teens often utilize counseling to discuss issues that they may not feel comfortable sharing with family. Talking to a counselor can help them work through struggles and move forward in healthy ways.