Our daughter just started college, which is an exciting but nerve-wracking transition for our family. We want to be supportive and give her independence, but we already are worried about how things will go for her academically and socially. How can we best support her without hovering?
Concerned Over College
Dear Concerned Over College,
Starting college is a stressful and exciting time for students and parents alike. Students face major transitions in adapting to a new environment, possibly being away from home for the first time, and managing new social and academic demands. Parents often find themselves in new roles as their children take on more independence. Here are a few tips to help pave the way for a successful adjustment:
1. View adjusting to college as a process. Don’t be surprised if your student struggles, makes some major mistakes, or takes a winding path toward goals. Students feel a lot of pressure to succeed, typically from within themselves and because they don’t want to disappoint their parents. We sometimes forget that our greatest struggles are the richest opportunities for learning. Let your student know it is okay and normal to stumble.
2. Familiarize your student with supportive campus resources. Every student should be well-versed on where they can go for academic support, mental health support, and other needs that may arise. This may mean visiting those spaces with your student early in the school year.
3. Encourage your student to register with the school’s Disability Resource Center in case they need academic accommodations. This is a vital resource that gives students support and protection if anything related to their autism or health conditions interferes with their academic performance. Registering proactively allows students to gain access to individualized accommodations, which can include things like deadline extensions, offering additional time, or a quiet environment for testing, and adjusting assignments or communication to allow for social or processing differences.
4. Encourage your student to find organized avenues for building relationships. College provides much less structure for developing connections to peers and instructors. Some strategies that students may find helpful include joining clubs that are focused on a special interest, attending an instructor’s office hours on a regular basis, or living in a dorm that is designated for students within a particular major.
5. Be prepared for your role to change. Your student may not want you to stay involved in the same way you have previously. There may be conflict around everything from what your student should major in to how time should be spent. College years are tricky because students still need and benefit from family support, but they also need autonomy to define their own goals and figure out what works best for them. Students may want significant help with one task but demand complete independence with another.
6. Take care of yourself. Parenting is challenging, and the young adult years require a lot of adjustment. Connect with other parents and don’t be afraid to seek therapy yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure of how to best support your student.
Congratulations to you and your student, and best wishes on continued growth for everyone!
Meg Benefield, MSW, LICSW