Back-to-school can bring up many emotions for parents. One of the more emotional and difficult transitions can be when a child goes to college. We recently asked the readers of Empowering Parents about the challenges and concerns they have about their child attending college, and we received some great responses (You can view the full results of the poll by going here). Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll. Below are our readers’ top 3 concerns as their child heads off to college.
1. My Child’s Safety. Many parents are understandably concerned for their child’s safety at college. Media reports of crimes such as sexual assault, shootings, riots and arson around college campuses are not uncommon, in addition to prevalent alcohol and drug use. While you can’t be there to help your child stay safe, you can share your concerns with them. Have a problem-solving conversation with your child about some common scenarios, and how they can stay safe.
Some things college students can do to stay safe:
- Be aware of their surroundings (this includes being sober, as well as not wearing headphones/earbuds or being distracted by technology)
- Walk on well-lit pathways at night and with others if possible
- Know how to contact campus public safety officials
- Subscribe to any campus mass notification system in place
- Let others know their schedule and whereabouts
- Lock the door when sleeping or leaving
- Keep keys and valuables secure at all times
- Have a “buddy plan” if going out at night; agree to keep an eye out for one another.
Campus sexual assault, in particular, is gaining increased visibility as a public safety issue at many colleges across the country. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization, has more advice and information for parents of college-bound students in their article Have You Had the Talk? For support around sexual violence, you can reach them by visiting www.rainn.org or by calling their free, confidential 24/7 hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
2. Paying for College. Let’s face it, higher education is expensive, and it does not appear that costs will be going down anytime soon. With numerous stories in the media about recent graduates struggling to find jobs and facing crippling student loan debt, it’s no wonder that many parents try to take on financial responsibility for their child’s education in order to eliminate or reduce that burden for their child. If that works for you and your family, that’s great! If this is not working for some reason, (for example, if your child is repeatedly failing classes or you are struggling to make ends meet) it’s OK to step back from taking on this responsibility. Once your child turns 18, anything you choose to provide is considered a privilege—including tuition.
One strategy for parents who are wondering whether to continue paying for their child’s college education is to think about it as an investment, like a stock portfolio. If you are repeatedly getting a bad return, chances are you are going to make some changes in your investment strategy. It’s important to have clear communication with your child about how much financial support you are willing and able to provide and the terms of that support. Do some brainstorming with your child about how they can help make up any difference between the amount you can contribute and the costs incurred. If they aren’t willing to do this, it will be most effective to step back and let your child figure it out on their own. Let them experience any natural consequences that come from their decisions.
3. I Don’t Know What’s Going on with My Child on a Daily Basis. When your child goes away to college, it can be quite an adjustment for everyone. When you are used to the day-to-day minutiae of living with someone, updates via phone calls, emails, text messages and social media just aren’t the same. Many parents feel hurt, frustrated and/or worried if they don’t hear from their child every day. It’s helpful to keep in mind that this is a normal part of your child’s development. Teens and young adults need to develop their own identity outside of the family, and create their own life path. It’s probably not a personal attack on you, or your child trying to hurt your feelings. It’s more likely due to your child acclimating to their new environment: new classes, new professors and a new social scene to navigate.
It can be helpful to develop a self-care plan for times when you are feeling anxious or hurt by the drop in communication that typically happens when kids go to college. Get back into a hobby you once enjoyed or start a new one. Enroll in an adult education course. Talk with friends who may be going through the same thing. Of course, these are just examples; the real key is finding something that you enjoy doing to help you get through this time.
College is a big change on a lot of levels. As with most transitions, it is normal to feel anxiety about what might happen, and what outcomes may result. Recognize this as a normal part of the process, and remember to take care of yourself too!
Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.