Parenting Your College Freshman

    Expert advice on what to do after they leave.

    by Jeremy Weber

    It's finally happened. You've unloaded the car, said your goodbyes, and now you're on the long, quiet drive home after dropping off your new college student at their dorm. Now what?

    We asked student development experts from six Christian colleges for advice on what parents can do to help their child make a healthy transition to college life.

    Our panel of student development experts:

    Dr. Alvin Austin University Chancellor at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas

    Princess Fox Director of Student Programs at Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon

    Linda Gresham Director of New Student Orientation at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma

    Mark Patterson former Director of Career Services at University of Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

    Norm Slosted former Vice President for Student Affairs at Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas

    Dr. Todd S. Voss President at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, South Carolina

    What should I do before my child leaves for college to ease the transition?

    Mr. Patterson: Start to treat your son or daughter like they are ready to move on, and talk about the transition. Ask your child what you can do differently to make them feel better about preparing for college, and equip them with skills like how to write a check and do their laundry.

    Ms. Gresham: During the summer before they leave, provide meaningful family times together. I've known some parents who've made a memory book of the high school years. More than anything, pray together as a family.

    Ms. Fox: Let your son or daughter know that this is a transition and learning process for you, too. Showing that you will be OK with the transition will help your student feel better.

    Dr. Voss: Take a "slow cooker" approach—make the preparation process last and linger. Don't procrastinate on buying and packing things so that you have a panicked surge at the end. Give your student time to process and mentally prepare for what is coming.

    Once I've dropped my child off at college, what should I do in the next 24 hours?

    Mr. Slosted: Allow your student to be on their own. Make yourself available if they need something, but let them initiate the contact.

    Ms. Fox: Give them space, but realize you don't have to completely leave them alone. If you'd like to, it's fine to call to see how your student is doing—but only once at the most. The conversation itself is more important than its content, because it provides students with a still-familiar thing in their lives.

    Dr. Voss: Pray for your child, and also pray for peace for yourself. Recognize that this transition is often more difficult for parents. As soon as you left campus, your child started on a wonderful adventure.

    How much autonomy or space should I give my child?

    Mr. Slosted: Have a conversation about how much both of you want or need to talk. Explain that you will miss them and ask how often they would like to hear from you. Discuss and negotiate your needs beforehand. This creates shared expectations instead of unspoken ones.

    Ms. Gresham: Give them leeway in structuring their new life. Refrain from trying to organize their dorm room, including which drawer to put their socks in.