For all caring parents, equipping their child with the independence and skills necessary to survive and thrive after high school is a goal 18 years in the making. But when the moment finally comes, some parents can feel confused as to what exactly happens next. Now what? What can I expect during this transition? Fortunately, there are people who do know all about that first year of college. Christian college residence life staff members watch hundreds of freshmen pass through their dorms each year.
To help take the surprises out of that first year of college, residence life experts shared their advice with Christian College Guide about six things parents can expect to encounter during their child's freshman yearand how best to prepare themselves.
Expect to Let Go
Residence life experts acknowledge that sending a child to college is a big transition. Yet they recommend that parents view it as yet another step on the life-long parenting task of "letting go" and allowing children to make their own decisions.
"It's a lesson that's far from new, but remains the central challenge for most parents," said Shane Peters, assistant dean of student services at Pennsylvania's Waynesburg University. Most parents Peters has met in his 12 years of residence life experience understand what they must do: give their child the freedom to make his or her own life choices. However, what parents find challenging is knowing how to do it.
"Parents wrestle the most with the balance of letting go yet being involved with their student," said Kristi Keeton, associate dean for residential life at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. "You want to give enough direction so they have not been cast off without an anchor, but at the same time you want them to be able to make intelligent choices on their own."
Each year Peters observes about 400 Waynesburg freshmen navigate the freedom and responsibility of college life.
Most students learn by "trial and error," he said. The challenge for parents is to remain supportive yet resist the temptation to become "helicopter parents," who "hover" over every decision in an attempt to protect their child from risk or failure.
"When we talk to parents at orientation about avoiding the trap of becoming a helicopter parent, they give affirmative nods because it makes senseno parent wants to stunt the growth and maturity of their child by doing everything for them," said Peters."But while it's easy to acknowledge that 'in your head,' it's another matter to put it into practice."
Charlie Moore, director of residence life at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, tells the story of a parent who was experiencing a great deal of anxiety over her daughter's unhappiness with her roommates. The mother got on a plane, flew to the college and moved in with her daughter and her roommates for a full week in order to mediate her daughter's roommate situation for her.
"This example may seem extreme, but I've found it to be far more common in smaller doses," said Moore reflecting on his 20 years of residence life experience. "Parents often struggle to determine when to let their child figure things out on their own and when to intercede on their behalf."
Residence life experts recognize the dilemma parents face. Their advice: When in doubt, stay out.
"Let your student work out their issues and problems on their own," said Keeton. Students will learn valuable lessons from navigating their own challenges. Roommate problems can be a great learning ground for future relationships, she said. Problems with a professor can prepare them for future issues with their boss.