For 12 years, your children have progressed through elementary grades, junior high school, and high school. Theyve come home every day. Youve known what they were doing, their joys and (sometimes) their low points. Youve been their taxi service until they earned a drivers license. School activities have dominated your family schedule.
While implanting a locator chip in your child is extreme, you do pride yourself on scheduling, coaching, counseling, and motivating the teenager in your life. You handle it with the same business-like efficiency you use at work. Your color-coded calendar on the refrigerator keeps the family on track.
Then comes high school graduation. All too soon, students leave for The University of Iowa. They come home only on some weekends and holidays. You dont know where they are at any given hour. Unless they choose to tell you, you dont know what is making them happy or sad, whether theyre skipping classes or getting into financial trouble. They arrange transportation by themselvesto fly to Cancún in March for spring break, using credit cards you didnt know they had.
From being the general running a small army, you become a sounding boardbut only if your student calls you to talk about problems.
The separation seems abrupt, but its signs set in before the student departs. Mike and Sherri Turner of Elgin, Ill., say they noticed that their daughter, Brittney, was beginning to distance herself from them even before she came to orientation in July.
Its kind of tough, Mike Turner admitted then. I think that independent attitude masks her fear. She wont admit that shes nervous.
He says he hopes Brittney will talk to them about her college experience.
Its exciting for us, he says. Weve done the college thing ourselves and were excited for her because we know the worlds shell be able to explore. But at the same time, Im a police officer, and Im a little concerned for her safety, if shell walk back to her residence hall from class at night, or attend a function where someone can slip something in her drink. It does concern me. Will she have enough money? What if she becomes sick?
Sherri Turner says that Brittneys distancing herself from them actually made it easier to get ready for her departure.
But I know well miss her terribly, she adds. Shes our only daughter, and shes been in a lot of activities in high school. Weve been accustomed to having her friends at our house. Our next child is five years younger it just wont be the same.
Some parents, accustomed to their children going to summer camps or other activities that take them away from home for weeks each year, seem less bothered by the change.
One parent at orientation, who did not want to be identified (My son would kill me! she explained), says, Its time to let my student grow up, make his own mistakes, and learn the consequences.
A Few Weeks Later
By mid-October, Brittney Turner summarizes her experience at Iowa in a telephone interview, with the sound of music and laughing women in the room: Its fun! she says, asking someone to turn down the volume.
She admits that her classes are different from those in high school, and chemistry, in particular, is a challenge.
But I want to be a physical therapist, so I have to do it, she says.
Her other courses are going well, especially Spanish and rhetoric, which she enjoys most, she says. And shes only been home twice so far. But she admits shes going through a difficult time from being separated from her parents.
Its hard, because Im really close to both of them, she says. Its really different being away from them. Im really homesick. But Ive made friends here and everything is going well, so its OK.
She attended her high schools homecoming in September and was able to reconnect with her friends in her class.
That was really good, she says.
Finding Their Balance
By six weeks into the academic year, Brittneys parents have settled in to a new reality, too. Sherri Turner says, Were doing pretty good. The worst was the time leading up to her leaving for Iowa, just the anticipation, getting ready. It was kind of sad.
Now we talk by e-mail, and on weekends we have free calling, so we talk then, Turner says. Shes been home twice so far, and were going out there for a football game later this month. The little visits back and forth help, I think, although Brittney did say that shes lonelier when shes here than when she goes back. I guess youd say that shes adjusting slowly, but OK.
But she cant resist a quip.
I dont have nearly as much laundry anymore! And the house stays cleaner. You know how it is with girls!
Counseling the Homesick Student
Ginger Russell, an adviser at the Academic Advising Center, says she likes working with first-year students.
They have high school mentalities when we first see them at orientation, she says. Theyre used to being helped by adults. Once they arrive on campus, it can be overwhelming. I know how homesick and afraid they really are, although they usually try not to show it.
Some act too cool for words, but Russell says she suspects they are more frightened than anyone else.
Russell says she talks with students, helps them express whats wrong, and tries to suggest that they get involved in activities to keep loneliness at bay. However, in extreme cases, Russell says, she calls the parents and tells them its time to pick up their son or daughter and go home.
They usually say, Isnt it too early? Wont it get better later? But I tell them the level of misery is too high.
While a few students do melt down, others are really eager and excited to be at Iowa.
Their biggest worry is not disappointing their parents, she says. Especially if they were sent to college with the prescription that they could not fail.
Nicole Wise, author of The Over Scheduled Child, suggests that parents need to find a balance when their children leave for college.
Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to raise a child who doesnt need you, she says. Parents do that not by overseeing every little detail of their kids lives, but by letting them have a little life of their own.
Campus Resources for Parents
How can parents best help and monitor their Hawkeye students without trying to live their lives for them? Fortunately, there are many ways to stay informed and offer helpful advice at the right minute.
The Parents Association web site, is a good one-stop source of information, from birthday cakes through financial aid. The telephone number is 319-384-0017.
The web site of the Office of Student Services lists a variety of University organizations and services that your student may want to use, from University Counseling Service to The Womens Resource and Action Center. If youd rather speak to a human being, call 319-335-3557 or 1-800-553-IOWA or write to the Office of Student Services at The University of Iowa, 249 IMU, Iowa City, IA 52242. University Counseling Service, a part of Student Services, welcomes calls from parents concerned about their students or looking for advice on counseling them. The office counsels students on academic, personal, or relationship issues, as well as career choice, communication skills, academic study skills, and diversity issues. The number is 319-335-7294.
The Student Services web site also has a link to the Policies Affecting Students in an easy-to-use format. It spells out the policy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment, that governs the release of student information to parents.
For questions of financial aid, student employment, reasonable academic progress, and other matters, go to the Office of Student Financial Aids web site. Click on Ask a Counselor for an on-line form to use when asking questions. Or call the toll-free number, 1-800-553-4692.
If your student is considering internships, externships, job-shadowing experiences, or summer employment, point to www.uiowa.edu/~careers.
A site for Student Health Service is at www.uiowa.edu/~shs. Students may submit questions anonymously, and answers are available to all visitors to the site.
Crime Prevention News, a bimonthly newsletter of the Office of Public Safety, may be found at www.uiowa.edu/~pubsfty. It has up-to-date crime statistics, crime alerts, and descriptions of programs your student may use.