Parents of Iowa students vary as to the amount of indepenence they grant their first-year students, just as students vary in how much they want or can handle.
Kaitlin Shepherd, a junior from New Hope, Minn., recalls realizing that, for the first time, she could walk downtown without telling anyone where she was going.
“There was all this freedom,” she says.
But Shepherd’s parents chose to stay closely involved.
“It’s not necessarily a matter of ‘here are the courses you should take,’ ” Shepherd says. “But sometimes I’d say, ‘Here’s a course I’m thinking of taking,’ and my mother would say, ‘Will that course help if you want to teach?’ I’m a double major in music performance and history, so I have to be careful what I take. I see it as my parents looking out for what’s good for me.”
Debora Liddell, an associate professor in counseling, rehabilitation, and student development, part of the College of Education, says that this kind of involvement is not uncommon.
“The parents of this generation have been much more involved in parenting than the previous generations,” Liddell says. “It’s likely that instead of their child hopping on a bike and riding to a playground for a pick-up game of basketball, they’ve been signed up for and driven across town by their parents to an organized league game. So, for some parents, it may seem natural to continue this involvement.”
Carrie Kiser-Wacker, assistant to the director of Residence Services, says residence halls are a great place for students to gain skills in independence.
“It’s important that parents give kids a chance to learn that their decisions have consequences,” she says. “Fortunately, here they can learn that lesson with a safety net.”
In the residence halls, the safety net includes a professional, experienced staff of hall coordinators and assistant hall coordinators—live-in professionals—as well as carefully selected and trained resident assistants (RAs). And all students also have access to Student Health Services, Public Safety, and University Counseling Service.
Sunny Wilson, a first-year student who lives in Stanley Residence Hall, is proud of managing her checking account and savings accounts, but says she still notifies her parents of any large purchase.
“I’m looking forward to going home to Muscatine this summer to see my parents, but living in the residence halls is a good way to be independent but still get all your meals provided,” she says. “I’m away from my parents, but I have new friends who act as advisers, so I can talk things over with them.”
Giving students the chance to develop and control their own college careers is not just an academic goal. In many cases, it’s also the law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) mandates that the University can communicate certain information only to a student. Unless the student signs a waiver, the University cannot give the information to parents. This includes grades, address changes, billing information, discipline sanctions, and contracts for housing and meal plans.
“Students, not parents, are responsible for reapplying for room and board each year,” says Maggie Van Oel, director of Residence Services. “Students will get information in early February about renewing their contracts. They have about 10 days to sign and return them. Every year, some students don’t make the deadline, so they face finding another place to live.”
So, while you can remind your student to sign up for next year’s room and board, you can’t do it for them. It’s all part of the learning process.
“Parents may have a tendency to want to fix everything, every complaint, every challenging situation,” Liddell says. “It’s difficult to control the impulse to bail out your kids, because that impulse comes from a deep and loving place. But I would encourage parents of college students to sit on that impulse for a while.”
If parents bail their students out of tough situations, Liddell says, the student learns that they will, rather than learning skills to solve their own problems.
“They need our confidence in their abilities,” she says. “Whenever we fix their problems for them, we rob them of the opportunity to cash in on that confidence. Our children don’t quit needing us. They just need us in different ways.”
When senior Rachel Norman of Berwyn, Ill., came to Iowa, she and her parents decided she would be on her own, without financial backing from her parents. Decisions would be entirely hers to make.
“I love my parents. It isn’t that there’s a problem,” she says. “While I was forced to be independent and I made some mistakes as a result, the process of having to make all decisions on my own has been basically good. I am quite able to fend for myself.”
It hasn’t been easy, she admits, but her experience is paying off. When she graduated last May, she was ready to get her degree in African American world studies and “get stuff done,” thanks to the independence she achieved at Iowa.
By Anne Tanner