It’s a question that plagues many a parent of first-year students.
“The parents of this generation have been much more involved in parenting than the previous generations,” says Debora Liddell, an associate professor in counseling, rehabilitation, and student development in the University’s College of Education. “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.”
But at college, students need to test their independence.
“It’s important that parents give kids a chance to learn that their decisions have consequences,” says Carrie Kiser-Wacker, assistant to the director of Residence Services. “Fortunately, here they can learn that lesson with a safety net.”
In the residence halls, the safety net includes a professional, experienced staff of area coordinators and hall coordinators—live-in professionals—as well as carefully selected and trained resident assistants (RAs). All students also have access to Student Health Services, Public Safety, and University Counseling Service, and each student meets with an academic adviser who will help with negotiating academic requirements and choices.
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 share information with parents. This includes grades, address changes, billing information, discipline sanctions, and contracts for housing and meal plans.
“Our philosophy is to treat students as adults, so we need students to have a pivotal role in the application process,” says Von Stange, director of Residence Services. “All information is sent to the students, and they are free to share that information with their parents or guardians. However, when it comes to most information, decisions and communication must come from or be requested by the students themselves. Of course, we’re available to give assistance or answer any questions they may have.
“Our web site is designed to keep parents in the loop on a regular basis. We try to keep them informed of important dates, issues of concern, and ways they can support their student. Residence Services staff members are happy to talk to parents who call, but we can only talk about general policies and procedures, not specific information about any student.”
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.”
Education is the primary goal of college attendance, but only part of that gain in knowledge is acquired in the classroom. Liddell suggests thinking about what students learn when their parents bail them out of a tough situation.
“Rather than learning skills to solve their own problems, they learn ‘mom and dad will bail me out,’ ” Liddell says. “They need our confidence in their abilities. 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,” she adds. “They just need us in different ways.”
And once students learn to handle some of the big and little activities of life on their own, they may appreciate their parents more.
“It’s kind of a drag doing my own laundry,” says Michael Albarracin, a senior from Virgina Beach, Va. “And I have to get my own food. It’s not like my mom’s there saying, “I’m going to the store. Do you need anything?’ ”
When he’s home from school, Albarracin loves that his mother cooks meals that were his childhood favorites.
“But overall, she treats me like an adult,” he says. “Parents can help their kids the most by making suggestions but not making their decisions for them—that defeats the whole purpose. If you do that, kids miss out on what’s really important.”
By Linzee Kull McCray