Watching your child get ready for college can be painful. They’re supposed to be packing, but instead you find them lying in a pile of school photos. They stay out until morning, and sleep ’til noon. Mail arrives from The University of Iowa and sits, unopened. Will your child ever be organized enough, punctual enough, mature enough to manage without you?
It’s a concern for many parents of first-year students.
“Parents of this generation are more involved than previous generations,” says Debora Liddell, an associate professor in counseling, rehabilitation, and student development in the College of Education. “It’s likely that instead of biking to a playground for a pick-up game of basketball, parents signed up and drove their child to an organized game. For some parents, it may seem natural to continue this involvement.”
But at college, students need to test their independence.
“Parents need to 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 Service, Public Safety, and University Counseling Service, and each student meets with an academic advisor 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, 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 students, and they are free to share that with parents or guardians. However, when it comes to most information, decisions and communication must come from or be requested by students themselves. Of course, we’re available to give assistance or answer any questions.
“Our web site is designed to keep parents informed of important dates, issues, and ways to support their student. Residence Services staff members are happy to talk to parents, but we can only talk about general policies and procedures, not specific information about a 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.
“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.”
Liddell suggests thinking about what students learn when their parents take care of a tough situation for students.
“Rather than learning problem-solving, they learn ‘mom and dad will bail me out,’ ” Liddell says. “They need our confidence in their abilities. Whenever we fix their problems, 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 life on their own, they may appreciate their parents more.
“It was kind of a drag doing my own laundry,” says Michael Albarracin, a May 2005 grad from Virginia Beach, Va. “And I had to get my own food.”
When he was home, Albarracin loved that his mother cooked meals that were his childhood favorites.
“But overall, she treated me like an adult,” he says. “Parents can help the most by making suggestions but not making the decisions—that defeats the purpose. If you do that, kids miss out on what’s really important.”
By Linzee Kull McCray