Anatomy of the Freshman Year - for Parents


What Your Student Experiences

  • Everything is new: Living Space, routine, relationships, responsibilities, expectations, freedom. There are so many transitions at one time. The exhilaration of beginning a new season of life may be tempered by sadness over perceived losses and insecurities.
  • Excitement over freedom is coupled with homesickness. They may crave familiar surroundings, friends, food, or belongings.
  • Students often judge themselves by the abilities and accomplishments of their classmates and wonder whether they fit in or can make it at college. "Am I smart enough?" and "Will I have any friends?"
  • Emotions may fluctuate widely. One day they may report loving college and the next say they want to come home. This is normal and to be expected.
  • They may not know anyone at college, which can be challenging or a relief, depending on your student. Some students relish the opportunity to reinvent themselves, while others may be daunted by starting over.

What Parents Experience 

  • Excitement. Your student is now a young adult on the verge of a new life. 
  • Fear. Your student is now a young adult on the verge of a new life.
  • There are lots of unknowns and you may be anxious about your student's safety, level of maturity, and ability to make positive choices. 
  • Excitement over freedom, even though you miss your student. Let's face it, parenting teenagers is hard work. The day-to-day, hands-on tasks with them are done, leaving room for you to start a new hobby or just enjoy the quiet. 
  • Emotions may fluctuate widely. Just like your student, you have mixed emotions about the transition.
  • You may feel compelled to call or text or student frequently, just to see if they're okay.

What Parents Can Do

  • Know that your role is changing. the natural task of a developing child is to separate from parents in preparation for independence. At few other times is this task so pronounced. Your job is now to mentor, support, encourage, and guide, without the control that you once had. They still need you, just in a different way than before.
  • Talk with your student about expectations regarding academics, money, social life, and alcohol and drug use. Encourage them to share openly and be sure to listen. The more receptive you are, the more likely that communication will remain open. You don't have to like or approve of everything your student does, but you do want to maintain your opportunity to influence and guide them. 
  • Encourage your student to be independent and responsible. Be ready to brainstorm about dilemmas but don't "rescue". You can talk through potential next steps and support your student as mistakes are made and lessons are learned.
  • Allow your student to experience consequences for actions.
  • Encourage your student to become active on campus by joining student organizations and participating in campus or residence hall activities. Going to beginning-of-year informational meetings is a great way to meet people who share interests. Research shows that an involved student tends to be a successful student.
  • Become familiar with campus resources so you can refer then for help when they need it. Whether the tutoring center, counseling office , or housing assistance is needed, you'll be able to suggest a source.
  • Ask your student how often you should make contact, then be willing to renegotiate as they become more comfortable in their new surroundings. Remember, you want to launch a capable, confident, competent young adult.


Resources for Parents

College Parent Central