I post this article every year at this time, because every year there’s a whole new crop of students heading off to college. Here’s to giving your child and your family the best four years possible!
Your son’s about to leave for college, and there are a thousand things you want to talk to him about before he goes.
This month, take him out for a special celebratory dinner — and include these 6 things in the dessert conversation. You’ll make the next four years much, much easier on your family and on him.
1) “Let’s talk about how often you want us to call you while you’re away at college.”
Parent, you might want to say something like this: “We hear that a lot of college families schedule a specific once-a-week time for parents to call. How would Sundays at 1 pm work for you? We can always change the time later on if another time works out better.”
Of course, you can call or text us any time. We’ll always be happy to hear from you.”
2) “Let’s talk about how often you’d like us to visit you at college.”
“We’ll come for special performances or games, of course – and then maybe one time a semester besides that to take you out to dinner? Tell us what would feel good to you.”
3) “Son, let’s talk about what life will look like when you come home on college breaks.”
“When you come home on college breaks, we expect that you’ll be considerate and kind to all the people in our home — just as all responsible adults are when visiting someone else’s house.
We’ll ask that when you’re staying with us during a college break and you go out for a day or for an evening, you’ll let us know where you’re going and when you plan to be back so we’ll have no reason to worry.
We’ll ask that when you’re staying with us during college breaks you’ll ask before having overnight guests, keep your room tidy, and cheerfully pitch in with family chores such as meal preparation, vacuuming, and doing dishes. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?
Oh, and one other thing — remember that staying at our house is free for you! We’re glad to have you live with us rent-free as long as you’re enrolled in (and making good progress through) a full time academic or job training program. If you decide at any point not to go to school anymore, that’ll be OK; we can work out some market rate rental payments for you.”
(Be kind and cheerful, but firm as you say this, parents. It may one day be the boundary that protects you from having to support college-dropout adult children into their 30’s and beyond.)
4) “Just so you know, we think you have a great head on your shoulders, so our plan is to not get all involved in your business over the next four years.”
“Our plan is to step aside and let you think through and solve your own problems. If you’d like some suggestions on where to look to find helpful resources when problems come up, we’ll be glad to help you brainstorm some ideas — but pretty much we’re going to look to you to take charge of things.”
Parents, the healthiest goal you could have at this point is to let go of your college-age child — freeing him to make his own responsible (or irresponsible) decisions and live with whatever happens as a result. (If you’ve been reading my email newsletter and my blog posts regularly, don’t worry — you’ve got plenty of tools for protecting yourself financially from your child’s bad decisions.)
Recently, a career services firm called Experience, Inc. did a study of more than 400 college students and recent college grads. Of the students surveyed, 25% reported that their parents were so involved in their college life that it was either annoying or embarrassing.
Don’t be that parent.
With the exception of serious mental health issues — if your son has a minor difficulty or a mild crisis or makes the inevitable poor decision in college, stand aside and let him solve the problem. Let him develop his own competencies. Respond with genuine empathy, and then immediately hand the problem back to him to solve.
Here are some great parent responses brought to us by the child-raising experts at loveandlogic.com:
“Oh, no. That stinks.”
“That’s interesting; tell me more about that.”
“Wow. What are you gonna do?”
“So what’s your plan now?”
“I wonder what resources there are on campus that you could tap into to get help with that?”
5) “That said, Son, if you ever end up with a mental health problem of any kind — we want to help.”
“There are some college students who get away from home and find themselves really struggling with depression, with anxiety, with a stress disorder, with a sexually transmitted disease, with an eating disorder, with the aftermath of a sexual assault, with drug or alcohol addiction, or with something else. If this happens to you, we want to know. Don’t worry that we’ll flip out or freak out. We can handle whatever life hands us. We want to help. Just let us know, and we’ll get you the best help available. Remember, there’s a counseling center on your college campus too – you can always go there to talk to someone as well.”
6) “If you experience an out-and-out crisis during college, we’ll want you to try to finish the semester if you can, but after that take a break.”
I (Jeannie) once had a med school application client at getintomedschool.com whose single mother had died of cancer during my client’s sophomore year of college. If I’d have been there at that time I’d have said: “Don’t try to do college right now! Just concentrate on getting through this crisis! Don’t worry — taking a break from college won’t wreck your future med school application!” What her well-meaning extended family members told her, though, was: “I know this is hard, but you’d better not drop out of college for this. The gap might not look good on your med school applications.” (Not true!!)
The result of this terrible advice was my client, lying in a hospital bed beside her dying mother, with one arm around her mom and her other arm cradling a chemistry book!
Tell your son that you wouldn’t want him to do this to himself. If he comes down with a terrible illness or there is a devastating death in the family, you’d hope that he’d try to finish the semester if possible and then take a “leave of absence” break to recover. The “gap” will be easy to explain. Even a string of “W”s (withdrawals) on a transcript can be easy to explain (though painful to pay for) if that’s absolutely necessary. The blow to a student’s GPA if he tries to stay in school while not 100% engaged, though, could be very hard to bounce back from later.
Would you like to know what to do first to get your kids through college debt free – even if you can’t save a penny?
Grab the free, full-color e-Book at the top of this site. You’ll quickly get ten great ideas you can use right now – whether your kids are in high school or in diapers.
Then, watch for my upcoming book LAUNCH: How to Get Your Kids Through College Debt Free and Into Jobs They Love Afterward (due out in 2016). This book will provide clear, step-by-step instructions on how to get your kids through college debt free and into a great job afterward — starting in middle school.
Do you have friends who are sending kids off to college this fall?
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What about you? What additional topics do you think parents need to communicate to college students early on? Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.
Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full time author, academic consultant, and speaker. Her writing helps parents set their kids up to graduate college debt free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. She also helps students apply to medical school at her website GetIntoMedSchool.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JBurlowski.