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supporting from a distance for parents of residential students

The student's "complaint" call

In "The Art of College Parenting" David Coleman says that "um-hum" is a must in the lexicon of a parent listening to a college student.  It is important because it is easy, as he says, "to knee jerk react" while hearing what a student has to say.  Instead, he suggests, listening and saying "um-hum" followed by "what I hear you saying is . . . ."  And, instead of listing options for students, it is important to ask the student what options s/he sees in a given situation.  And, it's important to empower the student to take action to empower those options (without nagging) which can be a delicate balance. 

Difficult news to share

Sometimes there is difficult news to share from home with a student (newly diagnosed illness; death of a loved one).  IF possible, try to honor the student's schedule as sharing that news can often wait an hour or two until the student has completed a difficult exam or finished a lab practical.  And, if sharing that difficult news can be supported by personnel at the college, the residence life staff and dean of students' offices can be particularly helpful.  Parents often want to know that until they can see the student and give him/her hugs in-person, someone else knows the difficult news and will be with the student as s/he receives the news.  Resident assistants can be particularly helpful as can trusted roommates.  And, of course, if the difficult situation requires that a student be gone from campus for a day or longer, connecting with faculty members and/or the Registrar's office to notify of a student absence is essential.

Unscheduled visits: 

Typically, unscheduled visits are not a good idea.  There may be disappointment on both sides-the parent side because you may not find your student available and if available, you may be met with less than childish enthusiasm because of the student's existing plans-to study for an exam, to spend time with friends, or to go out on a date.   The student may feel torn between a desire to spend time with the family s/he loves or to carry-on with already existing plans.  The student may also wonder what is wrong when family members appear unannounced, since "bad" news is often better delivered in person. It is better to schedule visits in advance so that both parties can plan their schedules in advance and the time together maximized.

Long distance relationships: 

Perhaps your student has gone away to college involved in a relationship that becomes long-distance-both could be away at college; one could still be in high school, one could be in their hometown working while the other goes away to school.  Whatever the circumstance, this can be a challenge for your student.  Dave Coleman, in the Art of College Parenting, provides some statistics about long-distance relationships for both students and their parents.  They follow:

50% of long distance relationships fail within the first year; 90% fail within two years. Why such high failure rates?  
  • Couples "force" communication everyday when not enough has happened in their lives between phone calls to provide them with interesting conversation;
  • The partner at school begins to feel resentment because s/he has stopped participating in campus activities because the explanation of who was there and why it was so fun without the partner-at-a-distance gets too hard.

They can work, and often do IF:

  • The time for the distance apart is a year or less;
  • Couples share the same faith base so they have similar grounding;
  • They see each other at least every two months.

Taking a car to campus

Most campuses in WNY allow residential students to have cars on-campus.  Students with cars will need to make themselves aware of campus parking regulations related to overnight parking, which sometimes change for the winter season because of snowplowing.  The decision is one for the family to make.  Realize that having a car sometimes helps a student avoid becoming immersed the life of the campus they have chosen because it is too easy to drive home or visit friends at other campuses.