Even though there are some very practical issues associated with the transition of our young adult children, the big picture is that this time in our lives is really not about a transition from home to college-it is a transition from home to life! When we hug them goodbye on that first weekend of college-whether a residential or a commuter student-we are sending them off to life!
Students are trying to become self-sufficient adults and their college/university is trying to support and challenge them as they move from the dependence of home to the independence of life-after-college, whether that is graduate or professional school or their first professional position. For a chuckle, see "You might just be a 'helicopter parent' if . . . ."
As parents we have raised our children to embrace our family values. Now it is their time to continue their journey and develop an adult-adult relationship with us. Parents are trying to shift to demonstrating more guidance and less direction for students. Students are trying to "do it on their own." It is difficult, sometimes, to move from directive behavior to supporting behavior. It requires trust which students may have not fully earned yet. And it is difficult to watch them make choices that we think are not in their best interest and then watch them learn from those choices.
In general, students tend to enjoy two to three weeks of excitement around meeting new friends, figuring out how to navigate campus, and getting into a rhythm of classes. Around three to four weeks into classes, if they are residential students, they may start to experience homesickness. And, simultaneously, you, their parents and their younger siblings may also experience some homesickness-it isn't just for the college student! It is a good idea to acknowledge these emotions and to use them to schedule a visit about mid-October. Many colleges/universities in the WNY region have a fall break perfectly scheduled for a rendezvous. And, mid-October may be a time when much work is coming due and/or students may have had a first exam or paper grade, and their mood may be linked to how well or poorly they performed on these measures. It may also be that they are still figuring out how to manage multiple courses and multiple syllabi since most faculty members are not reminding their students about important deadlines looming-they just expect that students are paying attention to the deadlines.
Younger siblings still at home may be homesick for their older sibling who is away at college; they may also want to take-over a newly available bedroom. It is important to acknowledge the younger sibling's emotions and try to set up mutually agreed upon practices that may help. For instance, a regular phone call between the new college student and his/her sibling may be a nice practice that both of them will enjoy. And, if the younger sibling takes over his college sibling's room, then figuring out in advance where the college student will stay when home for extended breaks is important so that the college student sibling doesn't feel displaced while at home.
Keeping in Touch
Determine how you will stay in touch, keeping in mind that text messaging while your student is in class may be perceived as disrespectful by the faculty member teaching the class!
It won't happen to me!
Most campuses include orientation-both summer and fall-in their offerings to help students transition to campus life. Generally as part of these orientations there are sessions about academic issues such as how to study in college, how to ready for college courses, and what plagiarism is. It is typical for a first semester/quarter college student to say, "but nobody told me" when a first test score comes in much lower than high school marks. It is often only then that a student realizes that there is more to college than high school and some of the words of wisdom that were "dismissed" at orientation as, "that won't happen to me" can be revisited. Encourage your student to look at these situations as opportunities to learn instead of as failures. If marks are much lower than anticipated, encourage your student to seek assistance from an appropriate campus office such as Academic Advising or a Learning Center. If grades are acceptable but not at a high school level of performance, then your student may have some tweaking of study habits to do and sometimes friends from the same major can give helpful advice; it may be that your student (and you) may need to adjust to a "new norm" for grades at the post-secondary level.