Reaching Out: The New Rules
Just because you can communicate with your student anytime, day or night, doesn't mean you should. "Years ago, students had to wait in line for a pay phone down the hall to call home," says Tom Ellett, Ph.D., senior associate vice president for student affairs at New York University. "These days, families face the challenge of deciding how connected they should be." While parents and kids are closer than ever—the cost of education has parents especially invested in their students—it's important to give them space, Ellett says. So how much calling, texting and video chatting is too much? "The key to communicating is not how often, but what you engage about," says Ellett. "It's fine to check in, but a parent shouldn't become a fourth roommate, an academic advisor or a career counselor. Let the university do its work."
Family psychologist Sachs agrees that parents and students need to find a balance. "The technological umbilical cord that exists today can reduce separation anxiety, but it can also prevent young adults from learning to solve problems on their own," he explains. Plus, having an instant connection to everything that is not on campus—like family and friends from back home—gives students less incentive to seek new relationships, add Rodolfa.
Sachs recommends setting up a collaborative game plan before your student leaves. Ask, "Will you tell me if I am being overly involved?" On the flip side, make clear your expectations for staying in touch, like picking a time to chat at least once a week.
Missing Mom and Dad
"If your kid calls saying she's homesick, don't respond with, 'l'll be there in two hours,'" says Jones. Instead, reassure her that it's natural to feel lonely now. Normalize the experience by reminding her it's common and not a sign of weakness. According to Jones, many homesick kids just haven't connected with anyone on campus yet.
Encourage your student to get more involved, whether it's with the French club, a hiking group or the ultimate Frisbee team. And try not to let her come home every weekend, or she might not feel as motivated to find friends.
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