Many students acknowledge that their parents played a critical role in determining what influenced them and continue to influence them. In many ways, parental behavior and the nature of the parent/child relationship influenced a student's decision to smoke, take drugs, become sexually active, and use contraception. Parental behavior also affected their child's choices to join a gang or participate in criminal activity. As a parent, you played and continue to play a vital role in helping your student avoid risky behaviors. Actively listening to what your child has to say will continue to pave the way for conversations about topics that concern you, but not listening to your student or not willing to accept different points of view can create tension between you and your child. If parents have a dominating parenting style and aren't knowledgeable about their student's activities and interests, it is more likely that their student will engage in risky behaviors. On the other hand, students who report feeling 'connected' to their parents are the least likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Supporting Your College Student
As your student takes on adult responsibilities, your role will change, but your student still needs you. Students need you to support their growth, development, and independence, and to be a stable force in their ever-changing world. On occasion, they even need your advice-but they may or may not ask for it.
Tips for Supporting Your Student
Support your student by staying connected. Communicate via phone, e-mail, IM, cell phones, and 'snail' mail. Students love to get real mail, especially care packages. Expect that your student will not respond to all of your contacts, but know that he or she appreciates hearing from you. Be sure to visit, but not too often.
Give your student the opportunity to share feelings and ideas with you. He or she is experiencing new viewpoints and perspectives that may challenge prior belief systems. Allow your student to explore ideas without being judgmental. Understand that changes in viewpoints, behavior, dress, eating and sleeping habits, and relationships with parents are all to be expected during the college years. However, if you suspect that some of these changes may be signs of bigger problems (alcohol or drug abuse, academic problems, etc.), refer your student to the Office of Counseling Services. Trust your instincts. Your student may need you to refer him or her to the appropriate resources for help.
Be Knowledgeable About Campus Resources
Utilize this website or read the Parent Calendar & Handbook. These resources are designed specifically for parents and provide a great deal of information about the University and its departments. Helping your student to navigate a large university by referring him or her to the appropriate resources is one of the best ways for you to mentor your college student during this transition to adulthood. By acting as a referral source, you can demonstrate that you are interested in your student's life at the University, and at the same time, you empower your student to solve his or her own problems.
Continue to Have Difficult Conversations
As a parent of a college student; you no longer have the same control that you once had. However, you do still have a tremendous influence on your son or daughter's behavior. In college, your son or daughter will have to make their own decisions about what time to get up in the morning, when to study, when to exercise, which organizations to participate in, whether or not to eat healthily, whether or not to drink alcohol, how much alcohol to drink if any, and whether or not to engage in sexual relationships. While you cannot force your student to behave exactly as you would want them to, parents can share their values and beliefs with their students on these topics. Studies show that parents influence their child's behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and risky sexual behavior even after their child leaves for college. Provide your student with the facts on these issues, and empower them to distinguish between good and bad decisions when it comes to their behavior, health, and safety. Create an atmosphere of open communication, and your student will not only appreciate that you respect him or her as an adult, but he or she will also be more likely to turn to you for guidance. (Source: Brigham Young University (2008, February 11). "Sex, Drugs and Alcohol: Parents Still Influence College Kids' Risky Behavior, Study Shows."
Ask Questions-But Not Too Many
Most first-year college students desire the security of knowing that someone from home is still interested in them. Parental curiosity can be alienating or supportive depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-student relationship.
Your student will change. College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. It's natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring. Often though, it's a pain in the neck. You can't stop change, you may never understand it, but it is within your power (and to you and your student's advantage) to accept it. Remember that your son or daughter will be basically the same person that you sent away to school.
Trust Your Student
College is also a time for students to discover who they are. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing