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Parenting Your College Student

As a parent of a Roger Williams University student, you have become an important member of this community. We hope that this web page provides you with valuable information about the emotional lives of college students and their parents.

Common Themes

College is a time for exploration. As with all exploration, results cannot always be predicted, which can lead to anxiety for both the student and the parent. Deciding to attend Roger Williams University is in itself an exploration, and even the happiest of students may at times feel homesick or doubt his or herself.

This questioning, changing, and growing may at times seem to apply to every choice a student makes, from academic major to friends to how much contact they should have with their family. To the concerned parent, this may sound like a cry for help, a personal rejection, or the beginnings of a true crisis.

Understanding what is truly happening will involve patience and careful listening on your part. Most often, the true purpose of a phone call is to vent frustrations and fears, so the student feels heard and understood.

Once this is accomplished, students usually feel relieved and ready to move forward. However, for parents, a distressed phone call is often the beginning of a long night of worry, only to find out with the next day's phone call that from the student's point of view, everything is fine.

Prolonged behavioral changes such as: loss of appetite; difficulty sleeping; withdrawal from social activities; or avoidance of classes and other responsibilities could be signals that your student is experiencing more than difficulty adjusting. While every student is different, there are stages that most students frequently experience during college. Being prepared may help you to distinguish between a problem and a crisis.

Developmental Milestones

The college years represent an important developmental transition point as students begin to shift their focus from peers and family to forging their own identities.

For Freshman, transitioning out of the family home and into a diverse community of young adults presents a unique opportunity to shed their high school personas and begin to see themselves independent of how others see them.

Even if it appeared that your son or daughter was rebelling in high school, it is likely that your student's identity was still largely tied to their peer group and the values and expectations they were taught at home. Away from home, students typically set their own rules, explore their own interests, and may attend to their own reactions with less influence by others.

Sophomores may question their choice of major. They may feel for first time that the decisions they have made are irreversible and begin to connect their academic decisions to potential careers. Managing their feelings and translating them into productive decision-making can be an important process. Students need to be allowed free range to explore, which often means holding back some of those protective urges. Mistakes are a necessary part of the developmental process.

Juniors, having successfully navigated some of these new options and decisions, may begin to identify internally more as adults. They may seek greater stability in their living arrangements and relationships, and have a clearer sense of who they are and what they desire from life. This sense of autonomy may extend to home, as they look less to family to provide that sense of stability.

Some students may be less likely to go home for breaks, as they attempt to establish their own homes with friends. Creating their own emotional safety - the knowledge that they can take care of their own needs and problems - will be an important part of their development.

Seniors will inevitably face graduation with mixed feelings of excitement and uncertainty. They may spend much of this year trying to build their sense of competence and purpose. They may review their skills and reflect on what they have learned in college, consolidating their self-identity with a sense of meaning and clarity about their own strengths. This is also a time of good-byes, to friends and mentors as well as an important phase of life.

Trust the process!

Your son or daughter had many strengths when they lived at home. Those qualities traveled with them to Rhode Island and as parents you can help remind your student of all the challenges they have successfully faced.

Even if you have already sent a child to college, this one will be different. He or she may adjust to college life at a difference pace or complain more or less than a sibling.  Your student may inadvertently create for you some anxious nights wondering if he or she will stop feeling homesick, heal a broken heart, or ever decide who he or she is and what he or she wants to do with their lives.

There is no typical or steadfast way students come to these resolutions. As a parent, you can help your student trust in their own abilities to find the answers, and suggest seeking help when additional support is needed. A student need not reach a point of crisis to seek and benefit from counseling. Whatever the frustrations, learning about and connecting with your son or daughter as an adult may be one of the unexpected rewards of parenting during the college years.

If you have a concern about your son's or daughter's development, we encourage you to call us for consultation.

The Counseling Center
(401) 254-3124

The following titles may provide additional insight, reassurance, and guidance to parenting your son or daughter while in college.

When Kids Go to College
A Parent's Guide to Changing Relationships, by Barbara M. Newman and Philip R. Newman. Ohio State University Press, 1992.

The Parent's Crash Course in Career Planning
Helping Your College Student Succeed, by Marcia B. Harris and Sharon L. Jones. VGM Career Horizons, 1996.