Staying in Touch with Your College Student

College Parent Tips: Set Expectation for Communication

Aug 12, 2019 | Article, Transitioning

As high school seniors choose the colleges they’ll attend this fall, many parents are finding that a Relationships 101 course is not only a good idea, it’s required.

A 2018 Survey of College Parents revealed that 36% of parents surveyed communicate daily or multiple times per day with their student.

It is important to get the right balance and for parents to clarify their expectations.  First a foremost, this is about being clear that even though your student may not be an adult for legal purposes, that their safety and well-being is a primary concern for all college parents.

At the same time – as parents and families – we need to also be aware that many parents suffer from empty-nest syndrome – a feeling of sadness, loneliness and grief when their kids come of age and leave home. While there are no clear statistics, experts say the problem is especially common among parents whose children are leaving for college.  So this is not about you as a parent (though it may feel like your heart is living away from you….) this is about the well-being and safety of your student.

As a result, we recommend that parents and soon-to-be college students talk early and often about the changes that are coming to prevent a sudden void on either end.

Here are five communication tips for new college families:

  1. In the early weeks, be clear that you will communicate with your student frequently.  Establish from the start that you both may want to communicate more often at the start but it won’t always be that way.
  2. As a parent – be satisfied with a text message or message.  It is nice to hear your student’s voice, but don’t count on it. 
  3. Demonstrate confidence in your student’s judgement while reminding them to be on-guard for their safety.  Parents often know best the strengths and vulnerabilities of their students so don’t avoid them – share those concerns honestly and directly with your student.
  4. Respect time – ask up front is this a good time to speak.  Generally speaking – don’t call college students early on weekend mornings and expect a good result.
  5. Ask questions without putting your student on the defensive.  This can be as tricky as speaking with your spouse, so think carefully of the questions you ask and when you ask them.   For example – asking – what are you plans for the weekend can come across more sincere then asking – what did you do last night! 

“If families aren’t very successful at communication when it’s not a high transition time, they usually don’t get any better during the transition,” says Kay Kimball Gruder, a certified parent coach and founder of Successful College Parenting. “Good communication has a ripple effect on sharing expectations. Have an honest conversation about what the student might want and what the parent expects.”

That’s important, says Vicki Nelson, a former resource editor of College Parents of America and academic advisor at Curry College in Milton, Mass.

“I think sometimes as parents, we don’t trust that enough,” Nelson says. “What parents don’t realize is how often their students quote their parents to us. Students are coming with those values.”