Parents Negotiate New Dynamic With Kids at College
July 02, 2010
The relationship between a parent and child changes once a child goes off to college, and that's "a natural part of what's supposed to happen," said Tracy Knofla, the featured presenter at a special session for parents during Stonehill's Summer Orientation 2010.
"Children begin to discover who they are supposed to be as people," said Knofla. "The college helps by offering career counseling and personal counseling. Parents can help by not imposing their will on the kids."
Students will search for their identity, sometimes choosing a completely different career path than the one they planned in high school. They will develop intellectual curiosity, grow in independence and develop relationships - face-to-face, adult relationships, not "4,000 virtual friends on Facebook," said Knofla.
"Entering college is a time of change for the entire family," said Knofla. "In most cases it's a wonderful time for everyone. You've come to the right place to reduce the worries that parents might have, because Stonehill is a sharing community committed to the success of kids."
Jim Hermelbracht, director of Student Activities, said 600 parents heard Knofla's two-hour presentation, "Understanding Your College Student," offered on June 21 and 24. It was a high-energy, dynamic talk that had parents literally "rubbing elbows" to get acquainted.
Knofla worked in higher education for more than 20 years and is now a co-owner and presenter for High-Impact Training. She encouraged parents to write down their worries, then addressed them with help from Liz Gordon '11, student coordinator for orientation.
Dealing With Issues
Among the issues mentioned by parents were whether children would get along with roommates, experiment with alcohol or drugs, be able to balance academics and extracurricular activities, and make good friends.
"Campus is a safe environment," Knofla reassured them. "The resident advisers here know the students. The student-faculty ratio is small. People are paying attention."
Knofla passed out tissues and drew tears of laughter and sadness when she told parents that they will probably miss their children more than the children will miss them.
Moms, Dads More Homesick Than Kids
"Parents are more homesick for the child than the child is for the parents, which is hard for parents to hear, but really is true," said Knofla. "The child is way too busy getting used to a new way of living while the parent is home wishing a vital family member was still in the family circle."
It can be hard to let go, Knofla acknowledged. Being a so-called "helicopter parent" isn't necessarily a bad thing, she said, but "be one at 12,000 feet, not 100 feet. Don't kick up the gravel. Challenge them to take over working out things on their own."
Knofla said she believes some areas of a college student's life should be off-limits to parents.
The Facebook Question
For example, "I think parents should not be on their childrens' Facebook," said Knofla. "They should have some things that are separate from what their parents know everything about."
To keep in touch, parents should ask children to tell them "some of the cool things they are learning" in their classes, Knofla said. They should remember that their children will make mistakes and that the college is there to help.
Knofla also advised that parents take time before their children leave for college to discuss several topics with them.
They should agree about when and how often the child will communicate with them, for example.
Knofla suggested that parents and child could agree that the child would text the mom or dad every day for the first two weeks, dropping back to every other day the third week, until a reasonable routine is established.
Parents should also discuss finances so students know how much money they can spend weekly and monthly and what expenses they are expected to cover, "so it's not a surprise" if funds run out, Knofla said.
Academic expectations should also be established. Most students entering Stonehill are "bright kids and very, very driven" and may be used to receiving top grades, Knofla said.
Parents might want to tell them that it's OK to receive Bs in the first semester while they are adjusting to a new way of studying and living. Similarly, they might want to limit participation in extracurricular activities until children get used to the new routine.
Parents should also discuss their expectations for the student's social life and conduct, reminding them what it means to be an adult making decisions as a responsible member of society, Knolfa said.
"They should be reminded that they have a responsibility to the Stonehill community," said Knofla. "They live communally, they learn communally, they have a responsibility to others."
Above all, said Knofla, parents should remember that their children "are going to change and change for the better. Your child has made a great decision to come to Stonehill."
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