What is the best way to support your college students when they head off to college?
Today I’m going to share some examples of what parents can do for their children besides writing those big tuition checks. These ideas come from the authors of The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting them Grow Up.
In this age of instant communications, here are some of the authors’ tips for parents:
1. Let students initiate the calls.
Or at least most of them. In their research, the authors concluded that students, who reported that their parents were making most of the calls, were the least happy. (Unlike my daughter Caitlin who liked calling my husband or I every day when she was in college, my son Ben almost never calls unless he needs something. Consequently, we try calling him once a week on Sunday afternoon when he’s usually in his room doing homework. He seems to appreciate our calls and can be quite chatty.)
2. Send care packages.
Don’t let phone calls and emails replace the traditional way that parents used to connect — through letters and care packages. One of the rare calls that we got last year from our son Ben during his first month of college was to request a care package of salt water taffy, ping pong balls, dried chili mangos and blow pops. (I use priority rate boxes from the post office which allows me to stuff as much as possible into a box for one set price.)
3. Include dads.
Research has suggested that many students, and especially daughters, would like more contact with their fathers. Since moms appear to get more of the calls, they should be the ones trying to get dads to connect more.
4. Skip Facebook.
Parents should resist the urge to initiate Facebook friend requests with their children. For parents who have access to their college students’ Facebook, it can be awfully tempting to snoop.
5. Respond appropriately to venting.
Just because your child is venting about a roommate from hell, a lousy professor or crummy dorm food doesn’t mean you have to get riled up too. And don’t assume that you need to jump in with solutions. It’s hard for a student to become an adult if you are always providing the answers. (Hopefully parents have been following this tip long before their kids enter college!)
6. Be a great listener.
Be in the moment. Give your child space to think out loud and come up with his or her own solutions to problems.
7. Don’t be a nag.
I admit I was guilty of being a nag when my son was in high school. I’d pestered him about reading, starting his college applications and studying for the SAT. I’m proud to report, however, that once he started college, I stopped nagging him and he stepped up to the plate and took responsibility for what he needed to do. We both felt better about our changed roles.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of Shrinking the Cost of College workbook. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.