We’ve both experienced children going off to college, so we know full well that parents never totally stay out of the way when it comes to their child facing a life-changing experience. If nothing else, in many cases we try to keep our distance and simply lose precious sleep. We worry. We fret. We just know college life would be much better for our son or daughter if we were there to offer a hug, provide a reassuring word, or intervene with the professor. In most cases, however, it’s time to allow your baby to grow up.
A time to hover
In a recent column, we shared the notion that there is a place for parents to stick their noses in when it comes to the transition from high school to college. Financial decisions—grants, scholarships and loans—warrant parental involvement. A son or daughter’s knee-jerk decision to drop a class can have ramifications (like losing financial aid or keeping them on your health insurance) that require parents to quickly hoist a red flag. Even more, when the academic rigors appear overwhelming after three weeks, a teen may decide life was easier bagging groceries back home. When the phone call comes—“Dad, I want to come home—college isn’t for me”—both dad and mom need to have a serious conversation with junior, and with each other.
It takes a village—but mostly parents
We’ve heard about “helicopter” parents, moms and dads who have intense involvement with their children’s affairs. Some of this may be due to the lack of trust these parents feel with those in authority. We have a sense, based on our own experiences, that parents have demanded more involvement in their children’s affairs because systems have failed, standards are lower, expectations correspond to the lowest common denominator, and people generally are not as committed to quality work or service. But … mom and dad, your kid is now in college.
Handle it, junior, handle it
Be prepared for one of the following phone calls: “Mom, dad, my roommate is sloppy and loud;” “My biology professor is never in his office;” “People aren’t friendly here—no one likes me;” “Someone took the popcorn popper you bought me;” “There’s nothing to do at this school;” “This town is a morgue—I’m so bored here;” “I can’t study in my room—it’s too noisy;” “My roommate swears, started smoking and sometimes doesn’t come back to the room until the next morning.”
We would categorize the above as character-building, skin-thickening challenges. In these instances, the wisest action parents can take is no action. Allow your young adult son or daughter to work through, over or around that obstacle. None of the challenges mentioned above is a cliff or brick wall—but rather an opportunity for growth and self-reliance. Each is a life experience that can be cut down to size by courage, common sense, and some independent thinking.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of the new book, “Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers.” Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @dads2dadsllc. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.