Helping parents cope with their first-year college students
Remember that popular little book that told us “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”?
When the time comes for your young ones to enjoy themselves at college, as you hopefully retain your peace of mind at home, understand that the devil is truly in the details. There is a lot you can do to bring a bit of organization, self-preservation and, yes, maybe even a bit of fun to your child’s college experience. Just don’t be afraid to make some decisions.
So fear not; we’re here to help. Here are a few tips to keep the stress and blues at a minimum while your child is running about carefree, binge-spending your life savings.
• Does your child really need a credit card? In the days of debit cards, 24-hour ATMs and Western Union transfers, in a word: No.
• Does your child really need a cell phone? Well, considering it could be the best way for you to keep in touch with them, yes – it’s a good idea. One weekly phone call to your student is a good level of contact.
• Maintain an easy way to deposit funds into their bank account. Make sure they (and you) know how to access this account online. Watch for overdrafts – they’re expensive. Make sure your kids know what their limits are.
• Does your child really need their own computer? It would help, yes. Consider your student’s major (if they have one yet) when looking at what kind of computer will benefit them most. Art and photography students will need lots of RAM and storage capacity, but Business and English majors will need Microsoft Office ready to go.
• Does your child really need a car? No – ditch it. On-campus students rarely need these. Keep in mind that most schools charge for on-campus parking, and it’s not cheap (like most things college-related). Do we even need to mention gas prices? Less money spent on gas means more money for food, clothes and … soda.
• Send favorite foods, if possible, in care packages because dorm food can get boring. Find local restaurants online and see if you can send them some gift certificates for a night out with new friends to break up the monotony.
• This sounds like a no-brainer, but know their address and dorm room telephone number. You never know when a family crisis may emerge, and knowing their roommates’ cell number can go a long way in finding your kid when time is of the essence.
• Encourage them to take a broad range of classes, and give them information about studying overseas for a semester. Being in a foreign country does wonders for their independence and resourcefulness. It’s not cheap, but the experience will last a lifetime.
• Understand this now: You will be an easy and safe target for stress outbursts – be ready and take it in stride.
• Keep communication proactive; avoid answers like, “I don’t know.” Encourage your child to make their own decisions. You can be supportive without being in control. When your student calls you to ask “what do you think,” don’t just give them the answers; help them find the tools. That’s why they’re at college in the first place – to learn to think on their own. With the right support, they soon will be.