Now that I’ve sent my second child off to college, I thought it was time to share some advice for parents of college freshmen.
I’ve already survived a few years of having a college student (my oldest is starting his senior year of college as I write this) and my daughter is just starting her freshman year.
As we’ve been planning and packing and running last-minute errands, I’ve been immersed in all the excitement and anxiety I experienced three years ago when my oldest went off to college. It’s a little easier this time around since I know what to expect, so I thought I’d share some things I learned the first go-round to help other parents sending their kids off to college for the first time.
Advice for Parents of College Freshmen
If you’re anything like me, when your first child leaves for college you become acutely aware of how true the statement “They grow up fast!” really is. Driving my son to college three years ago I was teary-eyed picturing how fast my baby grew into a man.
Now I’m watching my daughter strike out on her own and I’m having the same thoughts. I keep seeing snapshots in my head of her as a baby, toddler, child, and tween.
She’s so grown up that people mistake us for each other (from behind or at a distance) and we share clothes and shoes. I’ll be taking my own advice for parents of college freshmen for the next year!
Get Out of the Way Quick
As tempting as it is to linger and reassure your child in a new setting, the best thing you can do for a smooth transition is to get out of the way as soon as possible. Help your child move into the dorm and get situated, then GO HOME.
Your child is going to be eager to explore and meet people but will feel guilty about kicking you out. Don’t force them to ask you to leave.
Use the Right Communication Tools
We might have grown up with phone calls as our primary means of connecting with others, but that isn’t true anymore. Your child may prefer text messaging, video chatting or Snapchat.
Sure, you can still call your child and ask your child to call you. But, if you want to remain a regular part of your college child’s daily life, it’s best to adapt to how your child likes to communicate.
Start a Snapchat streak with your child. Send occasional home updates via text. Set up a time to video chat once a week.
Set Up a Student Checking Account
If you thought your child’s first 18 years went fast, buckle up because the next four years are going to fly by! Sooner than you realize, your child will really be an independent grown-up so now’s the time to really focus on having them take on all of their responsibilities. If your child doesn’t already know how to manage money, college is the perfect time to learn and practice.
We set our daughter’s account up at Navy Federal Credit Union since we already have several accounts there and they always go the extra mile to help their customers. I didn’t want my daughter to be afraid to ask questions if she was confused or had trouble with her account.
You can Become a Member if you are a service member, veteran, civilian DoD employee, or the family member of a current credit union member.
Set Up Zelle
Once your child has a checking account, it will be easy for you to send money to him or her if you choose to. A really easy way to do this is with Zelle.
Zelle is a peer-to-peer digital payment network that lets you send and receive money to your contacts quickly and easily. No need to exchange bank account information.
Not only is it an easy way for you to send your child money, Zelle is also a convenient way for college friends to cover one another, keep track of what’s owed, and pay each other back. When your child has roommates, it’s an easy way for them to split bills.
During my son’s freshman year, we made the critical error of failing to plan our first visit. So, a few weeks after school started when we finally decided to make a plan, we weren’t able to find a weekend that was both convenient for us and my son that we could also afford.
Fun Fact: Popular weekends to visit campus (e.g. Homecoming and Parent’s Weekend) are also the most expensive times to book a hotel. Think double or triple normal rates!
By the time we found a weekend that worked, it was only 2 weeks before he would be coming home for Thanksgiving break so we skipped it. My son was terribly homesick and it broke my heart.
Now, we plan our visits as soon as the kids get their schedules so all of us can clear those weekends and budget time and money accordingly.
Send Care Packages
College life is super fun but also very different from your child’s life at home. Occasional treats from home are a great way to ease homesickness and provide a little stress relief to your child.
I’ve previously shared several care package ideas for college students, but the key thing is to send items you know your child will like and that will bring them fond memories. Incorporate their favorite interests (e.g. snacks, colors, characters) and make sure to include a note with an inside joke or family motto.
Do keep in mind that dorm rooms are small and that your child is missing many of the amenities from home. Keep items small and consumable/disposable.
Let Them Make Mistakes
If you’re paying for college, it can be tempting to want to control your child’s activities and behavior even though they are no longer at home. While you should absolutely share your expectations and hopes with your child, it’s time to trust your past 18 years of parenting and your child.
By all means, watch for signs of trouble so that you can step in and help before serious problems arise. But resist the urge to micromanage your child.
In general, many of the mistakes they make in college will bear less serious consequences than if they make them as an adult. Allow your child to make mistakes and learn from them. This will be far more powerful than you dictating to him or her how to behave.
Congratulations on raising a motivated and independent adult! I hope the advice above makes this first year of college a pleasant experience for both you and your child.